WASHINGTON (AP) — The Defense Department is pursuing changes to a program that provides surplus military equipment to law enforcement agencies, a Pentagon official told members of Congress on Thursday.
The flow of excess tactical gear to local law enforcement came under scrutiny in August following clashes between protesters and heavily-armed police in Ferguson, Missouri.
Amid criticism of the militarization of municipal police departments, the White House has since ordered a review of the Pentagon’s 1033 program — a congressionally-authorized initiative that provides surplus weapons, gear and other equipment to thousands of law enforcement agencies across the country — and similar programs.
At a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing Thursday, Alan Estevez, a Defense Department undersecretary who oversees the program, said that though the program was still under review, the Pentagon was committed to improved consultation with the departments of Justice and Homeland Security. That increased consultation would include notifying both departments when a law enforcement agency has been suspended or terminated from participating in the program.
The Associated Press reported in September that there was nothing to bar police departments investigated by the Justice Department for civil rights violations from receiving tactical weaponry under the Pentagon program.
Estevez said the Pentagon will also work with state coordinators to ensure that law enforcement agencies have a training plan in place when they request equipment such as armored vehicles.
He defended the program overall, saying the military equipment has saved lives during natural disasters like Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and other crises.
“It is a good use of taxpayer dollars,” he said.
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