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Donald Trump lifts ban on military gear for police

President Donald Trump has reversed his predecessor's clamps on police access to military hardware imposed after the 2014 Ferguson riots. The program lets police obtain surplus high caliber weapons and armored vehicles.

US President Donald Trump's on Monday signed an executive order reviving a program to provide surplus military hardware to local police departments across America.

His signature reverses a directive signed in 2015 by former President Barack Obama that severely restricted police force access to military gear such as grenade launchers, bullet-proof vests, riot shields, guns and ammunition.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Trump's decision to loud applause at a national convention of the Fratenity Order of Police in Nashville, Tennessee.

Ahead of the ban's lifting, critics such as the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Legal Defense Fund said the Trump administration's move was "exceptionally dangerous and irresponsible."

Obama had reinstated the ban on surplus high-caliber weapons, armored vehicles and other heavy equipment for local police departments following public outcry over the militarized response in 2014 to rioters in Ferguson, Missouri, and the police shooting of an unarmed black man.

Sessions told Fratenity police members the new arrangement would "ensure that you can get the lifesaving gear that you need to do your job and send a strong message that will will not allow criminal activity, violence and lawlessness to become a new normal."

The newspaper USA Today said the new order would fully restore the program to recycle surplus equipment from the Department of Defense, and fully restore grants used to purchase such equipment "from other sources."

A Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle sits in front of police headquarters in Watertown, Conn

Police departments only had to pay for transport costs under the controversial program

Sessions to announce the change

USA Today and the New York Times, referring to a Trump administration briefing, cited two academic articles that claimed that the program was "defensive" in nature and had reduced crime rates and did not increase deaths involving police. 

The so-called 1033 program began in 1990 as a way to funnel surplus equipment from the Department of Defense to anti-drug police, but was expanded in 1997 to wider police departments. The White House found that the program allowed the transfer for $5.4 billion (4.5 billion euros) of equipment to police departments, who only paid for transport costs.

The new briefing paper said the decision to restore the program "represents a policy shift toward ensuring officers have the tools they need to reduce crime and keep their communities safe. It sends the message that we care more about public safety than about how a piece of equipment looks, especially when that equipment has been shown to reduce crime, reduce complaints against and assaults on police, and makes officers more effective," as quoted by Washington Post.

Critics of the program argue that the equipment encourages and escalates confrontations with officers. But police agencies say the equipment is vital in responding to active shooter incidents and terrorist attacks.

Grenade launchers, aircraft, high-caliber guns

Obama's move led to the recall of at least 100 grenade launchers, more than 1,600 bayonets and 126 tracked vehicles.

Read more: Bridging the gap in American policing

"Just a few summers ago, our nation watched as Ferguson raised the specter of increased police militarization. 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 Legal Defense Fund said on Sunday.

"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," the organization said.

ipj/kms (AP, Reuters)

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