Barack Obama yesterday barred police from using tracked armoured vehicles, bayonets, grenade launchers and large calibre firearms, to address accusations that US law enforcement has become too militarised.
After protests in Baltimore and Ferguson, the US President said communities should not feel there is an “occupying force” in their neighbourhood.
Each of the demonstrations were met with police deployments, which Mr Obama agreed appeared more like a military-style operation — with tactical units in full combat gear atop armoured personnel carriers.
“We’ve seen how militarised 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,” he said in Camden, New Jersey, which once had one of the country’s highest violent crime rates.
“It can alienate and intimidate local residents and send the wrong message.”
The protests in Baltimore and Ferguson were prompted by the killing of unarmed black men by police. The use of deadly force by police is only justifiable if a suspect poses a credible threat to the officer or the public.
Mr Obama’s measures would bar the purchase of some military uniforms, firearms of .50 calibre or greater, grenade launchers and bayonets.
Many of the recommendations have long been advocated by civil liberties groups, which say billions of dollars worth of military equipment is transferred from the federal government to police departments every year.
“This equipment never belonged in our neighbourhoods,” said Kanya Bennett of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The measures were “a critical step towards rebuilding trust”.
But critics say the named weapons are rarely used by police, who will still be allowed under certain circumstances to use wheeled armoured vehicles, Humvees, drones and riot batons.
Mr Obama has repeatedly sought to highlight the underlying causes of social unrest as riots have shaken several major cities. “A sense of unfairness and powerlessness has helped to fuel the kind of unrest that we’ve seen in places like Baltimore, Ferguson and New York,” he said in his weekly address.
“It has many causes — from a basic lack of opportunity to groups feeling unfairly targeted by police — which means there’s no single solution.
“But there are many that could make a difference and could help. And we have to do everything in our power to make this country’s promise real for everyone willing to work for it.”