The LAPD said Monday it will continue to abide by the restrictions former President Obama placed on which surplus military items can be provided to local law enforcement agencies, despite the Trump administration's lifting of those restrictions. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said it's keeping its options open.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the policy change Monday in a speech to the Fraternal Order of Police in Nashville. "These restrictions that had been imposed went too far," he said. "We will not put superficial concerns above public safety."
The limits prevent police from protecting themselves and their communities, Sessions said.
Obama imposed the restrictions in 2014, amid anger at the sight of police wearing military-style gear, carrying assault rifles and using armored cars as they responded to the fatal officer-involved shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Obama’s ordered barred the military from giving local police and sheriff’s departments a variety of items:
- Tracked armored vehicles
- Armed aircraft or vehicles of any kind
- 50-caliber firearms and ammunition
- Grenade launchers
- Camouflage uniforms
But the LAPD said it's well- equipped under Obama’s rules. The department will only "replenish and replace anything that we have that already complies with the old Obama executive order," said spokesman Josh Rubenstein.
He cited helmets, armored plating for police cars and night vision goggles as examples of what the LAPD has received under what’s known as the U.S. Department of Defense’s 1033 program.
The L.A. Sheriff’s Department, on the other hand, did not tip its hand.
"The [Sheriff's Department] would need to review the proposal by the Trump Administration in order to better assess what is being made available to local law enforcement and how that equipment aligns with the Department's needs," the department said in a statement.
The Sheriff's Department has received a wide variety of equipment under the 1033 program, including generators, climbing and rescue equipment, bomb disposal robots and an armored rescue vehicle, the statement added. It suggested some of the military’s weaponry could be useful.
"As recent events around the nation and the world have demonstrated, law enforcement must always be ready to face any threat," it said.
Some civil libertarians cautioned against making too much of Trump's decision.
Obama’s restrictions were "very limited" and covered "only the most highly military weaponry," according to Peter Bibring of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.
"The order allowed departments to continue getting the vast majority of what they have been receiving," he added, "but with additional requirements that they account for why they needed it and what they were doing with it."
Trump also rescinded the Obama order's accounting requirements for flash-bang grenades and helicopters. He ordered all executive agencies "to cease implementing those recommendations and, if necessary, to take prompt action to rescind any rules, regulations, guidelines, or policies implementing them."
The LAPD and sheriff may appear to be taking different approaches, but they both are highly militarized, said Hamid Khan of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, which watchdogs both agencies.
He noted both already deploy assault rifles, armored cars and various explosive devices.
"They already are armed to the teeth," Khan said.
The LAPD did receive various armaments before the Obama restrictions took effect, Rubenstein said. He could not provide an immediate accounting of what the department had obtained. The sheriff's department also could not provide immediate numbers on its military surplus inventory.
Law enforcement agencies throughout L.A. County received 3,408 assault rifles in a 2014 accounting released by the Department of Defense.
KPCC reported on the Los Angeles Unified School District receiving three grenade launchers as part of the surplus program. The district ended up giving them back.
Khan sees the Trump Administration’s lifting of restriction on military surplus for police in the context of the president telling police to "not be so nice" with criminal suspects; his urging local law enforcement to help deport undocumented immigrants; and Session’s review of agreements establishing federal oversight of police departments accused of a pattern of excessive force and racial bias.
"This fits in with the larger landscape of expansion of police powers," he said. "We have a garrison state in the making."