Obama bans some surplus military gear from transfer to police departments

I suppose this was entirely predictable given the stance of the Obama administration in most matters concerning relations between police departments and the communities they serve and protect. The White House is cancelling portions of a program where surplus military equipment was made available at no cost to local police departments for use in fighting crime in violent neighborhoods. Other resources will remain available but require some sort of assurances from the cops that they won’t “misuse” them.

The Obama administration announced Monday it will ban federal transfers of certain types of military-style gear from local police departments, as the president seeks to respond to a spate of incidents that has frayed trust in communities across the country.

The banned items include tracked armored vehicles, bayonets and grenade launchers, according to a task force report released by the White House. Other equipment, including tactical vehicles, explosives and riot equipment, will be transferred only if local police provide additional certification and assurances that the gear will be used responsibly, according to the report.

The announcement came as Obama prepared to travel to Camden, N.J., to highlight his administration’s strategy to help reform local police departments, including efforts to increase the numbers of officers on patrol and the use of body cameras.

Before we even get to the issue of the equipment transfer ban, I should point out that the Secret Service must be going ballistic this week. Taking the President anywhere is a stressful operation to begin with, but bringing him to Camden must be a logistical nightmare. The place is a war zone. Getting the boss in and out safely, not to mention scheduling an outdoor public speaking appearance, will probably have a number of agents leaving with more gray hairs than they had a month ago.

But choosing Camden for the setting of such an announcement is rather ironic. If there’s one police force in the nation that could use some military style gear, it’s probably Camden’s. With that said, not all of the gear being distributed sounds as if it’s equally useful. Banning tracked vehicles seems pointless because whether the vehicle has tracks or wheels, it’s not significantly more dangerous. But tracks are useful on broken ground, concrete steps, etc. can provide an advantage in urban combat at times. Bayonets seem a bit anachronistic in the modern era and I’m not sure who is using them anyway. As for the grenade launchers, even I will admit that they might be a bit over the top even in a massive riot situation, so I’m unsure why they were being issued in the first place.

But the other gear which will essentially require permission slips should be standard issue, at least in large, urban departments. Batons and riot shields shouldn’t be an option… they should be a requirement, along with proper self-defense training in their use. Tactical vehicles, explosives, battering rams and the rest of the items on the list all clearly have their proper time and place and letting them go to waste rather than distributing them to police forces with strained budgets is counterproductive.

The obvious takeaway from all of this, though, is that the White House isn’t implementing some new policy which they think will improve public safety. This is a public relations stunt to show that they are “on the side of the people” against the evil, out of control cops. Unfortunately we still have areas in this country – generally in large urban centers or contested border regions in the southwest – where police work can border on combat zone scenarios. Everyone would prefer it to be otherwise, but if you’re living in the real world you need to bring the best tools available to the job you have in front of you.

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