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Obama Admin. Wants Better 'Training and Transparency' for Cops Using Military Equipment

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Barack Obama has a pending executive order for more oversight of the use of military equipment by local police following actions in Ferguson, Missouri.

President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks about Ferguson, Mo., before speaking at the Copernicus Community Center in Chicago to discuss immigration reform, Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) AP

The executive order will establish a database of the federal property acquired by local law enforcement agencies. It will also require non-police reviews of law enforcement purchases of the equipment, and mandate more training for the equipment.

"This is a problem that is national," Obama said. "It is a solvable problem, but it is one that unfortunately spikes but fades into background. What we need is a sustained conversation."

At issue is the 1033 program, named for section 1033 of the 1997 National Defense Authorization Act.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the program has provided a “very useful purpose.”

“What is needed is greater oversight in these programs,” Earnest said. He added that more “training and transparency” is needed.

The 1033 program stems from a concept first introduced in the 1990 defense spending bill, when pistol-carrying police were forced to contend with machine-gun wielding drug criminals. Many cash-strapped local police and sheriff’s offices couldn’t afford heavier equipment, so they appealed to the Defense Department for military rifles, armored vehicles, night vision goggles and body armor.

Obama’s budget request to Congress will include a three-year $263 million package to increase the use of police body-worn cameras and expand local law enforcement training. Earnest said the use of body cameras won't address every single problem, but would benefit the public.

"It stands to reason something like that can have a positive impact in strengthening those kinds of relationships," Earnest said.

Last week, state grand jury in Ferguson opted not to indict Darren Wilson, the white police office who fatally shot black 18-year-old Michael Brown in August. Summer protests over Brown's death led to heavy police crackdowns, including the presence of tanks on city streets.

Earnest said that the issue of Ferguson and police issues goes beyond race. He said it is “foundational to the relationship with law enforcement agencies and communities they are sworn to protect.”

Obama met at the White House Monday with civil rights leaders, law enforcement officials and local leaders about the situation in Ferguson. Among those attending meetings with Obama were New York Mayor Bill de Blassio and Rev. Al Sharpton.

Sharpton called the gathering a "historic meeting."

"We live in a country that we must support law enforcement but law enforcement must support justice," Sharpton said after the gathering. "The ruling in Ferguson is something that is not a wake up call to many of us…it's a reminder to the nation to live up to the principles."

In August, Obama ordered a review of federally funded programs providing equipment for state and local law enforcement agencies, which was released Monday.

Obama also announced the creation of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing, to be chaired by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, and former Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson. The task force will be directed to prepare a report and recommendations on building trust between law enforcement and the communities they police within 90 days of its creation.

"There's been commissions before, there have been task forces, there have been conversations and nothing happens and I try to describe to people why this time will be different," Obama said. "And part of the reason this time will be different is because the president of the United States is deeply invested in making sure that this time is different."

This post was updated to include comments from President Barack Obama and the Rev. Al Sharpton.

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