Donald Trump talked to first responders at a fire station in south Florida yesterday, and took a minute to brag about putting military equipment into the hands of local police officers.
“We’re giving you – and particularly the police, we’re giving them military equipment, which was taken away by the previous administration. You know all about that. And now you’re getting the military equipment. They didn’t want them to use the military equipment. Somebody will explain why. But now you have the best military equipment, and you’re able to use it for the police force.”
Let’s put aside, at least for now, the incongruity of watching the president make these particular boasts at a firehouse, not a police station. Let’s also put aside Trump’s odd preoccupation with telling strangers how impressed he is with himself when compared to Barack Obama.
The part of this that stood out for me was, “They [Obama administration officials] didn’t want them to use the military equipment. Somebody will explain why.”
In other words, from Trump’s perspective, Obama and his team weren’t just wrong to restrict police departments from obtaining weapons of war, they were wrong in ways Trump finds baffling.
With that in mind, if the president wants “somebody” to explain the rationale behind the Obama administration’s policy, I thought I’d give it a try.
As regular readers may recall, the 2014 crisis in Ferguson shook the nation in a variety of ways, but one of the lasting debates focused on the militarization of local law enforcement. Many Americans weren’t just shocked by the unrest; they were also surprised to see police officers carrying weapons of war while confronting American civilians on domestic soil.
In the wake of the violence, there was considerable interest on Capitol Hill about reforming the Pentagon’s “1033” program that makes military equipment available to police departments. Though most of the support for changes was spearheaded by Democrats, even some Republican lawmakers agreed it was time to take another look at the policy.
Congressional action never materialized, but the Obama administration followed through, banning the transfer of at least some types of military weapons to local police.
Trump, as he boasted yesterday, turned back the clock, though I wonder how much thought the Republican put into this. The Obama administration’s Justice Department determined that local police departments probably don’t need items like grenade launchers, tanks, and weaponized aircraft for use on American streets, and if they do, they could submit to stringent federal oversight.
Whether Trump understands this or not, the policy really wasn’t that complicated.