President Trump signed an executive order reversing restrictions put in place by the Obama Administration limiting the military surplus program. The program provided a means for the transfer of excess military equipment to local police departments. The executive action allows for that program to resume.
Attorney General Jeff Session announced the order at a Fraternal Order of Police Conference noting that it was an important move for law enforcement safety and operations. As reported in Governing:
“These are the types of helmets and gear that stopped a bullet and saved the life of an officer during the Orlando night club shooting,” Sessions said. “This is the type of equipment officers needed when they pursued and ultimately killed terrorists in San Bernardino.”
The article notes that Obama had limited the program, which had been around since the 1990s and transferred over $500 million in military gear to local law enforcement, in 2015 after the high profile police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson that generated criticism of the heavily armored police. In addition to reversing the the restrictions, the Trump order also removes the requirement for county governments to approve the use of military equipment by local police departments in order for them to receive it.
Vox has a helpful visual of what gear had been prohibited and limited by Obama’s action that are now back in play through the Trump administration’s actions and a report on the reasoning behind the initial executive order and the recent reversal:
The task force wanted the Obama administration to draw a clear line between police’s “guardian” role and the military’s “warrior” role. The administration figured that one way to do that was by making it more difficult for police to obtain weapons that are seen by the public as tools of warriors instead of guardians.
The Trump administration obviously disagrees, focusing on arguments that not letting the police obtain military weapons makes their jobs more dangerous. They claim that police need the gear to combat criminals, such as drug cartels and terrorists, who can be just as heavily armed.
Finally, as the Governing article mentions, the Trump administration also repealed the Obama administration’s executive order limiting the use of civil asset forfeiture, a process by which police officers could take money and property from citizens even when they had not been charged with a crime, earlier this year.
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