President Obama on Monday will announce executive action to bolster oversight of the rapid militarization of local police departments and propose additional spending on body cameras for officers.
However, the president will leave to Congress the broader reforms of the military weapons program demanded in the wake of the police shooting of a black teenager in Ferguson, Mo.
Obama, hosting a trio of meetings at the White House on Monday devoted to the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown, will instruct his staff to draft an executive order improving safeguards of a federal government program that allows local police departments to claim unused military weapons, senior administration officials said.
The images of heavily armed officers in combat gear patrolling the streets in Ferguson invited comparisons to war settings, with some lawmakers suggesting that such equipment should not be used to break up violent protests.
However, the president’s reforms would not halt the practice of supplying police officers with weapons usually reserved for full-blown military conflicts. Congress has been largely silent on the issue.
“The vast majority of the equipment that gets purchased or transferred is not military style,” said a senior administration official, previewing the president’s announcement to reporters. “It’s office-related.”
When asked why the president wasn’t taking a more proactive position on the military weapons program, the official replied, “These are programs that Congress directed the agencies to implement … congressional intent is really at issue here.”
Obama later Monday will call for guidelines that ensure all weapons have a legitimate law enforcement purpose, implement local, civilian reviews of such acquisitions, bolster training for using military equipment, and develop a database that tracks the gear.
The president also will propose a three-year, $263 million package that would supply more body cameras to police departments.
Obama is under growing pressure to issue a more forceful response to a grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in Brown’s killing. The White House on Monday would not say whether the president planned to visit the St. Louis suburb.
Instead, Obama decided to put the spotlight back on the militarization of local police departments.
The Pentagon’s 1033 program has supplied $4.3 billion of weapons, aircraft and tactical vehicles to local law enforcement agencies, including a half-billion dollars just last year.
The president also will create a task force, headed by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey and Laurie Robinson, professor at George Mason University and former assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs, to study best policing methods.
Since the Ferguson grand jury announced its decision, protesters have taken to the streets nationwide to criticize the lack of criminal charges against Wilson, who recently resigned from the police force.
Protesters have shut down streets and stores in major cities but have mostly refrained from type of looting and arson that marked the demonstrations in Ferguson last week.
Obama on Monday is meeting with his Cabinet, civil rights leaders and law enforcement officials to discuss his recommendations.