In a letter released Thursday, Senator Pat Toomey strongly criticized President Obama's decision to ban or restrict the provision of some equipment to local law enforcement agencies by the federal government.
"I do not object to withholding certain federal equipment from local police forces: Some items are never appropriate for domestic law enforcement. And I do not object to some items on the list. After all, we are unlikely to hear many complaints over a ban on bayonets, given that our military has not led a bayonet charge since the Korean War," wrote Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania.
"But many of the listed items are purely defensive, such as riot helmets, riot shields, and armored personal transport vehicles," Toomey added. "They are surplus Department of Defense items that the federal government will not use, and therefore donates to local police departments. After the riots in Baltimore, Ferguson, and New York City, where protesters torched police cars and hurled bricks, cement blocks, and glass bottles at law enforcement, why would we make it harder to send riot gear that would otherwise sit unused to unprotected police officers across the country? I would not want a police officer to respond to the recent gang shoot-out at Waco, Texas-which killed nine and wounded 18-without ready access to full protective equipment, including, if needed, an armored vehicle. And armored vehicles were essential in providing protection and transportation to law enforcement in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing."
Toomey also objected to "to the criteria your Working Group applied. Its report treats the need to save police lives as something to be weighed against-and sacrificed to-the desire to prevent distrust or discomfort on the part of others."
In a speech Monday in New Jersey, Obama said: "We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like there’s an occupying force, as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them. It can alienate and intimidate local residents, and send the wrong message. So we’re going to prohibit some equipment made for the battlefield that is not appropriate for local police departments."
The "militarization of the police" became a topic of national discussion following the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. Many politicians and journalists claimed that the police had incited riots with their heavy-handed response. But looting and arson occurred before riot police were deployed in Ferguson and again after police took a less aggressive posture.