The President Backs Body Cams … And Not Much Else

New York City Public Advocate Displays Police Wearable Cameras

Zeke Miller details Obama’s planned executive orders:

President Barack Obama is preparing to issue an executive order to calling for additional oversight of various federal programs which provide military surplus equipment to local law enforcement agencies, senior administration officials said Monday, but will stop short of banning the transfer of heavy gear to police forces. …

Obama will also announce a three-year $263 million package to increase the use of police body-worn cameras and expand local law enforcement training. The program, modeled after a similar program for bullet-proof vests for officers, would provide $75 million over three years for the “Body Worn Camera Partnership Program.” Administration officials said it would provided a 50 percent match for body-camera purchases by state and local agencies, enough for 50,000 new cameras. Officials said they hope to secure about $70 million in funding for the effort as part of a government funding deal that must be reached in the coming two weeks.

George Condon Jr. views the announcement as yet another example of Obama’s “trademark caution”:

He was cautious about the use of surplus military equipment by domestic police forces, promising to make it more transparent so it can be studied. He was cautious on police behavior, promising to work with Congress to pay for more body cameras to be worn by cops on the street. He was cautious about the Justice Department’s role, announcing that the outgoing attorney general will “convene a series of these meetings all across the country.” And he was cautious in falling back on that most familiar of Washington responses—a task force to further study the situation.

Scott Shackford is skeptical that the president is really committed to de-militarizing the police:

The White House promised to study police militarization in the wake of how various law enforcement agencies in Ferguson, Missouri, responded to the peaceful protesters, not just the aggressive or criminal ones. What comes out of the report is a call for better documentation and transparency, and an easily supportable demand that local governments must actually review and authorize acquisition of the “controlled property” military equipment (guns and vehicles) by law enforcement agencies.

What the report doesn’t recommend is scaling back the programs in any notable or significant way. It appears as though the White House is trying to have it both ways on police militarization, calling for reforms without having to tackle the issues surrounding whether it’s actually necessary.

Trevor Timm is more blunt:

Obama said he wants to avoid building a “militarized culture” in police departments, yet his White House report claims all the militarization programs are “valuable” to law enforcement, without going into any detail of where that value has actually been shown. For example, when was the last time a local police officer drove over a fucking mine? Why would neighborhood cops ever need Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs) that were meant to protect soldiers against IEDs in Iraq? The White House’s four months of “research” into federal funding simply does not venture to explain. Nor does it explain any use for any of the Pentagon’s weaponry now in the hands of our local police.

Emily Badger argues along the same lines:

[B]y calling for local police to receive more training — including on civil rights and civil liberties — when they receive military-style equipment, the review leaves unasked the question Obama’s own earlier comments seemed to raise: Is it even a good idea to give it to them?

Joshua Brustein focuses instead on the body cams fund, which could “almost double the number of cameras in use in the country”:

The White House’s support of cameras isn’t a surprise. In the days after Brown was shot, a petition on in support of legislation requiring all state, county, and local police to wear cameras gathered nearly 155,000 signatures. Roy Austin of Obama’s Domestic Policy Council posted an official response that described years of work by the administration to advance the use of body-worn and dashboard cameras. Police departments have long been coming around on cameras, but progress is slow. Adopting police cameras requires thousands of independent agencies coming to terms with thorny privacy and accountability issues.

Jim Bueermann, president of the Police Foundation, says that the biggest barrier is cost. The White House will match the spending of local and state agencies who decide to buy cameras, mirroring a similar federal program that has led to the purchase of over 1.1 million vests for law enforcement agencies. The money won’t come without strings attached: Bueermann expects a requirement that every officer in participating departments wear a camera at all times while in the field.

Rich Lowry recommends a different reform:

The most needful reform in Ferguson and surrounding communities, per the excellent reporting of Radley Balko of the Washington Post, is the end of the obnoxious and parasitic practice of squeezing revenue out of residents with fines from traffic and other petty offenses. This creates an incentive for police to hassle motorists and is especially burdensome to poor residents. Because this issue is exceedingly local and dull, almost no one talks about it.

(Photo: New York City Public Advocate Letitia James displays a video camera that police officers could wear on patrol during a press conference on August 21, 2014 in New York City.  By Andrew Burton/Getty Images)