President Obama has committed to an "item-by-item" review of a 2015 federal ban on police forces receiving surplus military equipment, including armored vehicles and riot gear, from the armed forces, a White House official confirmed Thursday afternoon.
"We believe that the program is providing departments with the tools that they need to protect themselves and their communities while at the same time providing the level of accountability that should go along with the provision of federal equipment," a White House official said in a statement sent to the Washington Examiner Thursday.
"As the recommendations provide for, we review the program regularly with law enforcement and civil rights groups to ensure that it is achieving its goals," he said.
The White House statement Thursday afternoon plays down news of a commitment Obama made earlier this month to police to revisit the ban, which was reported by Reuters Thursday.
Instead, the White House suggested it was always open to reviewing prohibited items, as stated in a White House report on the issue released in May 2015. That report reflects discussions by a working group that weighed the new prohibitions on military gear.
"[The working group] commitment to engage stakeholders extends beyond the fiscal year, as ongoing communication and input from the field are essential to ensuring that equipment provided to [law enforcement agencies] through federal resources are appropriately used to protect and serve their communities and continue to preserve officer safety," the 2015 report stated.
Shortly after the slayings of five police officers in Dallas, Obama met with leaders of eight law enforcement groups and told them he considered the killings "a hate crime," and pledged to serve as an intermediary between activist groups like Black Lives Matter and police.
During the same meeting, officials from law enforcement groups pressed Obama to revisit his decision to bar the sale or transfer of surplus military equipment to local law enforcement agencies. The president agreed to evaluate the list of banned items "item by item," as the Washington Post first reported July 11.
Police groups attending that meeting included representatives from the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Sheriff's Association and the Major Cities Chiefs of Police Association.
Reuters on Thursday quoted Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, and Bill Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, as saying that Obama's pledge could result in changes to the 2015 ban on some military equipment to police.
The Obama administration imposed the ban after images of police in riot gear and armored vehicles confronting protesters and looters filled news coverage of the anti-police brutality protests in Ferguson, Mo.
During last week's meeting, law enforcement leaders asked Obama to allow some transfers and sales of military equipment, including helmets, grenade launchers and tracked armored vehicles in order to enhance officers' safety and ability to respond to riots, Reuters reported.