President Trump rescinded limits imposed by the Obama administration on the transfer of equipment from the military to state and local police departments, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a speech Monday.
Sessions, speaking before the Fraternal Order of Police, the largest police union in the U.S., in Nashville this morning, announced to applause that Trump will, effective immediately, roll back limits on the Department of Defense's 1033 program.
The Obama administration limited the program in 2015, prohibiting the transfer of such items as camouflage, .50-caliber ammuniation, tracked armored vehicles, grenade launchers and bayonets. Police departments in possession of such materiel were asked to return it.
Obama acted amid growing concern by civil liberties groups and Black Lives Matter activists over police militarization. Iconic photographs from the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, showed police with armored vehicles, body armor and military-grade rifles.
"Those restrictions went too far," Sessions told the Fraternal Order of Police. "We will not put superficial concerns above public safety. All you need to do is turn on a tv right now to see that for Houstonians this isn't about appearances, it's about getting the job done and getting everyone to safety."
Sessions said Obama's executive order had halted the flow of the type of helmets and armor that protected police responding to the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando and the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, as well as vehicles and aircraft used in natural disaster rescue efforts.
"Studies have shown this equipment reduces crime rates, reduces the number of assaults against police officers, and reduces the number of complaints against police officers," Sessions said.
In a statement, Fraternal Order of Police president Chuck Canterbury said Sessions is "a great friend of the FOP and to police."
"The previous administration was more concerned about the image of law enforcement being too 'militarized' than they were about our safety," Canterbury said. "In an effort to shut down a single program run by the Defense Department, known as the 1033 program, they restricted access to surplus equipment throughout the federal government."
The 1033 program has since it was established in 1990 transferred more than $5 billion-worth of military equipment to local police departments. Most of it has been mundane, things like cold weather gear and filing cabinets.
However, according to a 2014 report by the Obama White House, the federal government had provided 460,000 pieces of military equipment to local police, including 92,442 small arms, 44,275 night-vision devices, 5,235 Humvees, 617 mine-resistant vehicles, and 616 aircraft.
Civil libertarians, including lawmakers in Congress, condemned Trump's decision. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), wrote in a series of tweets that he disagreed with the decision.
"Americans must never sacrifice their liberty for an illusive and dangerous, or false, security," Paul tweeted. "The militarization of our law enforcement is due to an unprecedented expansion of government power in this realm."
Kanya Bennett, legislative counsel at the ACLU of Washington, D.C., said it "defies logic to arm the police with weapons of war—grenade launchers, high-caliber assault weapons, and more—but that's precisely what President Trump and Attorney General Sessions have decided to do."
"Three years ago this month, the nation witnessed a highly militarized, violent crackdown by police on protesters in Ferguson," Bennett continued." Today's executive order erases the sensible limits placed by the Obama administration after Ferguson on the kinds of military equipment flowing from the federal government to local police and into our neighborhoods. Tensions between law enforcement and communities remain high, yet the president and the attorney general are giving the police military-grade weaponry instead of practical, effective ways to protect and serve everyone."
The Obama administration also put new federal oversight and annual auditing requirements in place for the 1033 program after finding there were lax controls over the program. Police departments had to justify requests for certain big-ticket items, like armored personnel carriers, and third-party sales were banned. What happens without strict oversight is worrisome: A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released last month detailed how the GAO was able to procure $1.2 million in "controlled property" through the 1033 program by creating a fictitious federal agency and applying for gear.
All of those requirements are now gone. President Trump's executive order is a clean repeal of Obama's 2015 order and sends a clear message to law enforcement: Stock up while the getting's good.