President Donald Trump has signed an executive order to remove limitations on the a federal program that allows for state and local police departments to get surplus weaponry and gear from the U.S. military. Former President Barack Obama had curbed the program amid concerns that it was militarizing police forces around the country, a decision that proved unpopular with some law enforcement officials.
On Aug, 28, Trump signed an executive action that lifted restrictions from the 1033 Program, which transfers surplus military gear from the Department of Defense to local police departments. Authorized in 1990, the program allowed state and local police officers to outfit themselves with military-grade ammunition, armored vehicles, bayonets, firearms, grenade launchers and vehicles, The Associated Press reports.
"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 Trump administration said in a summary of the changes, according to USA Today.
In 2015, Obama issued an executive order placing steep limitations on what military gear the 1033 Program could provide law enforcement.
The directive was prompted by law enforcement response to protesters in Ferguson, Missouri. After the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, Ferguson residents heavily protested their police department. Law enforcement responded with armored vehicles and officers armed with military-grade rifles. Following the controversy, Obama stated that arming law enforcement with military weapons "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."
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Trump's executive order during a Fraternal Order of Police convention in Nashville, Tennessee. The police union had endorsed Trump during the 2016 presidential race partly because he pledged to lift restrictions on the 1033 Program.
"We will not put superficial concerns above public safety," Sessions said. "The executive order the president will sign today will ensure that you can get the lifesaving gear that you need to do your job and send a strong message that we will not allow criminal activity, violence and lawlessness to become the new normal. And we will save taxpayer money in the meantime."
FOP President Chuck Canterbury praised the new directive, asserting that military gear was necessary to protect law enforcement officers.
"This decisive action by President Trump fulfills a promise he made to the FOP during the campaign, and police officers nationwide are grateful to him," Canterbury told The Washington Post.
NAACP Legal Defense Fund Associate Director Janai Nelson criticized the executive order, asserting that militarizing police would deepen mistrust between law enforcement and communities of color.
"Inviting the use of military weaponry against our domestic population is nothing short of recasting the public as an enemy," Nelson said in a statement.
The executive order received responses from law enforcement officials across the country that ranged from mixed to positive.
The directive was heralded by Sheriff Anthony Wickersham of Macomb County, Michigan.
"I applaud that," Wickersham told the Detroit Free Press. "This equipment wasn't brought out to intimidate, it was brought out to protect and serve. It was all about the safety of the officers."
News of the directive disappointed Sheriff John Urquhart of King County, Washington.
"I don't think police departments should be asking for 'military gear,'" Urquhart told BuzzFeed News. "The public doesn't want to see the police militarized, nor do I. But occasionally we need to gear up -- but only to a point."
Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky issued a statement voicing opposition to the executive order and announcing that he would introduce legislation to grant law enforcement military defensive gear but prohibit them from procuring military weaponry.
"Americans must never sacrifice their liberty for an illusive and dangerous, or false, security," Paul tweeted.
Sources: AP, BuzzFeed News, Detroit Free Press, USA Today, The Washington Post / Featured Image: Jamelle Bouie/Flickr / Embedded Images: U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Flickr, Jamelle Bouie/Flickr