As Trump Paves Way For More Military Gear For Police, LAPD Says They'll Decline, Sheriff Says Maybe
On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that President Trump will roll back the restrictions that President Obama had placed on surplus military equipment being supplied to local police. As noted at NPR, that equipment could include grenade launchers, bayonets, and large-caliber weapons. "The executive order the president will sign today will ensure that you can get the lifesaving gear that you need to do your job," Sessions said at the Fraternal Order of Police conference in Nashville.
Here in Los Angeles, two major law enforcement agencies seem to be split on their take about the announcement. As reported at KPCC, the LAPD says that they won't use the new order to bring in additional military-grade equipment. The LAPD says that, of its cache of military equipment, they currently have helmets, armored plating for vehicles, and night vision goggles. Josh Rubenstein, public information director for the LAPD, told KPCC that they'd "replenish and replace anything that we have that already complies with the old Obama executive order." Under the restrictions set by Obama in 2014, the military was prohibited from providing local police with tracked armored vehicles, armed aircrafts, grenade launchers, 50-caliber firearms and ammunition, among other things.
Speaking with LAist, Rubenstein added that the LAPD is, "always looking at ways to enhance safety for our officers. We're also looking to ensure the trust of the community," adding that the equipment they get from the Department of Defense is akin to "camping gear."
While the LAPD says they won't bring in additional equipment through Trump's new order, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, a labor union for LAPD officers, praised President Trump's decision. "We applaud President Trump's action on this matter and we encourage every department to enact a responsible policy on how this equipment should be deployed during the limited occasions it becomes necessary," the LAPPL said in a statement.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, in contrast with the LAPD, said in a statement that they're leaving the window open for new military equipment. "The [Sheriff's Department] would need to review the proposal by the Trump Administration in order to better assess what is being made available to local law enforcement and how that equipment aligns with the Department's needs," the statement read, according to KPCC.
As the issue of police brutality has climbed to the forefront of public discourse in recent years, some have criticized what they say is the militarization of local law enforcement. The restrictions that Obama placed in 2014 were a response to public outcry over the sight of police using military-style gear in Ferguson, right after the shooting of Michael Brown. Umi Selah, executive director of the Dream Defenders, told the Guardian that, partly because of the availability of military equipment, police in Ferguson felt emboldened "to stop people from exercising their quote-unquote constitutional right."
"[They] were determined every day with military-grade weaponry, military-grade equipment, military-grade technology, and military-grade maneuvering to keep people from doing what we are supposed be doing," said Selah.
“We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling that there’s an occupying force, as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them,” Obama said when he announced the restrictions, according to the L.A. Times. “It can alienate and intimidate local residents and send the wrong message.”
Aside from criticism about the availability of military-grade weaponry and equipment, there have also been concerns about how the Department of Defense handles the giveaway program. As noted at The Marshall Project, a report released earlier this year by the Government Accountability Office details a troubling account in which the Department of Defense handed over $1.2 million in military gear (including night-vision goggles and simulated M-16A2 rifles) to a fake police agency created by the GAO.
According to the Times, the giveaway program, which was created by Congress in 1990, has given out $6.6 billion in military gear to local law enforcement agencies.