Thanks to military surplus programs and federal funding, in recent years local police forces have snatched up a bevy of heavy-duty military equipment—from armored tanks to grenade launchers.
Ferguson threw this new, militarized law enforcement into the spotlight, as police in camouflage and armored vehicles faced down citizens.
In response to public outcry, the president has now ordered limits on the types of military gear that police may use.
On Monday, a Cabinet working group released a report banning numerous items—including, according to The Hill, “grenade launchers, tracked armored vehicles, armed aircraft, bayonets, and guns and ammunition of .50 caliber or higher.”
While the report maintained that, in general, surplus gear “enhances the safety of officers,” it ruled certain items subject to a “substantial risk of misusing or overusing.”
The report also focused on how the appearance of some military equipment, like camouflage, “can be detrimental to maintaining public trust in law enforcement” because it is “seen as militaristic in nature.”
The government is currently working on how to remove equipment already in police possession.
Other types of equipment, like drones, helicopters, and riot gear, may remain in police possession, but under stricter federal scrutiny. Police will be responsible for providing a “a clear and persuasive explanation of the need for the controlled equipment.” The equipment must be approved by the local government, and police will have to submit reports on how it has been useful to them.
The new rules will also clamp down on departments using DHS grants to purchase military gear—a practice that has become even more common than borrowing from military surplus.
Obama traveled to Camden, New Jersey, to speak about the new rules and how military-grade equipment can “alienate and intimidate” communities.
“We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like there’s an occupying force, as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them,” he said. “So we’re going to prohibit some equipment made for the battlefield that is not appropriate for local police departments.”
The Pentagon’s surplus program has run into numerous problems—including repeated failures of police departments to keep track of their gear. An ABC News/Fusion investigation last year found, for example, that in Georgia, police lost four M16s and seven M14 machine guns, along with 13 military issued handguns.
Multiple police departments have been suspended or removed from the program for similar inventory problems.