The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In aftermath of Ferguson, White House puts new checks on sale of military gear to police

The White House announced a series of relatively modest reforms Monday to rein in a controversial program that equipped local law enforcement with military equipment.

The news came amid a day of meetings President Obama held Monday focused more broadly on the growing mistrust between law enforcement and minority groups. The measures include better efforts to make sure the policies for the transfer of military style equipment are standardized across federal agencies, better training on the gear, and procedures to review incidents where something goes wrong with the equipment.

Last summer the appearance of heavily armored vehicles and police clad in military-grade body armor to quell the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri led to widespread concerns that the federal program providing that gear, begun with the best intentions, had run amok.

The White House also said the administration will spend about $75 million over the next three years to buy about 50,000 body cameras that will be worn by police. Calls for the cameras intensified in the wake of the summer shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, by former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson this summer.

On the issue of combat gear, the White House initiatives stopped well short of banning the transfer of hulking military vehicles that were designed to withstand blasts from land mines in Iraq and Afghanistan and prompted a public outcry when they appeared on the streets of Ferguson.

A senior administration official said that the White House didn’t have the authority to stop the transfers. “Those are programs that Congress directed the agencies to implement,” the official said. The White House also noted that its review of the programs, initiated earlier this year, found that only about 4 percent of the transfers included material designed for combat, such as night vision goggles, armored Humvees or rifles. The remainder consisted of office supplies other non-controlled military equipment.

The senior administration official described the White House’s changes as adding “a very specific layer of accountability” to the already existing program.