Trump reverses Obama policy on surplus military gear for police

WASHINGTON — Reversing an Obama-era policy, President Donald Trump Monday removed restrictions on the kinds of surplus military gear the Defense Department can turn over to local police departments.

The issue has been a sensitive one since the Justice Department concluded that tactics used by police during 2014's violent street protest in Ferguson, Missouri inflamed tensions and created fear among demonstrators.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the change, first reported by USA Today, in a speech to the Fraternal Order of Police in Nashville on Monday.

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11-year-old Barron Trump waits for his Dad, President Donald Trump as he speaks to reporters, before their departure for the Thanksgiving Holiday, from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, on November 21, 2017. The Trumps are going to their Mar-a-Lago resort for the holiday. (Photo by Cheriss May) (Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
President Donald Trump leaves the White House with First Lady Melania Trump and son Barron Trump, as they depart for the Thanksgiving Holiday from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, on November 21, 2017. The Trumps are going to their Mar-a-Lago resort for the holiday. (Photo by Cheriss May) (Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Barron Trump (L) looks on as his father US President Donald Trump (R) speaks during the pardoning the Thanksgiving turkey Drumstick in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, on November 21, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump, First Lady Melania Trump (R) and their son Barron look on after Trump pardoned the turkey, Drumstick, during the ceremony at the White House in Washington, DC on November 21, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS (Photo credit should read ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he with First Lady Melania Trump and their son Barron walk on South Lawn of the White House upon their return to Washington, U.S., from Camp David, August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he with First Lady Melania Trump and their son Barron walk on South Lawn of the White House upon their return to Washington, U.S., from Camp David, August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he with First Lady Melania Trump and their son Barron walk on South Lawn of the White House upon their return to Washington, U.S., from Camp David, August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
U.S. President Donald Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, their son Barron (R) and Trump's grandchildren Arabella (obscured) and Joseph walk from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., before their departure to Camp David, August 25, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
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U.S. President Donald Trump walks with his son Barron on the South Lawn of the White House upon their return to Washington, U.S., after a vacation in Bedminster, NJ., August 20, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
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U.S. President Donald Trump with first lady Melania and their son Barron walk out from the White House in Washington, U.S., before their departure to Camp David, June 17, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
U.S. President Donald Trump, first lady Melania and their son Barron leave the Oval Office of the White House during their departure for Bedminster, New Jersey, in Washington, DC, U.S., June 30, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Donald Trump with first lady Melania and their son Barron walk to the White House in Washington, U.S. following their arrival from Camp David June 18, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
U.S. President Donald Trump, first lady Melania and their son Barron walk along the South Lawn of the White House during their departure for Bedminster, New Jersey, in Washington, DC, U.S., June 30, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
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The executive order "will ensure that you can get the lifesaving gear that you need to do your job and send a strong message that we will not allow criminal activity, violence, and lawlessness to become the new normal," he said.

The Obama limitations hurt law enforcement, Sessions added.

"One sheriff told me earlier this year about how, due to the prior administration's restrictions, the federal government made his department return an armored vehicle that can change the dynamics of an active shooter situation," he said.

Jim Pasco, the police organization's executive director, said the change "is President Trump making good on a campaign promise." Pasco said he and other police officials discussed the issue with the president and attorney general two times during meetings at the White House.

MORE FROM NBC NEWS: Obama: U.S. Cracking Down on ‘Militarization’ of Local Police

The NAACP Legal Defense fund called the move "exceptionally dangerous and irresponsible."

Janai Nelson, the group’s associate director counsel, said the policy change "puts more firepower in the hands of police departments that remain largely untrained on matters of racial bias and endangers the public. Inviting the use of military weaponry against our domestic population is nothing short of recasting the public as an enemy."

Since 1990, the Defense Department has been allowed to transfer surplus military equipment and supplies to federal, state, and local law enforcement. Though the program was originally intended for counter-drug operations, it was later expanded to include all police missions.

But after the Justice Department concluded that the use of military-style equipment made matters worse in Ferguson, President Obama put some equipment off limits — including tracked armored vehicles, bayonets, and grenade launchers — and required a showing of need for tactical vehicles with wheels.

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I have spoken w/ @GovAbbott of Texas and @LouisianaGov Edwards. Closely monitoring #HurricaneHarvey developments & here to assist as needed.
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Wow - Now experts are calling #Harvey a once in 500 year flood! We have an all out effort going, and going well!
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HISTORIC rainfall in Houston, and all over Texas. Floods are unprecedented, and more rain coming. Spirit of the people is incredible.Thanks!
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Law enforcement officials said Monday that many police departments used the bayonets as utility knives and did not mount them on rifles. And grenade launching tubes were used to fire non-lethal projectiles such as tear gas and bean bags.

The Justice Department cited two studies by economists which concluded that the use of military-style equipment can have positive effects, reducing citizen complaints and assaults on officers.

A Justice Department official said the executive order would take effect immediately. 

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