Washington — President Donald Trump has signed an executive order to restore the flow of surplus military gear to local police departments.

The Obama administration severely limited the program two years ago amid a public outcry over how the equipment was used during protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown. But Attorney General Jeff Sessions says those restrictions went too far. He says the new approach will boost public safety.

Sessions announced Trump’s decision to a cheering crowd Monday at the national convention of the Fraternal Order of Police in Nashville, Tennessee.

The White House has released a copy of the executive order signed by Trump.

The program provides local police departments with surplus military equipment such as high-caliber weapons and grenade launchers, despite past concerns that armored vehicles and other gear were inflaming confrontations with protesters.

The plan 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 a new normal,” Sessions told the cheering crowd.

Groups across the political spectrum have expressed concern about the militarization of police, arguing that the equipment encourages and escalates confrontations with officers. But many law enforcement agencies and policing organizations see it as 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.

Congress authorized the Pentagon program in 1990, allowing police to receive surplus equipment to help fight drugs, which then gave way to the fight against terrorism.

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