President seeks $263 million for police body cameras, community relations training (VIDEO)

Following a White House review of the 1033 Program, President Obama announced Monday findings and promised changes while seeking money for up to 50,000 police body cameras.

The president proposed a three-year, $263 million program to help bridge the gap between law enforcement and the communities it serves. As part of the initiative, up to $75 million will be made available in 50 percent matching grants to be used to purchase the camera systems meant to document interactions between police and the public.

Community activists have long called for the expanded use of body cameras to help assuage fears of police brutality and provide documentation of incidents in which force is employed.

The executive level review of the Defense Department’s Law Enforcement Support Office, better known as the 1033 Program, was triggered after public outcry of a perceived increase in military surplus equipment — to include armored vehicles and weaponry — being sent to local police agencies following the events this summer in Ferguson. Through the program over the past 17 years, the Pentagon has transferred $5.1 billion in excess military equipment to over 8,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide, more than half in the last five years alone.

The mixed results of the review were revealed at a news conference this week announcing the president’s Strengthening Community Policing initiative. At the event, the president advised the 1033 program would continue but promised changes and further review.

“I will be signing an executive order that specifies how we are going to make sure that that program can help, how we’re going to make sure that that program is transparent, and how are we going to make sure that we’re not building a militarized culture inside our local law enforcement,” the president said.

The order mentioned by Obama gives the departments of Defense and Justice 120 days to develop recommendations after sitting down with law enforcement and civil rights groups as to how to restructure the program moving forward.

While not mandating what changes are to be considered, the White House advises that they may include confirming that all equipment distributed has a legitimate purpose for a civilian law enforcement agency and that training come attached to the items when needed. Currently no training is required for agencies to participate in the program.

The review found that some 96 percent of the property transferred in the 12 months directly prior to the August Ferguson riots had no military attributes and included such benign non-controlled items such as office furniture, safety glasses and blankets. However, since 1997, the program has distributed nearly a half million controlled items to include 92,442 firearms chambered in 7.62 mm caliber or smaller, 44,275 night vision devices, 5,235 Humvees, 617 mine resistant ambush protected vehicles and 616 aircraft.

Further, in addition to the 1033 Program and its seldom-mentioned companion 1122 Program that allows access to military grade items held on the General Services Administration schedule for direct purchase by law enforcement, the review found that no less than $18 billion in federal funds and resources were made available through grants in recent years. These grants were in many cases used to purchase new armored vehicles, weapons, unmanned aircraft and explosive devices at government prices, largely with federal money.

Perceived abuse of these programs, to include coroners with M16s and campus police with grenade launchers and armored vehicles, has focused attention to reforming the relationship between the Pentagon and law enforcement.

A second executive order established a task force led by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsay and George Mason University professor and former Justice Department official Laurie Robinson. The goal of the group, with 90 days to conduct research with law enforcement and activists, is to offer recommendations to create accountability and transparency between police and the communities they serve. Termed the Task Force on 21st Century Policing, the group is tasked with figuring out how to further reduce crime while building trust.

“As I said last week in the wake of the grand jury decision, I think Ferguson laid bare a problem that is not unique to St. Louis or that area, and is not unique to our time, and that is a simmering distrust that exists between too many police departments and too many communities of color,” the president said.

The president also said he was ready to work with an increasingly Republican legislature to effect change saying, “I look forward to working with Congress to make sure that in addition to what I can do administratively with the resources that we’ve already gotten, that we are in a conversation with law enforcement that wants to do the right thing to make sure that they’re adequately resourced for the training and the technology that can enhance trust between communities and police.”