On Monday, the White House proposed a $263 million “investment package” in an effort to improve police departments across the country in response to continuous tension between residents and law enforcement in Ferguson, as well as criticism from the public nationwide regarding police militarization and police power.
A White House press release included several strategies to “strengthen community policing and fortify the trust that must exist between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.” The strategies include:
$75 million to be spent on a Body Worn Camera Partnership Program, which would offer a 50% match to states and towns for as many as 50,000 body-worn police cameras
Expanded training for police departments
Increased “resources for police department reform”
Multiplying the number of cities where the Department of Justice facilitates community and local LEA engagement
While the mainstream media is focusing largely on the portion of the proposal that provides funding for body cameras, less attention is being paid to other vaguely illustrated initiatives planned by the Obama administration. The White House has yet to explain exactly how the remaining $188 million would be spent, but has provided some generalized propositions.
The proposal includes a planned executive order instructing federal agencies, law enforcement agencies and civil liberties organizations to “work together” in order to provide recommendations that could improve the transfer of military equipment from federal agencies to police departments.
The press release contained suggestions for those recommendations such as mandated training courses for police acquiring military equipment, analysis reports for incidents involving military equipment, and the creation of a “consistent list of controlled property allowable for acquisition by LEAs and ensure that all equipment on the list has a legitimate civilian law enforcement purpose.”
The press release also announced their intention of creating a task force by using an executive order fixated on promoting “21st Century Policing”:
The President similarly instructed his team to draft an executive order creating a Task Force on 21st Century Policing, and announced that the Task Force will be chaired by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, who also serves as President of the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association, and Laurie Robinson, professor at George Mason University and former Assistant Attorney General for DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs.
Obama’s decision to appoint Ramsey as would-be chief of a task force centered around building trust between civilians and police could be considered perplexing. Philadelphia’s police department, headed by Ramsey, was sued in September by the ACLU over claims that the department used repeated excessive force to prevent citizens from filming its officers. In July, six officers in the Philadelphia police department were exposed as participants in a corruption scandal that involved racketeering, extortion, robbery, drug dealing, and kidnapping.
The White House concluded its press release by stating:
The initiative as a whole will help the federal government efforts to be a full partner with state and local LEAs in order to build and sustain trust between communities and those who serve and protect these communities.
At this time there appears to be no specific efforts being made to scale back the military equipment provided to police. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a briefing that Obama has no plans to repeal programs authorized by Congress regarding police acquisition of military equipment. Earnest used the police response following the Boston Marathon bombings as an example of the significance of such programs. “But it is not clear that there is a consistency with regard to the way that these programs are implemented, structured and audited, and that’s something that needs to be addressed,” said Earnest.