President Obama is preparing to issue an executive order that will require federal agencies review the way they provide U.S. police with heavy equipment like tanks and aircraft. The order is partly symbolic, but it also contains a goodly dose of mischief.
According to a White House report cited by CNN, only 4 percent of the aid provided by the Department of Defense to police departments can be viewed as military in nature. It consists of 92,442 small arms, 5,235 Humvees, 617 mine resistant vehicles and 616 aircraft.
Since the bulk of the aid thus consists of small arms, it’s a stretch to say that the feds are militarizing local police forces to an appreciable degree, much less to an inappropriate one.
In any event, the impending executive order reportedly will not cut back on the supply of arms. Instead, it will mainly involve keeping better track of the weapons and gear flowing from the federal government to local police departments. In addition, it will require training for officers, and mandate reviews following “significant” incidents in which the equipment is used.
It’s the last element that is problematic. A police department that uses any federal equipment to quell a riot, for example, will be required under the executive order to answer to the federal government.
This represents an unwarranted intrusion into the local policing function. The police should be answerable only to the state and local community, except to the extent that it violates federal law.
It’s clear enough what the Obama administration has in mind here. It hopes to influence the way local police forces deal with crime and especially with riots. If the locals know they will have to answer to a left-wing administration in Washington, they will tend to err on the side of letting rioters — particularly those from favored minority groups — have their way.
The Ferguson riots that followed the decision not to indict Darren Wilson provide a good preview of the weak, cowed law enforcement Obama and his fellow leftists want to see. Looters, arsonists, and other assorted thugs went largely unchallenged as they brought mayhem to the streets.
The scenes from Ferguson that night largely validated the approach taken by the authorities in August, following the shooting of Michael Brown. At that time, it was claimed, the use of tear gas and the availability of tanks illustrated that local police departments treat citizens like enemy combatants.
By now it should be clear, however, that the Ferguson police was right to view many of those in the street as folks who, on the night, needed to be combated if the police was to do its traditional job of protecting against mayhem. But in November, the police seemed reluctant, in face of past criticism, to perform that job.
Obama’s executive order is best viewed as an attempt to institutionalize that reluctance.
As the CNN story shows, Obama’s backers will tout the fact that Obama isn’t cutting back on the provision of weaponry to local police forces. Of course, he isn’t. It’s only by providing weapons that Obama can influence local policing practices.