News National/International

Obama Orders Review Of Transfers Of Military Surplus To Local Police


President Obama has ordered a review of federal programs that supply local law enforcement agencies with military weapons and equipment after concerns over how the police handled unrest in Ferguson, Mo., in the aftermath of the shooting death of Michael Brown.

A senior Obama administration official says the president "whether state and local law enforcement are provided with the necessary training and guidance; and whether the federal government is sufficiently auditing the use of equipment obtained through federal programs and funding."

The official also says the review would include input from the Domestic Policy Council, the National Security Council, the Office of Management and Budget, as well as the departments of Defense, Justice, Homeland Security and Treasury.

Obama telegraphed the likelihood of a review on Monday when he urged a reexamination of such programs.

"There is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement, and we don't want those lines blurred," the president told reporters at the White House.  "That would be contradictory to our traditions." The issue has come to the fore since the fatal shooting of Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, by a white police officer. The incident has sparked several nights of violent protests.

And U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois made simliar comments this week in a visit to Champaign. The Democrat said there’s no place for armored vehicles and high-powered sniper rifles in urban communities of 20-to 30,000 people.   The Democrat called the response by police forces in Ferguson ‘excessive’ by any standard.

“And to think that we’re subsidizing that through the Department of Defense and the federal government raises enough questions in my mind that we’re be writing to the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice and Homeland Security to try to rationalize the approach we’re using, see if there’s a more sensible way to come to it," he said. 

As Jim Howard of St. Louis Public Radio writes:

"The protestors were met by heavily armored combat vehicles and officers in camouflage combat-grade body armor, some with sniper rifles. The material came via the 1033 program, under which surplus military hardware is made available from the Department of Defense to local law enforcement agencies across the country.

"The images of what appeared to be combat-ready forces arrayed against protestors flashed around the world in news and social media reports and quickly added to the tension on the streets."

In June, the American Civil Liberties Union issued a report that warned of the excessive militarization of American law enforcement.

As we reported at the time, the report highlighted, among other things, the growing use of SWAT teams for such seemingly mundane tasks as serving drug warrants.