Trump to lift limits on military gear for police

Sadie Gurman
Associated Press

Washington — The Trump administration is preparing to restore the flow of surplus military equipment to local law enforcement agencies under a program that had been sharply curtailed by the Obama administration amid an outcry over police use of armored vehicles and other war-fighting gear to confront protesters.

Documents obtained by the Associated Press indicate President Donald Trump plans to sign an executive order undoing an Obama-era directive that restricted police agencies’ access to the gear that includes grenade launchers, firearms and ammunition.

Trump’s order would fully restore the program under which “assets that would otherwise be scrapped can be repurposed to help state, local, and tribal law enforcement better protect public safety and reduce crime,” according to the documents.

Wayne, Oakland and Macomb county sheriff’s offices returned military surplus vehicles last year after President Barack Obama's administration ordered their return when citizens balked at police agencies taking on a military look with armored, tracked vehicles. The local departments used the vehicles in barricaded gunmen and hostage situations.

The returns were sparked after incidents in Ferguson, Missouri, involving standoffs between citizens and police. Equipment recalled by the Obama administration included tracked armored vehicles, grenade launchers, bayonet knives and armed aircraft.

Obama issued an executive order in 2015 that curtailed the program after public outrage over the use of the gear when police confronted protesters in Ferguson following the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Police responded in riot gear and deployed tear gas, dogs and armored vehicles. At times they also pointed assault rifles at protesters.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions could outline the changes by the Trump administration during a speech Monday to the national conference of the Fraternal Order of Police in Nashville, Tennessee, a person familiar with the matter said. The person insisted on anonymity to discuss the plan ahead of an official announcement.

The recall lat year sparked angry responses from many in and outside law enforcement, including Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, the county's former sheriff, who stressed such vehicles could be life-savers for first responders involved in many situations.

National police organizations have long pushed Trump to hold his promise to once again make the equipment available to local and state police departments, saying it is needed to ensure officers aren’t put in danger when responding to active shooter calls and terrorist attacks. An armored vehicle played a key role in the police response to the December 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.

The documents, first reported by USA Today, say Trump’s order emphasizes public safety over the appearance of the heavily equipment.

The Justice Department declined to comment on the move.