In addition, a longer list of equipment the federal government provides will come under tighter control, including wheeled armored vehicles such as Humvees, manned aircraft, drones, specialized firearms, explosives, battering rams and riot batons, helmets and shields. Starting in October, police will have to get approval from their city council, mayor or some other local governing body to obtain such equipment, provide a persuasive explanation of why it is needed and have more training and data collection on its use.
The issue of police militarization rose to prominence last year after a white police officer in Ferguson fatally shot an unarmed black 18-year-old, Michael Brown, sparking protests. Critics questioned why police in full body armor with armored trucks responded to dispel demonstrators, and Obama seemed to sympathize when ordering a review of the programs that provide the equipment. “There is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement, and we don’t want those lines blurred,” Obama said in August.
But he did not announce a ban in December with the publication of the review, which showed five federal agencies spent $18 billion on programs that provided equipment, including 92,442 small arms, 44,275 night-vision devices, 5,235 Humvees, 617 mine-resistant vehicles and 616 aircraft. At the time, the White House defended the programs as proving useful in many cases, such as in the response to the Boston Marathon bombing. Instead of repealing the programs, Obama issued an executive order that required federal agencies that run the programs to consult with law enforcement and civil rights and civil liberties organizations to recommend changes that make sure they are accountable and transparent.
That working group said in a report out Monday that it developed the list of newly banned equipment because “the substantial risk of misusing or overusing these items, which are seen as militaristic in nature, could significantly undermine community trust and may encourage tactics and behaviors that are inconsistent with the premise of civilian law enforcement.” The Justice Department did not respond to an inquiry about how many pieces of equipment that are now banned were previously distributed through federal programs.
The separate report (PDF) from the 21st Century Policing task force has a long list of recommendations to improve trust in police, including encouraging more transparency about interactions with the public. The White House said 21 police agencies nationwide, including Camden and nearby Philadelphia, have agreed to start putting out previously unreleased data on citizen-police interactions like use of force, stops, citations and shootings. The administration is launching an online toolkit to encourage the use of body cameras to record police interactions. And the Justice Department is giving $163 million in grants to encourage police departments to adopt the report’s recommendations.
Ron Davis, the director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services at the Department of Justice, told reporters he hoped the report could be a “key transformational document” in rebuilding trust that has been destroyed in recent years between police and minority communities.
“We are without a doubt sitting at a defining moment for American policing,” said Davis, a 30-year police veteran and former chief of the East Palo Alto Police Department in California. “We have a unique opportunity to redefine policing in our democracy to ensure that public safety becomes more than the absence of crime, that it must also include the presence of justice.”
The Associated Press
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