Around 40 minutes after dispatchers received reports of shots fired on the Umpqua Community College campus in Roseburg, Oregon, law enforcement agencies across the country received an email from the Department of Justice updating the government’s crackdown on military-style equipment.
Some officers say that equipment is necessary exactly in such mass shooting situations, and were not happy about the timing of the email.
“The equipment made available through federal grants and programs at pennies on the dollar are invaluable tools for law enforcement deputies and officers around the country,” Jonathan F. Thompson, executive director and CEO of the National Sheriffs’ Association said in an email statement. “One need only look at recent incidents, including the tragedy yesterday in Oregon, to see how this equipment is needed by our agencies and officers.”
In the wake of the city riots in places like Baltimore and Ferguson, President Obama called for a crackdown last May on law enforcement vehicles and other equipment from the federal government that appeared too militarized.
“We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people the feeling like there’s an occupying force — as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them,” Obama said in May. He added that the equipment “can alienate and intimidate residents and make them feel scared.”
The Oct. 1 email provided an updated timeline and guidance on implementing the policy. The Law Enforcement Equipment Working Group released last Thursday an update for the Recommendations to Executive Order 13688, “Federal Support for Local Law Enforcement Equipment Acquisition.” Below are some key pieces to that update, including a recall of certain 1033-acquired equipment. For a full list of prohibited and controlled equipment, please see pages 12-14 of the Recommendations. :
Transition Period: Law enforcement agencies have until April 1, 2016, to implement new training and policy requirements. Controlled equipment may not be used, except for training purposes, until LEA certifies that training and policies are in place.
· Recall of Prohibited Equipment: All prohibited equipment will be recalled by April 1, 2016, by DoD which will issue guidance and assistance to LEAs.
· Responsibility: Acquiring LEA is responsible for ensuring that anyone using equipment adheres to relevant policies/ regional sharing agreement, regardless of user’s actual employer.
· Approval/ Notification: Sheriffs must only notify, rather than seek approval, their civilian governing body 30 days prior to the application for equipment.
· Camouflage Uniforms: Federally-acquired camouflage may only be used in environments where it actually camouflages wearer (ie, not urban areas, towns, or other populous centers)
· Permanent Working Group: Has been established and will meet quarterly beginning in October 2015. Plan to hold July 2016 annual review of the implementation.
· Civil rights Violations: LEAs must state in application if they have been found in violation of a Federal civil rights statute or programmatic term in past 3 years, any disposition, and any corrective actions taken.
· New Database: Interagency database, managed by BJA and staffed by dedicated contractor, will include information on applicant-LEAs; controlled equipment they acquired; status of equipment; and whether LEA has been found in violation of any programmatic rule or statute, including civil rights violations, that would raise concerns of suitability for acquiring controlled equipment.
Sheriff Michael Bouchard of Oakland County, Michigan, a member of the Major County Sheriffs Association, told The Daily Caller that the Obama administration’s new regulations leave a number of rural sheriffs without vehicles necessary to handle harsh terrain.
“Our belief is that [the administration] thinks they look to militaristic because it has treads, not wheels.”
“A lot of rural sheriffs that have deserts or cold, deep snow areas. One of the vehicles they use for rescue or for emergency operations are tracked vehicles,” Bouchard said. “It is the only vehicle that can traverse the terrain whether it happens to be in an incredibly deep sand or incredibly deep snow. Well, the president decided that tracked vehicles look to militaristic. So they are not allowed.”
According to the National Sheriff’s Association, the new regulations from DOJ’s Law Enforcement Equipment Working Group’s Report places written mandates on law enforcement at the state and local level. This would include the recall of equipment to the Department of Defense.
The sheriff group claims DOJ failed to reach out to its own expert panel, including Sheriff Paul D. Laney of Cass County, North Dakota, prior to the release of the update.
“It’s a travesty to me that the current administration is willing to put political correctness and perception ahead of the safety of citizens and law enforcement officers,” Sheriff Laney said.
Thompson and Laney point to other lifesaving vehicles that are affected by the new regulation including a military surplus helicopter, once used in Vietnam that was later deployed to search for a suicidal teenage girl in Hernado County, Florida.
In Oklahoma City, an armored MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle was used to respond to a shooter who barricaded himself in his house. The police could protect themselves as they neared the residence.
“In law enforcement, these are not offensive vehicles. These are defensive vehicles. These are rescue. These are safety boxes. The same vehicle pulls up at a bank or grocery store to protect money,” Bouchard said. “Why does it make the police scary when it pulls up to protect the people in that bank or store?”
“It is disgraceful for bureaucrats with no law enforcement experience to issue guidance on law enforcement tactics without taking into account the true ramifications of their actions,” Thompson said.