Obama Calls for Restricting Military Gear to Local Police
In effort to improve relations between police and communities, White House has announced new standards for federal programs in the aftermath of the Ferguson protests
By Colleen McCain Nelson in the Wall Street Journal
The White House on Monday announced stricter standards for federal programs that equip local law-enforcement agencies with military gear and released a blueprint aimed at building trust between police and communities, as part of an array of prescriptions to improve policing.
The new reports, which lay out dozens of recommendations from a presidential task force on policing and call for halting the transfer of certain military gear to law-enforcement agencies, represent the White House’s most robust response yet to recent police killings of unarmed people. Mr. Obama will highlight his administration’s efforts Monday when he travels to Camden, N.J., a city that has struggled with violent crime and poverty but now has overhauled its police department, improved schools and jump-started economic development initiatives.
As controversial deaths at the hands of police officers have sparked outrage across the country, Mr. Obama has pledged to address the distrust between many police departments and minority communities and to tackle opportunity gaps that compound over time and can give rise to violence and civil unrest.
After protests last year in Ferguson, Mo., spurred criticism of federal programs that outfit local police departments with military gear, the president said his administration would develop new rules and improve oversight. A monthslong review found a lack of coordination among federal agencies and no consistent standards for police departments seeking the equipment.
The report that will be released Monday calls for a prohibition on federal programs providing certain types of equipment to law-enforcement agencies, citing a substantial risk of misuse. The list of prohibited gear includes tracked armored vehicles, weaponized aircraft, large-caliber firearms, grenade launchers and some camouflage uniforms.
Such equipment, which is 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 report says.
More stringent controls for other types of equipment should be implemented, the report says. And law-enforcement agencies requesting certain gear will be required to seek the consent of local government and submit detailed justification explaining their need for equipment such as unmanned aerial vehicles and wheeled tactical vehicles.
Mr. Obama’s response to last year’s fatal shooting of an unarmed teenager in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson also included the creation of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The group’s final report includes a call for expanded efforts to connect officers with neighborhoods and outlines strategies for increasing the use of body cameras and other technology. The task force, which emphasized the value of bolstering community policing, also offered recommendations for improving policies and oversight, strengthening training and education for law enforcement and promoting the wellness and safety of officers.
Ron Davis, director of the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services Office, said the report details reasonable and attainable recommendations to enhance public trust in the police.
“It is clear that this report will not sit on a shelf,” Mr. Davis said. “In fact, I believe it will be the transformational document that will help guide the over 16,000 police agencies to advance policing in the 21st century.”
Most of the proposals aren’t expected to be controversial, and some have been discussed by law enforcement for years.
On Monday, the administration plans to announce a grant program that will provide funds to some local law-enforcement agencies that commit to implementing the task force’s recommendations.
In Camden, Mr. Obama also will shine a spotlight on a transformed police force that has bolstered its ranks and brought down crime rates while focusing on community policing. The city, which has one of the highest poverty rates in the country, has been designated by the Obama administration as a “Promise Zone,” which allows local leaders to partner with the federal government on revitalization initiatives.
Administration officials have hailed Camden’s efforts to build trust between the police and the community, reduce violent crime, create jobs, and address opportunity gaps for minority boys and young men.
“From our perspective, Camden is an example of a community that is on the right track,” said White House spokesman Eric Schultz.
The overhaul of Camden’s police department has been controversial, though, spurring complaints from civil-liberties groups that police have used excessive force and have been too aggressive in issuing summons for minor infractions. The decision to dissolve the city’s unionized police force and create a county-led division also has been criticized as union busting.
Here’s one comment:Making police less menacing and more vulnerable will not solve the underlying social problems of inner city communities. It will not help reduce the 72% black and 51% Hispanic births out of wedlock. It will not provide youngsters two parents, role models, and social skills as they grow up.
With the vast resources at his disposal as the most powerful man in the world, including the power to gather the best experts in the world to help come up with solutions, it is disappointing that President Obama can’t find more positive things to do.
Growing up is stressful. Young people develop a lot of stresses that need to be vented and channeled. Extracurricular and after school activities, including competitive sports, channel those stresses and at the same time they teach important rules of social behavior.
Suburban and rural schools, where spaces are ample, offer a variety of after school choices. Inner city schools not as many. Yet I think they are fundamental to the healthy development of children. The positive effect of such activities is amply studied and well known.
President Obama has the power to make many more of those opportunities available to young kids of all races in the inner cities. He needs to stop listening to rabble rousers like Al Sharpton and listen instead to people like Orlando Patterson, Harvard University Sociology Professor and author of "The Cultural Matrix." Harvard after all is Obama’s favorite source of advice. He should use it well for a change.
Here are a commentator’s thoughts:
1) Are our present leaders reacting or acting? Acting means leadership.
2) Are the Negro problems that exist today because of societal things, racial things, or even tribal customs?
3) As a Marine, I have made up my mind by simple observation. Most Negroes are to America’s advantage and should be promoted based on meritocracy ideals. Said another way, Negroes are Americans, too. And they kill a lot of America’s enemies, also, and thank goodness.
4) Are there scuzz bag blacks, or course there are.
5) It’s going to take a very long time to bring integration of the races to a proper conclusion. But, and also, the new world USA is a good place for this to happen.
6) Love concurs all.
7) The idea of Martin Luther King Day in January bothers me, much the same as Columbus Day in October which also bothers me. But I think all know we have these vacation dates by law, and will take advantage of them when the time comes.