Three years ago, former President Barack Obama banned the usage of military surplus equipment by the nation’s police forces. The ban came into after criticism of law enforcement’s handling of the Ferguson, Missouri riots. It was, even at the time, a very unpopular move, but was lauded by the mainstream media.
To many critics on both sides of the argument, it appeared that the rule was being used as “window dressing.” No more than a superficial attempt to show a “more caring side” of government. These critiques were somewhat backed up by President Obama himself. He said at the time that the equipment cast the police as an “occupying force,” deepening the 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.”
Documents reported by USA Today suggest that President Trump is working with AG Jeff Sessions to repeal the ban. The document says: “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.”
The surplus sharing agreement, known as the “1033 program,” has been around for nearly 30 and was initially brought in to help with rising drug crime. According to USA Today:
The program was expanded in 1997 to include all local law enforcement operations, including counter-terrorism. Since then, according to the government, more than $5 billion in gear has been transferred to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies.
“Much of the equipment provided through the 1033 program is entirely defensive in nature … that protect officers in active shooter scenarios and other dangerous situations,” the Trump administration proposal says.
The initial ban was a political act carried out only to appease inflamed public sentiments. Police departments seem delighted that the ban may now be repealed. Advocates argue that much of the equipment is purely defensive. Meanwhile, criminals have access to offensive firepower illegally and the standard police gear is inadequate for the potential threats.
“The FOP and some other law enforcement groups have long been pressing for a reversal of the Obama administration policy, arguing that access to such equipment was needed, especially in cash-strapped communities, to better respond to local unrest.”