AFTER SIGNIFICANT CRITICISM AND concerns expressed by civil rights groups, the media, and politicians over the military tactics and equipment used by local police in Ferguson, Mo. in recent weeks, president Obama has ordered a review of federal programs that supply surplus military equipment to municipal police departments, the Washington Post reports. The move comes after local police deployed what many viewed as excessive military tactics, including tear gas, armored tactical vehicles, and acoustic riot control (LRAD) devices against protests that have been largely peaceful.
But police associations are pushing back, arguing that there is a great deal of misinformation about how military equipment is being used by police departments. The Hill reports that the Fraternal Order of Police has made its presence felt on Capitol Hill in recent weeks, and they’re only one of several police associations that have contacted members and staff about their concerns regarding potentially stripping police of military gear. Bill Johnson, the executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, said that any decision on the federal programs should be delayed, arguing that emotions are running too high in the wake of the Ferguson protests for a rational decision to be made. The Daily Beast reports that the National Tactical Officers Association, which represents SWAT teams nationwide, has e-mailed every legislative staffer in both the House and Senate, arguing that police need advanced equipment to stay “one step ahead” of criminals.
Despite concerns from the police lobby, it appears that the conversation in Washington has generally been in opposition to police tactics and equipment used in Ferguson. The Hill reports that the Fraternal Order has already met with Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) after she made public statements against police militarization on MSNBC, but lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed concerns that police militarization threatens civil liberties, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.). Meanwhile, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) has introduced a bill to demilitarize local police forces.
It’s still unclear whether significant inroads will be made in demilitarizing police departments, but events in Ferguson have certainly put a spotlight on the issue. It remains to be seen whether the police lobby’s efforts will stem the tide or if public outrage will sway lawmakers into taking legislative action.