The heavily armed response that Ferguson law enforcement agencies showed when attempting to quiet protesters received harsh criticism. It’s because of this criticism that President Barack Obama ordered a detailed review of all the federal programs that are responsible for supplying military equipment worth over half a billion dollars to municipal police departments last year.
The Defense Department’s Excess Property program will surely be included in this review, as it is designed to include tents, generators, pickup trucks, grenade launchers, tactical vehicles or military aircrafts in its giveaways. The Excess Property Program began in 1997 and since then, it has (according to its website) distributed more than $4.3 billion worth of military equipment.
A senior administration official explained that the president desires to analyze whether or not such programs are appropriate. Additionally, the review will be assessing the level of training and guidance that is offered to law enforcement agencies and whether the federal government is regularly auditing the use of military equipment provided by federal programs and funds.
In realizing this review, Domestic Policy Council officials will be collaborating with National Security Council members, Office of Management and Budget officials as well as members from the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Treasury and Justice.
This review is a clear sign that President Obama is criticizing the over-militarization of police departments not just in towns like Ferguson, but in the entire county. He noted that over the two weeks of protests following the shooting of Michael Brown, police officers used noise based crowd-control devices, shotguns, rifles, armored vehicles, riot gear, tear gas and rubber coated metal pellets- items also used by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sen. Claire McCaskill also addressed the issue and stated that local police departments have become too militarized and that it’s precisely because of this that they (the police) have become the problem instead of representing the solution.
Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. explains that such equipment was necessary when police forces were being asked to assist in counterterrorism. He added, however, that such displays of force are counterproductive especially when they come in response to peaceful demonstrations.
Holden Jr. also noted that what White House officials should be doing is to analyze whether military equipment is or was acquired for the correct purposes and how police officers using said equipment are trained on when and how they should deploy it. Because in all honesty, had they required such equipment for unforeseen escalations and had it not been available, a completely different investigation would now be in the spotlight.