“Disarming The Force”: Fox's Fact Free Response To Obama's Restriction Of Military Equipment To Law Enforcement

Fox News falsely asserted that President Obama was disarming police officers by issuing an executive order limiting the transfer of certain military equipment to local law enforcement agencies. But the order merely limits local law enforcement's access to certain types of military equipment by prohibiting their acquisition from the federal government.

President Obama Limited Local Law Enforcement's Access To Military Weapons And Equipment

NY Times: Obama Limits Military-Style Equipment For Police Forces. On May 18, The New York Times reported that President Obama announced “that he was barring the federal government from giving certain types of military-style equipment to local police forces and sharply restricting others.” Obama said that the equipment “can alienate and intimidate local residents, and send the wrong message.” [The New York Times5/18/15]

Vox: Police Receive Excess Military Equipment From The Department Of Defense Excess Property Program. In 2014, Vox reported that local police forces across the United States receive overstocked military equipment through the The Department of Defense Excess Property Program, known as the 1033 program. According to Vox:

The Department of Defense Excess Property Program, usually known as the “1033 program,” distributes surplus military equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies for use in counter-terrorism and counter-narcotic activities. Put another way, this means that the US military is giving its weapons to cities and states, with the express intention they be used on American citizens, in the course of local police work. [Vox, 8/19/14]

Wash. PostMuch Of Restricted Equipment “Was Designed For Use On The Battlefield.” On May 18, The Washington Post's Radley Balko explained that police departments don't need equipment that “was designed for use on the battlefield”:

This announcement is significant. There are types of objections to how the 1033 Program affects police militarization in America. The first is a practical objection -- this equipment was designed for use on the battlefield. There's just no appropriate domestic application for a tracked tank or for guns that shoot .50-caliber ammunition.

The second objection is more about mindset, symbolism and the kind of society in which we want to live. There are plenty of scenarios under which a police department would legitimately need a bulletproof truck. But there's really no reason why that truck needs to be an MRAP, or painted camouflage or military green, or designed to look as imposing and intimidating as possible. Imagery is important. It's an indication of how the police see themselves, how they see the community they serve and how the perceive their relationship with that community. And all of that in turn affects how the community views the police. It isn't difficult to understand how a cop who is dressed in camouflage who rides around the neighborhood in an MRAP is likely to approach to his job with a different mindset than a cop in traditional police blues who conducts daily foot patrols in the same neighborhood.

From what has been reported, this new initiative addresses these concerns as well and seems to indicate that the Obama administration understands and appreciates that the symbolic component of police militarization is just as important as the practical component. I'm uncomfortable with any military vehicles going to local police. Free societies tend to draw a clear line between cops and soldiers. Blurring that line indicates a failure to appreciate its importance. But this initiative is moving toward reestablishing that line, not moving it or further blurring it. Federal programs are pretty difficult to disband, so a blanket ban was probably never in the cards. Conditioning the acceptance of this gear on increased transparency, accountability and a move toward community policing seems like a good compromise. We'll either get less use of this military-issued equipment, or we'll get more and better information about how it's used. Either outcome is progress. [The Washington Post, The Watch, 5/18/15]

Fox Claims Obama Is Disarming The Police

Fox's Megyn Kelly: Why Would Obama “Deprive” Police Officers Of “Tools Like Riot Gear?” On the May 18 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File, host Megyn Kelly accused Obama of denying riot gear to police officers. Kelly went on to defend local law enforcement's use of heavy armored vehicles like MRAPs.  [Fox News, The Kelly File5/18/15]

Fox's Your WorldPolice Fear That Obama's New Rules For Police Officers Could Leave Them “Unarmed.” On the May 18 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto, host Neil Cavuto discussed Obama's executive order limiting the types of military weapons and equipment local law enforcement can receive from the federal government. Cavuto suggested the new regulations could leave police officers “unarmed.” His guest, former police officer Lance Lorusso, said the president was leaving law enforcement personnel “unprotected.” [Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto5/18/15]

Fox & Friends On-Air Graphic: President Obama Is “Disarming The Force.” On the May 18 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, anchor Heather Nauert reported on Obama's decision to limit the types of military equipment local police departments receive from the federal government. The on-air graphics used during the segment described this measure as “disarming the force.”

[Fox News, Fox & Friends5/18/15]

In Reality, Obama's Executive Order Does Not DisarmThe Police

Obama's EO Simply Bans Law Enforcement Agencies From Acquiring “Prohibited” Military Equipment From Federal Agencies Or Purchasing Them With Federal Funds, And Requires Assurances For Acquiring “Controlled” Equipment Such As Riot Gear. According to Executive Order 13688, local law enforcement can still acquire “controlled” military equipment including: manned aircraft, armored vehicles, tactical vehicles, explosives and pyrotechnics, riot batons, riot helmets, and riot shields. The executive order however does prohibit local law enforcement from acquiring equipment including tracked armored vehicles, weaponized vehicles, firearms and ammunition .50 caliber or higher, and grenade launchers from federal agencies or using federal dollars:

  • Establishment of Federal Governmentwide Prohibited Equipment Lists.  The Prohibited Equipment List identifies categories of equipment that LEAs will not be able to acquire via transfer from Federal agencies or purchase using Federally provided funds (e.g., Tracked Armored Vehicles, Bayonets, Grenade Launchers, Large Caliber Weapons and Ammunition).  The Prohibited Equipment List will take effect upon transmission of the recommendations to the President. 
  • Establishment of Federal Governmentwide Controlled Equipment Lists.  The Controlled Equipment List identifies categories of equipment (e.g., Wheeled Armored or Tactical Vehicles, Specialized Firearms and Ammunition, Explosives and Pyrotechnics, Riot Equipment) that LEAs, other than those solely serving schools with grades ranging from kindergarten through grade 12, may acquire if they provide additional information, certifications, and assurances.  While inclusion on these lists would not preclude an LEA from using other funds for such acquisitions, the Working Group's report urges LEAs to give careful consideration to the appropriateness of acquiring such equipment for their communities. [Recommendations Pursuant to Executive Order 13688, May 2015]

NPR: “Local Police Departments Can Still Buy This Equipment On Their Own.”  According to a May 18 report on the new rules by NPR, “local police departments can still buy” the equipment, they simply “can't buy them from the feds or buy them using federal money.” [NPR, 5/18/15]