Federal officials should restore an Obama-era order that restricted access to some surplus military equipment to local law enforcement agencies, the Los Angeles County Sheriff said Wednesday.
Sheriff Jim McDonnell told members of the House Judiciary Committee that officials should restore the flow of extra military equipment to ensure officers are not put in danger when responding to active shooter calls and terrorist attacks. McDonnell said it’s critical for the government to reconsider the curtailment of a program that provided military-style equipment, including military grenade launchers, bayonets, armored vehicles and high-powered firearms and ammunition, to state and local police departments.
In 2015, then-President Barack Obama issued an executive order that cut the program, restricting access to some excess military equipment after an outcry over the use of military gear when police confronted protesters in Ferguson, Mo., after the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Police used riot gear and deployed tear gas, dogs and armored vehicles, and, at times, pointed assault rifles at protesters.
Since the executive order was put into place, the Defense Logistics Agency recalled hundreds of pieces of surplus equipment that was provided to law enforcement agencies through the program.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo disagreed, telling members of the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigation that he did not see a problem with the program, but said police departments should enact policies to ensure the surplus equipment is used appropriately. He added that the equipment could also be used during natural disasters or major floods.
State and local police organizations have insisted that military-style gear and vehicles help to protect officers and the public.
“In a terrorist situation, who gets the call? People call 911 and local police show up,” McDonnell said. “We can’t expect our people to be successful in our attempts to do that if we don’t give them the proper equipment to protect them in that effort.”
Through the program, Los Angeles sheriff’s officials have received armored vehicles, ballistic vests and helmets, McDonnell said. Records show the sheriff’s department also received at least one mine-resistant vehicle as part of the program.
Some departments have not used their equipment “in a way the public would be satisfied with,” McDonnell said, adding that police agencies need to implement stringent guidelines for when the equipment is used.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.