Obama Announces $263M For Police Body Cameras, But Militarization Of Forces Will Continue

December 2, 2014  |  

In response to the unrest spurred by the grand jury decision in the Darren Wilson case, President Obama has pledged $263 million to outfit police officers with body cameras. But the militarization of local police forces will continue.

The government funds ($74 million of it) will help supply 50,000 cameras, with state and local governments footing part of the bill. The cameras will fit onto the lapels of the police uniform. Studies have shown that complaints against police dropped like a stone (88 percent) when cops wear the cameras. Back in September, members of the Ferguson police department began wearing cameras. Chicago will also test the program within the next 60 days.

President Obama also announced an effort to come up with some “common standards” for handing over and training officers in the use of military-style equipment. Local forces have been getting things like tanks in the years since the September 11 attacks; the program is a popular one. That program is not likely to change in any meaningful way.

As a result, The New York Times characterizes Obama’s announcement as “limited,” though we would argue that it actually is a pretty big step. “The limited nature of the White House response also reflects the reality that transferring military-style surplus gear to police departments remains politically popular in Congress and in the municipalities,” the paper says.

One of the major demands from civil rights groups has been widespread use of police body cameras. It appears that the beginning steps are being taken in that direction.

According to the President, there is a “simmering distrust that exists between too many police departments and many communities of color,” which makes clear that the problem goes beyond Ferguson. President Obama made the announcement after speaking with a collection of leaders including Rev. Al Sharpton and New York Mayor Bill De Blasio.

Attorney General Eric Holder also commented on the Justice Department’s plans to announce new guidance on racial profiling from Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

Back in October, The Guardian broke down the $172,669 that the Ferguson police department spent since August to fortify itself. That included nearly $25,000 on 650 tear gas canisters, sting grenades and smoke grenades; $18,000 on bean bag rounds and pepper balls; $77,500 on riot gear helmets, shields, shin guards and batons; and $2,300 on plastic handcuffs.

And while the police will argue that this equipment is all in the name of keeping the peace, it’s clear that members of the force don’t know how to properly use some of the equipment they’ve been given and other members use it unnecessarily. Outside of Ferguson, there was this story out of the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel that describes how a 75-year-old man (he’s White) was greeted by an armored vehicle and 24 armed officers in order “to seize and remove tractors and wooden pallets” to pay an $80,000 civil court judgment. Sheriff’s Capt. Greg Bean was unapologetic about the use of the heavy machinery, calling it “necessary now” as part of law enforcement. While the man was called “argumentative” and has filed complaints and, based on the description in the article, was unruly, excessive much?

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