President Barack Obama is asking Congress for $75 million to buy 50,000 more body-worn cameras for local law enforcement after the national uproar over the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo.
Obama also said Monday he has decided to not significantly change a federal program that provides military equipment to local police, despite complaints after police with riot gear and assault-style weapons responded to protesters in Ferguson.
“I think Ferguson laid bare a problem that is not unique to St. Louis or that area, and is not unique to our times,” Obama said. “And that is a simmering distrust that exists between too many police departments and too many communities of color.”
Also Monday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department plans to soon take long-anticipated action to end racial profiling and ensure fair and effective policing.
“In the coming days, I will announce updated Justice Department guidance regarding profiling by federal law enforcement, which will institute rigorous new standards — and robust safeguards — to help end racial profiling, once and for all,” Holder said in Atlanta.
Obama spent much of Monday in meetings on continued unrest a week after a St. Louis County grand jury decided not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the August death of Michael Brown.
Obama met separately with his Cabinet, young civil rights leaders, a group of elected and law enforcement officials, and civil rights and religious leaders from around the country. No members of Congress were invited, though they would have to approve the money for Obama’s plan.
The proposals also include a task force aimed at building trust between police and minority communities.
“The president and his administration are very focused on the underlying issues that have been uncovered in a pretty raw way in Ferguson,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. “These kinds of issues — the nature of the relationship between law enforcement agencies and the communities they’re sworn to serve and protect — is something that a lot of communities across the country are dealing with.”
Obama will ask Congress to spend $263 million over three years to increase use of the cameras, expand training for law enforcement and increase the number of cities where the Department of Justice works with local police. The $75 million camera program calls for state and local funding matches.
Individual cameras can cost of $800 to $1,200. Thirty-nine percent of agencies responding to a Justice Department-funded study of police cameras by the Police Executive Research Forum identified price as a primary reason for not ordering the cameras.
Analysts described the benefits of cameras, including better documentation of evidence, increased police accountability and a reduction in the use of force.
“I’ve found widespread agreement that body cameras protect police and civilians alike,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
“If widely implemented, that single change would not only establish real transparency when force is used during a police incident, it would also substantiate the fact that the vast majority of police officers carry out their duties with bravery and integrity,” said Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo.
In August, after the shooting in Ferguson, Obama ordered a review of federal programs that provide military equipment to local police. Among other things, the review was supposed to examine “whether these programs are appropriate.”
But a senior administration official with knowledge of the review but who was not authorized to speak publicly as matter of policy said Monday that the review did not examine whether the equipment should be used.
“Our assumption is Congress has an intent here to support local law enforcement with the use of this kind of equipment,” the official said. “Our focus is on what kind of protections are in place to make sure it’s used properly and safely.”
This report includes material from The Associated Press.