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Obama seeks more federal oversight of military equipment for police

In the wake of the police response to protests in Ferguson, Missouri last August, President Obama is using an executive order to standardize the way the federal government distributes military-style equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies, the White House announced Monday.

The administration is also proposing a $75 million investment to purchase 50,000 body cameras for police officers. That would be part of a three-year, $263 million package to expand training for law enforcement agencies, add more resources to reform police departments, and increase the number of cities where the Justice Department (DOJ) works to improve relations between the community and law enforcement agencies.

Mr. Obama's executive order aims to address deficiencies found in a review of those programs which he ordered in August in the wake of Michael Brown's death in Ferguson. Police wore combat gear and used armored vehicles and military-style equipment to respond to the protesters.

The White House report found the federal programs for distributing military equipment were unevenly implemented, and there appeared to be a lack of structure and inconsistent auditing of the federal programs. Five different agencies - DOJ, the Defense Department, the Department of Homeland Security, Treasury and Office of National Drug Control - are involved in providing small arms, vehicles, office supplies and grants to police departments around the country.

A senior administration official said that about 4 percent of the items distributed to police departments - roughly 460,000 pieces of equipment -- are classified as "controlled property," like guns, armored vehicles or night vision goggles.

The report had some recommendations for improving the disbursement process, suggesting that it could use more local community engagement, federal coordination and oversight. Other recommendations included revising training requirements and coming up with a community policing model.

Under the executive order, the agencies that transfer equipment will be directed to work with law enforcement and civil rights and civil liberties organizations to come up with recommendations within 120 days.

Ferguson police response spotlights domestic use of military equipment

The administration has suggested fixes like developing a list of the controlled property that can be given to local law enforcement agencies, requiring a local non-police review, and mandating further training for law enforcement officials who use the equipment.

Mr. Obama is drafting another executive order that would create a Task Force on 21st Century policing, which will be chaired by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who also serves as President of the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association, and Laurie Robinson, a professor at George Mason University and former Assistant Attorney General. The panel will include law enforcement and community representatives who will work with Ron Davis, the director of DOJ's Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office to come up with ways to reduce crime and build more trust between communities and police departments.

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