President Obama on Friday took steps to curb a federal program that arms local police with surplus military equipment.
Through an executive order, the president created a working group — composed of top Cabinet officials — to examine the Pentagon's 1033 program and recommend reforms to ensure that the law officers receiving the equipment are trained both in its use and in "the protection of civil rights and civil liberties" of local communities.
"The federal government must ensure that careful attention is paid to standardizing procedures governing its provision of controlled equipment and funds for controlled equipment to [local police]," the order reads. "To this end, executive departments and agencies … must better coordinate their efforts to operate and oversee these programs."
The move is a part of a broader White House effort to rebuild trust between law enforcers and local communities in the wake of the August shooting death of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo.
The 1033 program was thrust into the spotlight when protestors, irate over the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, faced off with local police in the streets of Ferguson, a largely black suburb of St. Louis. Images of officers confronting protestors with assault rifles, gas masks and military vehicles went viral on the Internet, leading top lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to question the wisdom of transferring military-grade gear to local authorities.
In September, Reps. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) introduced legislation to scale back the 1033 program by barring the transfer of certain equipment, including high-caliber weapons, acoustic cannons, grenades, grenade launchers, and certain armored vehicles. House GOP leaders never took it up.
Obama's new working group will be led by the secretary of Defense, the secretary of Homeland Security and the attorney general. Other members include the Treasury secretary, the Interior secretary, the Education secretary and the head of the Office of National Drug Policy.
The group is charged with submitting all of its reform recommendation within 120 days.