December 22, 2014
Obama orders review of US police use of military hardware
US President Barack Obama has ordered a review of the distribution of military hardware to state and local police out of concern at how such equipment has been used during racial unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.
The president ordered the examination of federal programs and funding that enable state and local law enforcement to purchase such equipment, a senior Obama administration official said.
Images of police wielding military-style guns and armor have shocked many Americans following clashes that were triggered by the fatal shooting of a black teenager, Michael Brown, by a white police officer in Ferguson two weeks ago.
Obama wants to know whether the programs, which were expanded after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, are appropriate and whether state and local law enforcement are given proper training, the official said.
The review will be led by White House staff including the Domestic Policy Council, the National Security Council, the Office of Management and Budget, and relevant US agencies including the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice and Treasury, and conducted in coordination with Congress.
Obama signaled he would review the programs at a White House news conference on Monday when he said he wanted to make sure police were purchasing equipment they actually needed because there is "a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement and we don't want those lines blurred."
A growing number of lawmakers have voiced concern about the militarization of US police forces through programs administered by the Pentagon, Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security.
Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who heads the oversight subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, announced plans this week for a hearing in September about the programs.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said last week he planned a review to ensure that the Pentagon's 1033 program, which transfers surplus equipment to local and state authorities, was working as intended before the full Senate considers the annual bill that authorizes military spending.
Key concerns include a clause in the program that requires police to use the equipment within a year, something the American Civil Liberties Union argues may give police forces an incentive to use the equipment in inappropriate situations. The program also does not mandate training for crowd control or other uses.
House of Representatives lawmakers defeated a bill to halt the 1033 program in a 355-62 vote in June, but concerns about the handling of the crisis in Ferguson have revived the reform effort.