WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama wants to see more police wearing cameras to record events like the shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown, but is not seeking to pull back federal programs that provide the type of military-style equipment used to dispel the resulting racially charged protests in Ferguson, Missouri.
The White House announced the conclusions of a three-month review Monday as the president was holding a series of meetings with his Cabinet, civil rights leaders, law enforcement officials and others to go over the findings. At least for now, Obama is staying away from Ferguson in the wake of the uproar over a grand jury's decision last week not to charge the police officer who fatally shot Brown.
"This challenge of strengthening trust between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve has been laid bare in Ferguson in a pretty dramatic way," said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. But he wouldn't say if additional training of Ferguson police would have resulted in different outcome there.
Obama is proposing a three-year, $263 million spending package to increase use of body-worn cameras, expand training for law enforcement and add more resources for police department reform. The package includes $75 million for to help pay for 50,000 of the small, lapel-mounted cameras to record police on the job, with state and local governments paying half the cost. The FBI estimates there were just under 700,000 law enforcement officers in the US in 2011.
Brown's family wants to see every police officer working the streets wearing a body camera. The White House has said the cameras could help bridge deep mistrust between law enforcement and the public. It also potentially could help resolve the type of disputes between police and witnesses that arose in the Ferguson shooting. Some witnesses have said Brown had his hands up when Wilson shot him. The officer who shot him said he feared for his life when Brown hit him and reached for his gun.
After the shooting and resulting protests in August, Obama ordered a review of federal programs that fund military gear for local police after critics questioned why police in full body armor with armored trucks responded to dispel demonstrators. Obama seemed to sympathize when announcing the review over the summer.
"There is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement and we don't want those lines blurred," Obama said at the time.
Earnest said the president does not want to repeal the programs that are authorized by Congress because they have proven to be useful in many cases, citing the response to the Boston Marathon bombing. "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," Earnest said.
The White House review shows the wide scope of the programs — $18 billion in the past five years from five federal agencies, including the departments of Defense, Justice, Homeland Security and Treasury, plus the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The report says most of the equipment the programs provide are routine — like office furniture, computers and basic firearms — but about 460,000 pieces of controlled property have been provided to local police, including 92,442 small arms, 44,275 night-vision devices, 5,235 Humvees, 617 mine-resistant vehicles and 616 aircraft.
Obama's staff is drafting an executive order that will require federal agencies that run the programs to work with law enforcement and civil rights and civil liberties organizations to recommend changes within four months.
Demands for police to wear the cameras have increased across the country since Brown's death. Some officers in the St. Louis suburb have since started wearing the cameras, and the New York Police department became the largest department in the U.S. to adopt the technology when it launched a pilot program in early September.
A report from the Justice Department, which had been in the works before the Ferguson shooting, said there's evidence both police and civilians behave better when they know there are cameras around. In a recent Cambridge University study, the police department in Rialto, California — a city of about 100,000— saw an 89 percent decline in the number of complaints against officers in a yearlong trial using the cameras. The number of times the police used force against suspects also declined.
Obama also plans to sign an executive order to create a Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which will include law enforcement and community leaders. The purpose would be to examine how to reduce crime while maintaining public trust through measures like increased police training. The task force is being co-chaired by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey and Laurie Robinson, a professor at George Mason University and former assistant attorney general at the Justice Department.
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