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Obama puts stricter controls on military-style for police

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By Nedra Pickler

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a surprise announcement coming nine months after  in riot gear dispelled racially charged protests, President Barack  is banning the federal government from providing some military-style equipment to local departments and putting stricter controls on other weapons and gear distributed to law enforcement.

The announcement comes after the White House suggested last year that  would maintain programs that provide the type of military-style equipment used to respond to demonstrators last summer in Ferguson, Missouri, because of their broader contribution to public safety. But an interagency group found “substantial risk of misusing or overusing” items like tracked armored vehicles, high-powered firearms and camouflage could undermine trust in .

With scrutiny on  only increasing in the ensuing months after a series of highly publicized deaths of black suspects nationwide,  also is unveiling the final report of a task force he created to help build confidence between  and minority communities in particular. The announcements come as  is visiting Camden, New Jersey, one of the country’s most violent and poorest cities.

 plans to visit Camden  headquarters before heading to a community center to meet with youth and law enforcement and give a speech. “I’ll highlight steps all cities can take to maintain trust between the brave law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line, and the communities they’re sworn to serve and protect,”  said in his weekly address out Saturday.

In previewing the president’s trip, the White House said that effective immediately, the federal government will no longer fund or provide armored vehicles that run on a tracked system instead of wheels, weaponized aircraft or vehicles, firearms or ammunition of .50-caliber or higher, grenade launchers, bayonets or camouflage uniforms. The federal government also is exploring ways to recall prohibited equipment already distributed.

In addition, a longer list of equipment the federal government provides will come under tighter control, including wheeled armored vehicles like Humvees, manned aircraft, drones, specialized firearms, explosives, battering rams and riot batons, helmets and shields. Starting in October,  will have to get approval from their city council, mayor or some other local governing body to obtain it, provide a persuasive explanation of why it is needed and have more training and data collection on the use of the equipment.

The issue of  militarization rose to prominence last year after a white  officer in Ferguson fatally shot unarmed black 18-year-old Michael Brown, sparking protests. Critics questioned why  in full body armor with armored trucks responded to dispel demonstrators, and  seemed to sympathize when ordering a review of the programs that provide the equipment. “There is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement and we don’t want those lines blurred,”  last in August.

But he did not announce a ban in December with the publication of the review, which showed five federal agencies spent $18 billion on programs that provided equipment including 92,442 small arms, 44,275 night-vision devices, 5,235 Humvees, 617 mine-resistant vehicles and 616 aircraft. At the time, the White House defended the programs as proving to be useful in many cases, such as the response to the Boston Marathon bombing. Instead of repealing the programs,  issued an executive order that required federal agencies that run the programs to consult with law enforcement and civil rights and civil liberties organizations to recommend changes that make sure they are accountable and transparent.

That working group said in a report out Monday that it developed the list of newly banned equipment because “the substantial risk of misusing or overusing these items, which are seen as militaristic in nature, could significantly undermine community trust and may encourage tactics and behaviors that are inconsistent with the premise of civilian law enforcement.” The Justice Department did not respond to an inquiry about how many pieces of equipment that are now banned had been previously distributed through federal programs.

The separate report from the 21st Century  task force has a long list of recommendations to improve trust in , including encouraging more transparency about interactions with the public. The White House said 21  agencies nationwide, including Camden and nearby Philadelphia, have agreed to start putting out never-before released data on citizen interactions like use of force, stops, citations and officer-involved shootings. The administration also is launching an online toolkit to encourage the use of body cameras to record  interactions. And the Justice Department is giving $163 million in grants to incentivize  departments to adopt the report’s recommendations.

Ron Davis, director of the Office of Community Oriented  Services at the Department of Justice, told reporters he hoped the report could be a “key transformational document” in rebuilding trust that has been destroyed in recent years between  and minority communities.

“We are without a doubt sitting at a defining moment for American ,” said Davis, a 30-year  veteran and former chief of the East Palo Alto (California)  Department. “We have a unique opportunity to redefine  in our democracy, to ensure that public safety becomes more than the absence of crime, that it must also include the presence of justice.”

Equipment that was banned and why:

—Armored vehicles that move on tracks instead of wheels. Their military appearance intimidates civilians; other vehicles can meet  needs.

—Weaponized aircraft, ships or vehicles.  departments won’t be able to purchase vehicles with weapons installed on them from the government.

—.50-caliber or higher ammunition and firearms. These weapons typically used by the military are highly destructive and can penetrate buildings.

—Grenade launchers.  sometimes use them to launch tear gas, but other devices can do the job.

—Bayonets. These large knives attached to rifles for hand-to-hand combat aren’t necessary for  work.

—Camouflage uniforms.  wearing forest camouflage in the city appear unnecessarily militaristic. Federal programs will still be allowed to provide woodland or desert camouflage for law enforcement missions where they are needed, such as woodland camouflage for officers eradicating illegal drug crops in a forested area.

Beginning in October, the federal government will sell or provide some equipment to  only under tighter controls, requiring the approval of a local governing body and an explanation of why it’s needed.

That equipment includes:

—Airplanes, helicopters and drones.

—Wheeled armored vehicles, such as Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, known as MRAPs, that protect the officers inside.

—Wheeled tactical vehicles, such as Humvees and 5-ton trucks. Law officers use them to travel over rough terrain, during weather emergencies and for search-and-rescue missions.

—Command and control vehicles. Their enhanced communications equipment helps direct the response to a big incident or emergency.

—Firearms and ammunition under .50-caliber for specialized operations or assignments. Service weapons that are issued by departments for regular duty don’t follow under the new restrictions.

—Explosives and pyrotechnics. Includes “flash bangs” and other tools used by special operations units.

—Breaching apparatus. Battering rams, explosives and other tools used to break through a door to rush into a building.

—Riot helmets, riot shields and extra-large riot batons. The regular batons carried by  aren’t affected.

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