“President Obama on Monday will announce $263 million in funding for law enforcement agencies to purchase body-worn cameras and improve training.
The White House said the funding, which would need to be matched by state and local police, could purchase 50,000 body-worn cameras.
Obama also plans to overhaul how the federal government disperses military equipment to local police departments, the White House said Monday.
The announcement comes as the White House seeks to respond to protests across the country over a Ferguson, Mo., grand jury’s decision to not indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old.
The case has raised questions about how police treat minority communities, and the Ferguson force was also criticized over the summer when it rolled out heavy equipment in response to violent summer protests over Brown’s death.
Obama on Monday is gathering Cabinet officials and civil rights leaders to discuss the distrust between local communities and law enforcement agencies.
The president is also asking his administration to draft an executive order creating a new task force that will examine “how to promote effective crime reduction while building public trust,” a White House official said. The panel will be led by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and former Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson.
The $263 million for cameras and training would be used by the federal government to match up to 50 percent spending by state and local police departments on body-worn cameras and storage for the equipment. The White House estimates that aspect of the program, which would cost $75 million, would help fund the purchase of 50,000 body-worn cameras.
The remainder of the money would be used to underwrite police training and outreach programs targeted at building better trust between law enforcement and their communities.
In the aftermath of the grand jury decision, Brown’s family asked protesters to rally behind the idea of requiring law enforcement to wear the cameras. Witnesses to Brown’s shooting gave strikingly different accounts of what happened preceding and during the shooting.
“While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change,” the Brown family said in a statement. “We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen.”
The biggest change announced by Obama, however, could be a new effort overhauling how military-style equipment is distributed to police departments.
A review ordered by Obama shortly after the initial Ferguson protests found “a lack of consistency in how federal programs are structured, implemented and audited.”
The Ferguson police department deployed officers wearing gas masks, military fatigues, stun guns and rubber bullets during the initial protests. Studies show the procurement of military equipment by police departments has been on the rise as law enforcement has been allowed to cheaply purchase gear originally deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“This equipment flowed to local police forces because they were increasingly being asked to assist in counterterrorism,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement earlier this year. “But displays of force in response to mostly peaceful demonstrations can be counterproductive.”
Obama’s review found that five different federal departments disperse military-style equipment to state and local police departments and that standards for evaluating the requests for that equipment or providing training to use it properly vary.
Under a new executive order the White House expects to be drafted within the next four months, the president will ask departments to develop a consistent list of equipment that police departments are eligible to acquire, require a local civilian review of all requests, and mandate police departments receive the necessary training to use the equipment properly.
The executive order will also require that departments generate after-action analysis reports when they use federal equipment and develop a database cataloging equipment sold or given to local departments.
During a conference call explaining Obama’s actions, officials repeatedly declined to weigh in on whether the administration supported legislation offered by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) that would block state and local police from receiving certain items like M-16 rifles and mine-resistant ambush protected, or MRAP, vehicles.
“Our assumption was Congress had an intent here to support local law enforcement with this kind of equipment,” a senior administration official said. “Our focus was on what kind of protections were in place to make sure that it’s used properly and safely.”
Separately, Holder was headed to Atlanta on Monday for the first of a series of meetings designed to improve community trust in law enforcement. The attorney general is expected to participate in a routable discussion and speak at the church of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.
But White House officials would not say whether there were any plans for Obama to travel to Ferguson in the coming days.
“We’re focused on today’s events, which are here in Washington,” an official said.”