WASHINGTON -- In an unexpected move, President Barack Obama on Monday will ban the federal government from providing certain military equipment to police departments.
Effective immediately, the government will no longer provide local law enforcement with tracked armored vehicles, grenade launchers and bayonets. Other items like explosives and riot equipment will be transferred to police only if they provide additional certification and assurances that the gear will be used responsibly.
The changes stem from recommendations made to the president in a new report produced by a White House working group. Obama created the task force earlier this year via executive order.
The president's action is part of a broader effort to relieve tensions between law enforcement and minority communities after the deaths of several black men at the hands of police in Ferguson, Missouri; Baltimore; and other cities. In Ferguson, for example, local police rolled out armored tanks and riot gear in response to protests over the 2014 death of Michael Brown, a reaction that many saw as making the situation dramatically worse.
"The idea is to make sure that we strike a balance in providing the equipment, which is appropriate and useful and important for local law enforcement agencies to keep the community safe, while at the same time putting standards in place so that there's a clear reason for the transfer of that equipment, that there's clear training and safety procedures in place," White House Director of Domestic Policy Cecilia Muñoz said in a Sunday call with reporters.
The reason police departments have access to military-style weapons at all goes back to the government's initial response to the 9/11 attacks. But the working group concluded there is "substantial risk of misusing or overusing these
items, which are seen as militaristic in nature," and that their use by police "could significantly undermine community trust."
News of the ban on military weapons comes ahead of Obama's Monday visit to Camden, New Jersey, where he will highlight the success of the city's police department in building trust with its community. The president will visit police headquarters and meet with officers before giving public remarks. He will also announce $163 million in grants to encourage police departments to adopt the recommendations of the White House working group report.
Beyond Monday's action, the administration has been taking other steps to promote accountability for law enforcement. The Justice Department earlier this month announced a $20 million grant program for increasing the use of body cameras by police. Obama has also proposed increasing that amount in his 2016 budget.
"What we're witnessing in cities across the country is not only about policing, but it's also about opportunity and creating opportunity for all," Valerie Jarrett, White House senior adviser, said on the call.
UPDATE: 3:07 p.m. -- During his remarks Monday in Camden, Obama explained his reasoning for pulling certain military equipment from police departments.
"We've seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people the feeling like there's an occupying force as opposed to a force that's part of the community," he said to applause. "We're going to prohibit some equipment made for the battlefield that is not appropriate for local police departments."
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