US President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Monday to roll back limits on the flow of surplus military gear, including high-calibre weapons and grenade launchers, to local police departments.
The directive Trump signed lifts restrictions put place two years ago by former President Barack Obama amid a nationwide outcry over the police use of military equipment during protests, viewed by many as an unnecessary show of force and intimidation, Xinhua reported.
The Obama order prohibited local police department from getting access to grenade launchers, tracked armed vehicles, weaponised aircraft and vehicles, and firearms, and high-calibre ammunition.
Addressing a national convention of the Fraternal Order of Police in Nashville, Tennessee, early Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said “those restrictions went too far we will not put superficial concerns above public safety”.
Their removal will ensure law enforcement officers get the “lifesaving gear” they need to do their job, said Sessions, stressing that it would send a message that they “will not allow criminal activity, violence and lawlessness to become a new normal.”
Trump’s directive restored a military program called 1033. Authorized by Congress in 1990, it allowed transfer of some surplus military equipment to state and local police agencies in order to help fight drugs and then terrorism.
Obama issued an executive order that severely limited the Pentagon program in 2015, following a spate of high-profile deaths of black men at the hands of the police, including the fatal shooting in 2014 of 18-year-old Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, by a white police officer.
“Militarized gear sometimes gives people a feeling like police are an occupying force as opposed to a part of the community there protect them,” Obama said then in announcing the reduction of the program. “Some equipment made for battlefield is not appropriate for local police department.”
As of late 2016, an agency that oversees the “1033 program” had recalled at least 100 grenade launchers, more 1,600 bayonets and 126 tracked vehicles, which were tunnelled through the program in past decades but listed in 2015 as “prohibited equipment” that could no longer be distributed to police.
Trump’s decision to revive program was the latest move by his administration to stake out a controversial hardline stance on law enforcement.