Obama to restrict transfer of military hardware to local police departments (NJ.com)

May 18, 2015

By Jonathan D. Salant  

Rev. Carol Haag of Princeton was one of an estimated 250 people attending a rally in Palmer Square in Princeton hosted by the Coalition for Peace Action on Tuesday, November 25, 2014 in response to Ferguson grand jury decision. (Martin Griff | Times of Trenton)

CAMDEN — Local police departments will no longer be able to get surplus military hardware and other equipment will be transferred only after law enforcement officers undergo training under new rules announced Monday by President Obama.

The regulations were announced in advance of the president’s visit to Camden, where he will highlight the county police department’s community policing efforts, designed to improve relations between the community and law enforcement.

“The idea is to make sure we strike a balance in providing the equipment which is critical and important and to for put standards in place so there’s a clear reason and clear training,” said Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council.

WATCH LIVE: Obama to speak in Camden at 3:10 p.m.

Some of the new rules track legislation signed into law in March by
Gov. Chris Christie, which requires the approval of local officials before police departments in the state can acquire equipment such as combat vehicles, assault rifles and grenade launchers.

In New Jersey, 155 law enforcement agencies have obtained such equipment, which includes M-16 and M-14 military assault rifles, an armored combat, a grenade launcher, and a free Vietnam-era helicopter, according to data compiled by NJ Advance Media.

Under the new federal rules, some hardware will be off limits to local police altogether, such as certain armored vehicles, weaponized aircraft and vehicles, bayonets, grenade launchers, and large-caliber firearms.

For other equipment, police must get the consent of local officials before requesting it, and must provide a “clear and persuasive explanation” of why it is needed; officers must undergo training, including developing relations with the community they serve; and track the use of such equipment, including reporting “significant incidents.” Some information will be made public.

The new rules were drafted by a working group consisting of representatives of the Departments of Justice, Defense and Homeland Security.

In Ferguson. Mo., where a confrontation with police led to the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white officer, law enforcement officials responded to demonstrators with armored vehicles and tactical armor. Following the deaths of several unarmed men, Obama created a task force to make recommendations on how to reduce future incidents.

Jonathan D. Salant may be reached at jsalant@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @JDSalant. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook.