The Obama administration on Monday moved to prohibit federal agencies from providing local cops with certain kinds of military equipment such as grenade launchers, high-caliber weapons and bayonets, in the wake of controversy over a “militarized” police response to unrest last summer in Ferguson, Missouri.
The new prohibitions are part of an executive order President Barack Obama issued for federal agencies to review the types of equipment they provide to local and state police.
Obama traveled Monday to Camden, N.J., to highlight crime reduction and community policing tactics that the administration hopes can be a model around the country. A spate of officer-involved shootings and the deaths of African-Americans in confrontations with police has made policing an issue the administration is forced to grapple with.
“We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like there’s an occupying force as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them,” Obama said in Camden Monday. “It can alienate and intimidate local residents and send the wrong message.”
Agencies including the Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security departments help provide equipment to local police.
The banned list includes: tank-like armored vehicles that move on tracks, certain types of camouflage uniforms, bayonets, firearms and ammunition of .50 caliber or higher, grenade launchers, and weaponized aircraft.
The presidential order established a “controlled equipment” list, with tightened requirements before federal agencies can transfer equipment to local cops. These include riot control equipments and drones. Federal agencies will also require local police to provide more data so the government can better track equipment.
Local police can still bypass the federal restrictions and bans by buying the equipment from private sellers.
Obama announced to new order at the Camden Police Department, where he also toured a tactical operation center, as well as met with officers and young people from the community.
White House officials said the President chose to visit Camden, besieged by violent crime, to highlight the city’s work toward repairing relations between the police department and residents.
“This city is onto something,” Obama said, citing officers who walk regular city beats and volunteer in schools.
In December Obama signed an Executive Order to create the Task Force on 21st Century Policing to determine ways to strengthen public trust and better relationships between local law enforcement and communities.
The Task Force released its final report Monday with a “blue print” for law enforcement and communities to utilize including recommendations of how to promote trust within the community, such as police embracing “a guardian- rather than a warrior” mindset to build legitimacy. Other recommendations include creating a diverse police workforce, implementing policies that reflect community values and better training for officers.
Earlier this month Obama announced a spin-off of his already-existing “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative into a new, non-profit foundation to address the lack of opportunity that young minority boys face.
At the announcement of the initiative, President Obama said that blacks were getting pulled over by cops for “no reason”, which has since angered some members of the law enforcement community.
During his remarks Monday, Obama said issues facing inner-city communities “go beyond policing,” citing the opportunity gap he says his policies are working toward closing.
“We can’t ask the police to contain and control problems that the rest of us aren’t willing to face, or do anything about,” he said. “If we, as a society, don’t do more to expand opportunities to everybody that’s willing to work for it, we’ll end up seeing conflicts between law enforcement and residents.”