Trump set to rescind ban on the sale of military hardware to police
President Trump is ready to roll back Obama's executive order barring police departments from purchasing most military hardware. The ban was initiated following riots in Ferguson, Mo. and elsewhere when activists complained that police departments had become "militarized."
The Trump administration is preparing to lift a controversial ban on the transfer of some surplus military equipment to police departments whose battlefield-style response to rioting in a St. Louis suburb three years ago prompted a halt to the program.
The new plan, outlined in documents obtained by USA TODAY, would roll back an Obama administration executive order that blocked armored vehicles, large-caliber weapons, ammunition and other heavy equipment from being re-purposed from foreign battlefields to America's streets.
On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is scheduled to address the annual meeting of the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation's largest police union, and he may outline the program changes there.
Administration officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The administration's action would restore "the full scope of a longstanding program for recycling surplus, lifesaving gear from the Department of Defense, along with restoring the full scope of grants used to purchase this type of equipment from other sources,'' according to a administration summary of the new program recently circulated to some law enforcement groups.
"Assets that would otherwise be scrapped can be re-purposed to help state, local and tribal law enforcement better protect public safety and reduce crime."
President Obama said at the time of the ban that the equipment made it seem as if the police were "an occupying force."
The deployment of such equipment, President Obama argued at the time, cast the police as an "occupying force,'' deepening a divide between law enforcement and a wary community.
"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.
In other words, we mustn't let the rioters feel scared about burning down a city.
Let's proceed from the rational assumption that cities and towns have an obligation to protect law enforcement officers. Let us also assume that in modern-day America, drug gangs, cartels, and violent criminals are armed with sophisticated automatic weapons and, in many cases, bring more firepower to bear in a confrontation than the cops can respond with.
As with most Obama orders, he went way too far. There is an argument against the "militarization" of police, and certain equipment – armored assault vehicles, for one – may not be absolutely necessary to protect the lives of officers and safeguard the community. Strategy and tactics to deal with urban unrest go a lot farther than deploying a mounted 50-caliber machine gun.
But if towns and cities can purchase certain surplus weapons and ammo, along with other crowd control equipment from the army, it's stupid to deny them the opportunity to help keep their law enforcement officers safe. There is a line here the Trump administration can draw intelligently, and, not seeing the details of what they have planned, I hope they do so. But the Obama order was too broad, and too restrictive, potentially placing the lives of officers in danger.