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President Barack Obama is expected to sign an executive order to encourage more oversight of federal programs that dole out military gear to local police departments, senior administration officials said Monday.
The executive order will direct agencies that distribute military-style equipment to local police to require training for cops that receive the gear. The president will also require officials to create a central database to track the supplies, as a significant number of weapons and vehicles previously allocated have gone missing. But the review also stressed that the programs provided "valuable" assistance to police departments and stopped short of criticizing the gear as promoting "militarization" of police.
Obama ordered a review of Pentagon, Justice Department and Homeland Security programs that arm local police after a military-style response to protests in Ferguson, Missouri prompted outrage in August.
Local officers showed up to control protests sparked by the fatal police shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown in armored tank-like vehicles, wearing military-style riot gear, and holding assault weapons. Police were also photographed aiming the weapons at protesters, in contravention of military procedure, sparking criticism that they had not been adequately trained. Police said they needed the gear to protect themselves.
“There is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement, and we don't want those lines blurred,” Obama said at the time.
But it's unclear if the president's actions will have any effect on the amount of military-style gear the federal government doles out to local cops.
On a call with reporters, administration officials would not say whether the president supports or opposes bipartisan efforts in Congress to ban local police departments from receiving recycled armored vehicles from the war in Afghanistan and certain kinds of assault rifles.
The president’s planned executive action also does not appear to immediately affect the 460,000 weapons and other controlled pieces of military equipment that have already been doled out from the Pentagon to local law enforcement agencies, including more than 5,000 Humvees and 92,000 guns.
Obama does plan to dole out one new piece of equipment to police departments that will likely please civil liberterians: The White House will allocate $75 million dollars over three years to provide police departments with up to 50,000 body-worn cameras for their officers.
Civil rights advocates have long pushed for all police officers to wear the cameras, to prevent against excessive use of force against civilians. Brown's parents announced a campaign to equip officers with cameras.
Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the administration sees "some benefits" to the cameras, but that they're not a silver bullet. "I don't think there's anybody who thinks that that's going to solve every single problem or that that's going to address every issue related to mistrust that might exist between some communities and their local law enforcement officials," Earnest said.