The federal government will spend $75 million on body cameras for law enforcement nationwide, in the wake of the deadly shooting of an unarmed teen in Ferguson, Missouri. The money could buy as many as 50,000 police cameras.
The funds — part of a three-year installment of $263 million expected to be announced soon by President Barack Obama — will match local police force purchases of cameras at 50%. The initiative will also better implement federally funded police equipment while training officers on how to properly use it. The White House announced that the president would sign an executive order that aims to streamline federal and local law enforcement communication and create a "Task Force on 21st Century Policing," which will report on best practices in three months.
The announcement comes as Obama hosted a variety of civil rights, youth, community, faith, and police leaders in the Oval Office on Monday to discuss the lessons of Ferguson, the White House told reporters. The meetings come one week after the controversial grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed young black man, in the St. Louis suburb in August.
Obama told reporters he understood that task forces sometimes bear little meaningful results. "This time will be different because the president of the United States is deeply vested in making it different," he said, adding, "In the two years I have remaining as president I am going to make sure we follow through."
Among those who met at the White House are two members of the Ferguson Commission, Brittany Packnett and Rasheen Aldridge, Jr., according to Allison Collinger, a spokeswoman for the commission. Packnett is the executive director of the St. Louis office of Teach for America. Aldridge is a 20-year-old community organizer and youth activist.
The Ferguson Commission, a panel appointed by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to address the underlying problems behind the unrest in the area, separately holds its first meeting today. Collinger said Packnett and Aldridge would attend parts of that meeting by phone from Washington D.C.
In addition, ACLU legislative director Laura Murphy will be among a group of civil rights leaders meeting with the president to discuss Ferguson, according to Diana Scholl, an ACLU spokeswoman.
The grand jury decision prompted rioting and mayhem in Ferguson, protests nationwide, and countless demonstrations, but the meetings signal that the president, a former community organizer, is hoping to use the event that captured America’s attention to foster a larger conversation about race in the country.
The president and Vice President Joe Biden will meet with young national and local civil rights leaders first, later bringing together community and faith leaders with elected and law enforcement officials “to discuss how communities and law enforcement can work together to build trust,” according to the White House schedule.
“As the country has witnessed, disintegration of trust between law enforcement agencies and the people they protect and serve can destabilize communities, undermine the legitimacy of the criminal justice system, undermine public safety, create resentment in local communities, and make the job of delivering police services less safe and more difficult,” a White House official told reporters.
The president will also meet with his administration to review federal funding and programs that equip law enforcement agencies, a discussion that may target the militarization of local police officers, something that was widely criticized during the Ferguson protests in August, when civilians with their hands raised faced officers dressed in the kind of armor soldiers use abroad.
The Ferguson police department is still being investigated in a civil rights probe by the Justice Department, but many have called for the president to become more directly involved and visit the community that’s been ravaged by destructive protests and racial tensions, all while mourning the loss of one of their own.
On Sunday, Gov. Deval Patrick said he didn't expect to see the president visiting soon, because of the investigation.
"I think the reason it's a quandary is because the federal government is investigating right now," the Massachusetts Democrat said on “Meet The Press." “And you don't want to appear to influence that investigation."
Patrick was quick to note he didn’t have direct knowledge of the president’s plans but thought that was likely the cause. Attorney General Eric Holder and Valerie Jarrett—two high-level administration officials and people of color—visited Ferguson in August.