President Donald Trump eased restrictions Monday on the kinds of surplus military gear the Defense Department can send to local police departments throughout the country, a move aimed at curbing a violent crime surge in the United States.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions told a police organization meeting in Nashville, Tennessee that Trump would ensure that police officers "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."
Trump's action ends some limitations that his predecessor, Barack Obama, imposed on sending surplus gear to local police departments, a practice that had been in place since 1990.
Obama's law enforcement officials concluded that use of military-style equipment, including tracked armored vehicles, bayonets and grenade launchers, made matters worse during the violent 2014 street protests in Ferguson, Missouri that erupted in response to the police shooting death of a black youth.
But Sessions told the law enforcement officials, "We’re not going to allow equipment no longer needed to be sitting idly when you could be using it.”
The country's top law enforcement official said Trump's order would rescind "restrictions from the prior administration that limited your agencies' ability to get equipment through federal programs, including lifesaving gear...Lifesaving gear that make your lives safer, like Kevlar vests and helmets, first responder and rescue equipment like they’re using in Texas right now” to rescue people trapped by rising flood waters in Houston.
Sessions said sending the surplus gear to local police departments is needed to curb an increase in violent crime in the U.S.
"Violent crime is back, significantly so," Sessions said. "The murder rate surged nearly 11 percent nationwide in 2015 – the largest increase since 1968. Per capita homicide rates are up in 27 of our 35 largest cities, some dramatically up....My best judgment is that something is happening out there that’s troubling. That this is not just a blip and we have got to rededicate ourselves to reversing this trend before it gets out of control as it was in the 1960s and '70s.”