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Obama orders review of military equipment sales to police

By Erin McPike and Jessica Ravitz, CNN
updated 7:42 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • President Obama orders review of programs providing local police military equipment
  • Decision follows criticisms of law enforcement force in Ferguson, Missouri
  • Nation's eyes have been on Ferguson since fatal police shooting of Michael Brown

Washington (CNN) -- As debates swirl about the "militarization of police," President Barack Obama has ordered a review of programs enabling state and local law enforcement to buy military equipment, a senior administration official said Saturday.

The decision follows public criticism of the recent use of such assets -- including armored vehicles, high-tech weaponry and stun grenades -- in Ferguson, Missouri, where police have faced off with protesters ever since the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown.

Acquisition of military surplus equipment by local police departments became possible through the military's Defense Logistics Agency, a law enforcement support program established in 1999.

But, once in the hands of these departments, it's "up to local law enforcement to determine how and when and where and under what circumstances they use excess military equipment," Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said earlier this week.

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Protesters march in Ferguson, Missouri, on Thursday, August 21. The St. Louis suburb has been in turmoil since a white police officer, Darren Wilson, fatally shot an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, on August 9. Some protesters and law enforcement officers have clashed in the streets, leading to injuries and arrests. Protesters march in Ferguson, Missouri, on Thursday, August 21. The St. Louis suburb has been in turmoil since a white police officer, Darren Wilson, fatally shot an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, on August 9. Some protesters and law enforcement officers have clashed in the streets, leading to injuries and arrests.
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
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Photos: Emotions run high in Ferguson Photos: Emotions run high in Ferguson

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Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson has defended his force's actions, saying officers have needed protection and noting that some protesters have thrown fire bombs.

Other officials, including Gov. Jay Nixon, have expressed concern about the ramped-up equipment and patrols following the first protests.

On Monday, Obama signaled police access to military power may be due a look.

"There is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement, and we don't want those lines blurred," he said. "That would be contrary to our traditions."

Concerns about perception have been echoed by Attorney General Eric Holder.

"At a time when we must seek to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the local community, I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message," he said.

The review will explore whether such programs and funding are appropriate, whether state and local enforcement agencies have the necessary training and guidance after getting such equipment, and whether the federal government is sufficiently auditing the use of equipment obtained through federal programs and funding.

White House staff -- including members of the Domestic Policy Council, the National Security Council and the Office of Management and Budget -- will lead the review in coordination with Congress, according to the official.

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CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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