WASHINGTON – Spurred by the Ferguson, Missouri shooting, President Barack Obama is calling for $75 million in federal spending to get 50,000 more police to wear body cameras that record their interactions with civilians. However, Obama is not seeking to pull back federal programs that provide military-style equipment to local law enforcement.
The White House announced the conclusions of a three-month review Monday as the president was holding a series of meetings with his Cabinet, civil rights leaders, law enforcement officials and others to go over the findings. At least for now, Obama is staying away from Ferguson in the wake of a racially charged uproar over a grand jury’s decision last week not to charge the police officer who fatally shot unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Obama is proposing a three-year, $263 million spending package to increase use of body-worn cameras, expand training for law enforcement and add more resources for police department reform. The package includes $75 million for to help pay for the small, lapel-mounted cameras to record police on the job, with state and local governments paying half the cost.
The White House has said the cameras could help bridge deep mistrust between law enforcement and the public. It also potentially could help resolve the type of disputes between police and witnesses that arose in the Ferguson shooting.
After the shooting and resulting protests in August, Obama ordered a review of federal programs that fund military gear for local police after critics questioned why police in full body armor with armored trucks responded to dispel demonstrators. Obama seemed to sympathize when announcing the review over the summer.
“There is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement and we don’t want those lines blurred,” Obama said at the time.
Senior administration officials said Obama’s focus is not supporting legislation to repeal the programs authorized by Congress to help fund the equipment for local police. Rather, he wants to make sure there is oversight to make sure the equipment is used safely. The White House report says that as the programs have grown after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, “training has not been institutionalized, specifically with respect to civil rights and civil liberties protections, or the safe use of equipment received through the federal government.”
The review shows the wide scope of the programs – $18 billion in the past five years from five federal agencies, including the departments of Defense, Justice, Homeland Security and Treasury, plus the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The report said about 460,000 pieces of controlled property are in the hands of local police, including 92,442 small arms, 44,275 night vision devices, 5,235 Humvees, 617 mine-resistant vehicles and 616 aircraft.
Obama’s staff is drafting an executive order that will require federal agencies that run the programs to work with law enforcement and civil rights and civil liberties organizations to recommend changes.
Demands for police to wear the cameras have increased across the country since Brown’s death. Some officers in the St. Louis suburb have since started wearing the cameras, and the New York Police department became the largest department in the U.S. to adopt the technology when it launched a pilot program in early September.
A report from the Justice Department, which had been in the works before the Ferguson shooting, said there’s evidence both police and civilians behave better when they know there are cameras around. The report also cites how footage from the cameras can be used to train officers.
Obama also plans to sign an executive order to create a Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which will include law enforcement and community leaders. The purpose would be to examine how to reduce crime while maintaining public trust through measures like increased police training. The task force is being co-chaired by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey and Laurie Robinson, a professor at George Mason University and former assistant attorney general at the Justice Department. \