The White House on Monday announced limits on federal programs that provide military style equipments to local law enforcement agencies, acting on the recommendations of federal interagency working group led by the Departments of Justice, Defense and Homeland Security. This list of weapons includes tracked armored vehicles, weaponized aircraft and vehicles, bayonets, grenade launchers and large-caliber firearms, according to the working group report released Monday.
“Over the last several years … community members, LEA (Law Enforcement Agencies) leaders, civil rights advocates, and elected leaders have voiced concerns about what has been described as the ‘militarization’ of law enforcement due to the types of equipment at times deployed by LEAs and the nature of those deployments,” the report said, adding that the acquisition of such equipment by police not only increases the risk of their misuse and overuse, but also serves to “undermine community trust.”
In addition to weapons in the “prohibited” list, the interagency group has also created a “controlled” equipment list, which includes wheeled armored or tactical vehicles, specialized firearms and ammunition, explosives and pyrotechnics, and riot equipment. Starting in October, police would have to not only get approval from their local governments for the procurement of these weapons, they would also have to provide a “clear and persuasive explanation” for their requirement.
The federal government is also exploring ways to recall prohibited weapons that have already been distributed, the Associated Press reported.
The report also cited the police response to the Ferguson unrest -- triggered after a police officer in the Missouri city fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man -- as an example of how the "militarization" of police can lead to fear and mistrust. At the time, critics had questioned why police in full body armor with armored trucks were needed to dispel demonstrators.
The White House’s action on military-style weapons coincides with President Barack Obama’s visit to Camden, New Jersey -- arguably one of the country’s most violent cities -- where he is expected to highlight his efforts to reform local police departments and build better relations between law enforcement authorities and citizens.