Law enforcement officers, including a sniper perched atop an armored vehicle, watch as demonstrators protest the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo., Aug. 13, 2014. The police chief of this St. Louis suburb said Wednesday that Brown injured the officer who later fatally shot the unarmed 18 year old though witnesses dispute that such an altercation occurred.
Whitney Curtis/The New York Times/Redux

Trump turns back the clock on police access to military equipment


The 2014 crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, shook the nation in a variety of ways, but as regular readers may recall, 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.

Donald Trump has turned back the clock.

Reversing an Obama-era policy, President Donald Trump Monday removed restrictions on the kinds of surplus military gear the Defense Department can turn over to local police departments.

The issue has been a sensitive one since the Justice Department concluded that tactics used by police during 2014’s violent street protest in Ferguson, Missouri inflamed tensions and created fear among demonstrators.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the change, first reported by USA Today, in a speech to the Fraternal Order of Police in Nashville on Monday.

The new policy takes effect immediately.

To be sure, this doesn’t come as a complete surprise: Trump said during the campaign he considered Obama-era limits “ridiculous.”

But the policy was actually quite sound. The Obama administration’s Justice Department determined that local police departments probably don’t need items like grenade launchers, and if they do, they could submit to stringent federal oversight.

As of today, those reforms are no more.

Postscript: It’s worth noting that this isn’t entirely a partisan debate. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), in keeping with his libertarian worldview, was critical of the Trump administration’s decision today.