Trump rearms na­tion’s lo­cal po­lice de­part­ments Ex­ec­u­tive or­der lifts Obama re­stric­tions

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY AN­DREA NO­BLE

Pres­i­dent Trump re­in­stated a con­tro­ver­sial pro­gram to ship a wide ar­ray of sur­plus mil­i­tary equip­ment to lo­cal po­lice de­part­ments, giv­ing them ac­cess to ev­ery­thing from ar­mored ve­hi­cles to gre­nade launch­ers.

The move, her­alded by law en­force­ment groups but de­cried by civil rights or­ga­ni­za­tions, re­peals Obama-era re­stric­tions on a De­part­ment of De­fense pro­gram that sent bil­lions of dol­lars of equip­ment to SWAT teams and public school po­lice alike.

Pres­i­dent Obama im­posed the re­stric­tions af­ter a heavy-handed po­lice re­sponse to ri­ots in Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri, in 2014, say­ing the fed­eral govern­ment shouldn’t be mak­ing weapons of war avail­able to civil­ian po­lice.

Mr. Trump signed an ex­ec­u­tive or­der fully re­in­stat­ing the De­part­ment of De­fense’s 1033 pro­gram, leaving de­ci­sions about the type of mil­i­tary equip­ment ap­pro­pri­ate to de­ploy on the streets largely up to lo­cal po­lice de­part­ments. The or­der also deleted ad­di­tional over­sight and train­ing Mr. Obama had in­sti­tuted.

“Those re­stric­tions went too far,” said At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions, an­nounc­ing the or­der as he spoke at a Na­tional Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice con­fer­ence in Ten­nessee. “We will not put su­per­fi­cial con­cerns above public safety. We will do our part to get you what you need.”

Mr. Ses­sions said it also sends a strong mes­sage “that we will not al­low crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity, vi­o­lence and law­less­ness to be­come a new nor­mal.”

More than $5.4 bil­lion in sur­plus mil­i­tary gear has been trans­ferred to state, lo­cal and tribal law en­force­ment agen­cies un­der the 1033 pro­gram since 1997. Ri­fles, he­li­copters, trucks, bay­o­nets, cloth­ing, tools, elec­tron­ics and of­fice equip­ment were all avail­able.

Mr. Obama’s pol­icy banned trans­fers of items like gre­nade launch­ers, bay­o­nets and ar­mored, tracked ve­hi­cles. Other “con­trolled” equip­ment, like bat­ter­ing rams and riot hel­mets and shields, was still avail­able un­der the pro­gram but re­quired po­lice de­part­ments to pro­vide more jus­ti­fi­ca­tion in or­der to ob­tain them.

For some de­part­ments, the 1033 pro­gram had proved a has­sle, with items such as ar­mored ve­hi­cles not turn­ing out to be as use­ful as lo­cal of­fi­cials es­ti­mated.

But law en­force­ment groups by and large ap­pre­ci­ated the fed­eral as­sis­tance and lob­bied for the pro­gram to be re­in­stated.

“The pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion was more con­cerned about the im­age of law en­force­ment be­ing too ‘mil­i­ta­rized’ than they were about our safety,” said Chuck Can­ter­bury, pres­i­dent of the Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice.

The Na­tional Sher­iffs’ As­so­ci­a­tion said equip­ment pro­vided to lo­cal law en­force­ment through the pro­gram has been used to fight ter­ror­ism and as part of lo­cal agen­cies’ re­sponses dur­ing na­tional dis­as­ters.

“The equip­ment sher­iffs re­ceive through this pro­gram in­clude equip­ment they could not oth­er­wise af­ford in­clud­ing ad­di­tional bul­let­proof vests and Kevlar hel­mets, up­graded safety equip­ment, as well as larger equip­ment such as he­li­copters and ro­bot­ics,” Na­tional Sher­iffs’ As­so­ci­a­tion Pres­i­dent Harold Eaven­son and Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor Jonathan Thomp­son said in a state­ment.

Of­fi­cers in San Bernardino, Cal­i­for­nia, used an ar­mored ve­hi­cle dur­ing a shootout with two armed ter­ror­ists who car­ried out a deadly ram­page at a com­mu­nity cen­ter. And as of­fi­cers re­sponded to a deadly mass shoot­ing at an Or­lando, Florida, night­club, a mil­i­tary-style hel­met saved the life of an of­fi­cer struck by gun­fire, of­fi­cials said.

Even with the Obama-era re­stric­tions in place, a govern­ment watch­dog group said more than $203 mil­lion worth of equip­ment was dis­trib­uted to lo­cal law en­force­ment through the pro­gram from Jan. 20 through June 30 this year. Over the same pe­riod last year, $130 mil­lion worth of equip­ment was dis­trib­uted, ac­cord­ing to the Project on Govern­ment Over­sight.

Civil rights groups said re­in­stat­ing the full pro­gram means mil­i­ta­riza­tion of po­lice, which will lead to more strained re­la­tions with the com­mu­ni­ties they serve.

“This ac­tion puts more fire­power in the hands of po­lice de­part­ments that re­main largely un­trained on mat­ters of racial bias and en­dan­gers the public,” said Janai Nel­son, as­so­ci­ate direc­tor-coun­sel at the Le­gal De­fense Fund. “Invit­ing the use of mil­i­tary weaponry against our do­mes­tic pop­u­la­tion is noth­ing short of re­cast­ing the public as an en­emy.”

Sen. Rand Paul, Ken­tucky Repub­li­can, said he will try to cur­tail the pro­gram.

“It is one thing for fed­eral of­fi­cials to work with lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to re­duce or solve crime, but it is an­other for them to sub­si­dize mil­i­ta­riza­tion,” Mr. Paul said. “Any or­der that comes to­day still needs to be funded, and I will bring this is­sue to the Se­nate floor.”

He said he also will rein­tro­duce leg­is­la­tion to ban the trans­fer of items like ar­mored ve­hi­cles and drones to po­lice de­part­ments and to in­crease ac­count­abil­ity of de­part­ments in the pro­gram.

Rep. Mark San­ford, South Carolina Repub­li­can, also ex­pressed con­cern over the pro­gram, sug­gest­ing it be over­hauled to re­quire po­lice to bid on wanted equip­ment. By re­quir­ing de­part­ments to pay to ac­quire the sur­plus equip­ment, Mr. San­ford said, de­part­ments won’t be tempted to stock­pile items they don’t need.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Un­der a pro­gram re­in­stated by Pres­i­dent Trump, sur­plus mil­i­tary equip­ment will once again be avail­able to state and lo­cal po­lice de­part­ments across Amer­ica.

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