President Obama has ordered a review of the federal program that supplies local police departments with surplus military equipment, White House officials said Saturday. The review comes as images of unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, showcase heavily armed police engaging with protesters and the press.
Following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the United States began to equip local police in preparation for further terrorist attacks, ramping up a program started in 1991 for the War on Drugs. The Obama administration will lead a review that looks at whether or not local authorities should still receive that military gear, whether they have the proper training to use it and how it is eventually deployed. Obama also plans to find out how securely the equipment is stored, the New York Times reported.
In the past couple of weeks in Ferguson, officers in body armor have quelled crowds with rubber bullets and military vehicles, often pointing assault rifles directly at protesters. Paul Eaton, a retired Army general, told the Times it was not necessary for police to point the barrels directly at crowds, but instead to aim at a 45-degree angle or directly at the ground.
“The effort is to declare a presence, but not to declare you are on the offensive,” he said.
The order comes as members of Congress criticize the militarization of police departments after seeing its effect on interactions with citizens in Ferguson, along with civil rights leaders and the press. The review could end with new laws that change the way the Federal government arms and trains local police departments.