President Barack Obama has announced needed reforms on how police departments keep the peace in U.S. towns and cities in a post-Ferguson, Mo., world.
Many Americans were stunned to see the amount of military-style equipment used to quell protests last August after a white police officer killed an unarmed black man in the St. Louis suburb. In the aftermath, debate has raged among law enforcement officials, civil rights organizations and others about federal programs that dole out surplus vehicles, weapons and ammunition to police.
On Monday, the White House said the U.S. government would stop providing much of the more controversial gear, which includes grenade launchers and certain types of heavily armored vehicles. Obama’s move will put in place positive recommendations by a group that reviewed the issue after Ferguson.
To be clear: The president did not kill the federal programs. Instead, his decision will ensure that many police departments will still have access to equipment they can prove they need to protect themselves and their citizens. In addition, oversupplying gear to too many police agencies will be curbed. Overall, these steps eventually could help improve public trust in police.
Along the same lines, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri has filed a well-crafted bill that includes some of the steps taken by the president along with other solid plans.
In a recent interview, McCaskill pointed out that she had gathered support from a diverse group that includes Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Tactical Officers Association.
“There is a time and a place for this equipment,” McCaskill said, noting that her bill would not preclude mostly larger police departments from receiving needed military equipment. The senator emphasized that she wanted to reform the efforts, not end them.
Needed changes, she said, include more use of body cameras by police; requiring police agencies to provide proper training for the federal equipment they do receive; and prohibiting many smaller police departments from getting gear they don’t really need.
The ground rules laid out in McCaskill’s bill are sound. Congress should pass a comprehensive overhaul that allows the federal government to continue giving away excess equipment and ammunition to deserving law enforcement agencies.