President Donald Trump will restore the controversial program to supply surplus military equipment, including high-caliber firearms and grenade launchers, to police departments around the country.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the decision Monday to revive the 1033 program during a speech to the Fraternal Order of Police, drawing thunderous applause from the crowd.
“The executive order that the President will sign today will ensure that you can get the lifesaving gear that you need to do your job and send a strong message that we will not allow criminal activity, violence, and lawlessness to become a new normal,” Sessions told the crowd.
Trump’s order will effectively undo regulations former President Barack Obama put in place that limited police departments’ supply of military gear, such as high-powered firearms, ammunition, camouflage uniforms, bullet-proof vests, riot shields, and other items.
In 2015, Obama put the regulations in place via executive order after police used riot gear, deploying tear gas, dogs and armored vehicles to subdue crowds protesting the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, the Associated Press reported. Groups had expressed concerns over the militarization of police, arguing that using such gear and tactics often escalated already tense situations.
Obama’s order specifically restricted the federal government from supplying police with weaponized aircraft and vehicles, tracked armored vehicles, firearms and ammunition of .50-caliber or greater, grenade launchers, and bayonets.
“Those restrictions went too far,” Sessions said. “We will not put superficial concerns above public safety.”
Trump had vowed to rescind the order during his campaign and doubled down on that promise when speaking to a group of police in July.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund blasted the decision Sunday night, with Associate Director-Counsel Janai Nelson calling it “exceptionally dangerous and irresponsible.”
“Just a few summers ago, our nation watched as Ferguson raised the specter of increased police militarization,” Nelson said in a statement. “The law enforcement response there and in too many places across the country demonstrated how perilous, especially for Black and Brown communities, a militarized police force can be.
“The President’s decision to make this change in the wake of the tragedy in Charlottesville and against a backdrop of frayed relations between police and communities of color further reflects this administration’s now open effort to escalate racial tensions in our country.”
A summary of Trump’s executive order circulated around police groups Monday and characterized the gear as “defensive in nature.”
Check Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, said that while the equipment may rarely be used, most police departments would like it made available.
“It is hard to imagine any situation where a grenade launcher or bayonet would be something that a major police department would need, but defensive shields and armored vehicles kept on reserve will be welcome,” he said.