AG shares plan to roll back limits on military gear for police - WSMV News 4

AG Sessions announces plan to roll back limits on military gear for police

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the announcement in Nashville. (WSMV) Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the announcement in Nashville. (WSMV)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced President Trump's plan to sign an executive order giving law enforcement across the country easier access to military-grade equipment during a speech in Nashville on Monday.

Sessions was a featured speaker at the national convention for the Fraternal Order of Police at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center.

Several thousand law enforcement officers from across the country who were in attendance gave a very long and loud standing ovation to Sessions' remarks.

This follows the Obama administration's decision to severely limit the program in 2015 following public outcry over how the equipment was used after protests in Ferguson, MO. Some argued it was unnecessary and sparked fear.

The program provides equipment, including firearms, armored vehicles and helicopters, to local and state police agencies.

Sessions said the equipment has reduced crime rates, decreased the number of assaults against police and was the type of equipment that could have saved lives during an active shooter situation, such as the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando.

"We will not put superficial concerns above public safety. All you need to do is turn on the TV right now to see that for Houstonians, this isn't about appearances, it's about getting the job done and getting everyone to safety," Sessions said.

When it comes to military-grade equipment, Sessions said a lot of it was purchased several years ago and can be repurposed.

News 4 requested an interview with Sessions to get more information about the announcement, but we were told he didn't have time.

Below is a portion of the transcript of Sessions' prepared remarks:

Helping law enforcement do their jobs, helping the police get better, and celebrating the noble, honorable, essential and challenging work of our law enforcement communities will always be a top priority of President Trump and this Department of Justice. We will always seek to affirm the critical role of police officers in our society and we will not participate in anything that would give comfort to radicals who promote agendas that preach hostility rather than respect for police.

President Trump is serious about this mission. He is doing all he can to restore law and order and support our police across America. And that is why, today, I am here to announce that President Trump is issuing an executive order that will make it easier to protect yourselves and your communities. He is rescinding restrictions from the prior administration that limited your agencies' ability to get equipment through federal programs, including life saving gear like Kevlar vests and helmets and first responder and rescue equipment like what they’re using in Texas right now.

Some of these programs, like the Department of Defense's 1033 program that Congress signed into law more than 25 years ago, have recycled more than $5.4 billion in used gear and equipment that taxpayers had already purchased, and made it available for your agencies to repurpose it in the fight against terrorism, crime, and disaster relief. Equipment like helicopters and armored vehicles are also vitally important to emergency and disaster response efforts. 

One sheriff told me earlier this year about how, due to the prior administration's restrictions, the federal government made his department return an armored vehicle that can change the dynamics of an active shooter situation. These are the types of helmets and gear that stopped a bullet and saved the life of an officer during the Orlando nightclub shooting. This is the type of equipment officers needed when they pursued and ultimately killed terrorists in San Bernardino. Studies have shown this equipment reduces crime rates, reduces the number of assaults against police officers, and reduces the number of complaints against police officers.

Those restrictions went too far.  We will not put superficial concerns above public safety.  All you need to do is turn on a tv right now to see that for Houstonians this isn’t about appearances, its about getting the job done and getting everyone to safety.

The executive order the President will sign today will ensure that you can get the lifesaving gear that you need to do your job and send a strong message that we will not allow criminal activity, violence, and lawlessness to become the new normal.  And we will save taxpayer money in the meantime.

Roughly translated, the FOP’s motto means “Law is a Safeguard of Freedom.”  I would go one step further by saying that rule of law is the safeguard of freedom.  The law secures our God-given rights, and you – the officers who enforce it – ensure that all Americans enjoy those rights.

The Department of Justice and the Trump Administration are proud to stand with you as you continue to do this honorable work.

We have your back and you have our thanks. 

Mary Mancini, chair of the Tennessee Democratic Party, released this statement in reaction to the announcement:

The announcement today in Nashville from Attorney General Sessions is the latest example of the administration failing to understand the problems of our communities. Violence and crime are symptoms of a broader illness: systemic poverty. Republican policies in Tennessee have failed to address this illness, with over 1 million people in the state struggling in poverty. Every time Democrats propose legislation to help working families, Republicans block it. We can’t solve these problems until we elect leaders who understand every community in Tennessee.

Nashville Mayor Megan Barry also spoke at the FOP conference. She thanked law enforcement for helping her family after her only son, Max, died of a drug overdose last month in Colorado. 

"I know all of you in this room have been that person who has held the hand of a loved one as they took their last breath or you have had to stand on the steps of a parent's home and deliver that horrible news, so what I want to say today is thank you for that," said Barry to the crowd of about 6,000 law enforcement officers from across the U.S.

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