By Julia Edwards
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House will revisit a 2015 ban on police forces getting riot gear, armored vehicles and other military-grade equipment from the U.S. armed forces, two police organization directors told Reuters on Thursday.
Shortly after the recent shooting deaths of police officers, President Barack Obama agreed to review each banned item, the two law enforcement leaders said.
That could result in changes to the ban imposed in May 2015 on the transfer of some equipment from the military to police, said Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, and Bill Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations.
Last year’s ban came after a public outcry over police in cities, such as Ferguson, Missouri, using military-grade riot gear and armored vehicles during protests against police brutality.
Both Pasco and Johnson were among eight police organization chiefs who met with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at the White House on July 11. That was three days after a shooter targeted and killed five police officers in Dallas.
Following the meeting, three officers were killed in Baton Rouge on July 17.
A White House official said the administration regularly reviews what military equipment can be transferred to police and that current rules ensure police get “the tools that they need to protect themselves and their communities while at the same time providing the level of accountability that should go along with the provision of federal equipment.”
Pictures of police in riot gear and driving armored vehicles toward peaceful protesters sparked a national debate that drew attention to a program used by the U.S. military to unload its excess equipment on local police.
At last week’s meeting, law enforcement leaders urged Obama to reinstate military equipment such as helmets, grenade launchers and tracked armored vehicles to enhance officers’ safety and their ability to respond to violent riots.
Under the 2015 executive order, the federal government may no longer transfer such equipment. Local police are not banned from purchasing it on the private market, but most departments cannot afford that on their own, potentially leaving officers vulnerable, said Pasco.
“The White House thought this kind of gear was intimidating to people, but they didn’t know the purpose it serves,” said Pasco, noting a grenade launcher can also launch tear gas for crowd control.
At Obama’s request, White House chief legal counsel Neil Eggleston will review the ban, Pasco and Johnson said.
(Reporting by Julia Edwards; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Cynthia Osterman)