Once, conservatives blamed President Obama for the militarization of America’s police. However, now that the President is doing something about the problem, rabid right-wingers are fuming at the prospect of Barney Fife’s tanks being taken away from him.
On Monday, the Obama administration announced restrictions on local police forces’ easy access to many pieces of military-style equipment, as well as tighter controls on other weapons and gear distributed to law enforcement.
Bayonets, weapons or ammunition over .50 caliber, weaponized vehicles and grenade launchers are no longer available to local police, and riot gear and armored vehicles we have seen abused in numerous recent protests will require a stricter approval process.
The AP reports that the move came about after an interagency group found there was “substantial risk” of police “misusing or overusing” their toys, and that this irresponsibility could undermine trust in law enforcement:
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 Policing task force has a long list of recommendations to improve trust in police, including encouraging more transparency about interactions with the public. The White House said 21 police 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 police interactions. And the Justice Department is giving $163 million in grants to incentivize police departments to adopt the report’s recommendations.
“We are without a doubt sitting at a defining moment for American policing,” said Ron Davis, director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services at the Justice Department. “We have a unique opportunity to redefine policing in our democracy, to ensure that public safety becomes more than the absence of crime, that it must also include the presence of justice.”
While some, like Davis, are hopeful that this change will rebuild the trust between police and minority communities, the Fraternal Order of Police is throwing a tantrum in the wake of the loss of all these shiny toys.
“The FOP is the most aggressive law enforcement advocacy group in Washington, and we will be at our most aggressive in asserting the need for officer safety and officer rights in any police changes that are to be effected,” James Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, told POLITICO.
“We need to only look back to Baltimore to see what happens when officers are sent out ill-equipped in a disturbance situation,” he said. “Because you don’t like the optics, you can’t send police officers out to be hurt or killed.”
Like the FOP, conservatives are worried — but for more ridiculous reasons than “Waaaah, I want my grenade launchers.”
“With the upcoming ‘Jade Helm’ military exercises planned throughout the Southwest this July in civilian areas, some folks are concerned the federal government has grander plans than simply a practice session,” writes Allen West’s Editor-in-Chief Michele Hickford.
“‘Federalizing the police’ seems to come up in conversation – particularly since the Obama administration has been so uncomfortable with local law enforcement actually doing its job (quelling violent riots, looting and mayhem) in recent months,” she continues, complaining that the interagency group cited a “risk” of abuse.
“The Obama administration has done its best mold the military in its own image – a reduced force with rules of engagement that significantly hamper success,” Hickman concludes. “Now he’s sticking his tentacles into our home towns, putting the squeeze on local law enforcement, leaving our guardians and ultimately ourselves more vulnerable to mob rule.”
Of course, President Obama himself said last month that part of the trouble with reforming law enforcement is that he can’t federalize the police force.
“The challenge for us as the federal government is, is that we don’t run these police forces,” Obama explained. “I can’t federalize every police force in the country and force them to retrain. But what I can do is to start working with them collaboratively so that they can begin this process of change themselves.”
To the great surprise of absolutely nobody, conservatives are furious:
Isn’t it interesting that, now that an overly-militarized police force has been used to suppress the First Amendment rights of peaceful African-American protesters, conservatives are all for it? The hypocrisy is unbearable, but we have no reason to have expected anything different.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.