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Smart Reforms Can Help Avert Future Ferguson Crises

The Brennan Center applauds President Obama’s review of federal programs that provide equipment and funds for local police departments, especially those that transfer military equipment.

August 24, 2014

President Obama today announced a review of federal programs that provide equipment and funds for local police departments, especially those that transfer military equipment.  The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law applauded the move.

According to news reports, the President has ordered a review of the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program, the largest such program, as well as the program that transfers of military equipment.

The Brennan Center has published three reports over the past year urging such a review:

* It urged executive action to review federal funding programs for state and local law enforcement, urging that they be recast to fund policies that work to reduce crime while reducing incarceration.

* It specifically proposed a revamp of the incentives in the Byrne JAG program so they better encouraged successful policies.

* And it published a National Security and Local Police, a 16-city study of how the federal government and local police collaborate on counter-terrorism activities, often with little oversight.    

“The president is right to review the funds and equipment funneled to police departments that have given cops access to military hardware that seems inappropriate for their role in America’s communities,” said Faiza Patel, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center. “But he needs to do more than just look at funding for military equipment. A flood of federal money is incentivizing police departments in ways that undermine their relationships with the communities they are meant to serve. A broader examination is needed.”

“After three decades of the ‘war on drugs’ and a decade of ‘the war on terror,’ such a review is long needed. Federal funds can be very valuable to help control crime and protect the public. But they should be tailored to support successful practices,” said Inimai Chettiar, director of the Justice program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The question is not whether police should have more money or less money, but rather what they do with that money.”

“The President has taken a step in the right direction by ordering an examination of how federal dollars are contributing to the militarization of local police forces,” said Nicole Austin-Hillery, director and counsel of the Brennan Center’s Washington, D.C. office. “We applaud the White House for providing the necessary leadership to determine whether federal dollars are being spent in ways that create police forces that are better equipped for war than for protecting the community.”


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