Aug 28, 2017 - Politics & Policy
Facts Matter

Trump reverses Obama-era ban on military gear for cops

Law enforcement and other officials examine surplus gear at Joint Base Lewis McChord in Washington state as they attend an information session for a program that distributes surplus military equipment to state law-enforcement agencies, May 2012. Photo: AP

President Trump is rolling back an Obama-era law that limited the amount of surplus military equipment that was passed on to local law enforcement agencies. The order was announced Monday, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivered a speech to the national conference of the Fraternal Order of Police in Tennessee.

Why it matters

  • Trump has vowed on several occasions to lift the Obama-era ban. It's in keeping with Trump and Sessions' law-and-order agenda that aims to curb violent crimes by providing government support to local police.
  • Critics argue that the timing of the move could escalate the racial tension that has grown out of the violence in Charlottesville, and further exacerbate the outrage that followed Trump's controversial response.

The facts

  • Since 1990, the Defense Department allowed the transfer of surplus military equipment and supplies to federal, state, and local law enforcement, per NBC. The program was initially established to aid police in drug investigations, but it was later expanded to include all police missions.
  • In 2014, the Justice Department concluded that the military-grade equipment, such as riot gear and tear gas, used by law enforcement in the Ferguson, Missouri protests of 18-year-old Michael Brown's death only escalated the unrest.
  • As a result, Obama issued an executive order that made some gear off-limits, such as bayonets and grenade launchers, while other equipment required proof of the police agency's need.
  • "We've seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like they're an occupying force, as opposed to a force that's part of the community that's protecting them and serving them," Obama said in announcing the ban in 2015.

The other side

  • Many police organizations across the country have been pushing Trump for the reversal of the Obama-era ban, as they feel the equipment provides protection when responding to active shooter calls and terrorist attacks, per USA Today.
  • Some law enforcement officials have also pointed to the use of an armored vehicle that played an important role in the police response to the December 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, per AP.
  • As Jeff Sessions noted Monday, reinstating the program has economic advantages, such as saving billions of taxpayer dollars by recycling gear that has already purchased.
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