President Barack Obama announced an executive order to ban local police departments from using military grade weapons and to restrict the use of riot shields in a move to ease tension between law enforcement and minorities following a string of protest over deaths of black men at the hands of the police.
Obama made the announcement in Camden, New Jersey, a symbolic place for the reform of police practices, where the crime rate significantly dropped following a complete overhaul of police force in 2013 to improve the relations with the community.
"We've seen how militarised gear can sometimes give people the feeling like there's an occupied force, as opposed to a force that is part of that community it is protecting and serving," Obama said.
“It can alienate and intimidate local residents and send the wrong message.”
As a result of the executive order, police departments will not be provided with weapons and equipment such as grenade launchers, bayonets, tracked armoured vehicles, weaponized aircraft and vehicles, firearms and ammunition of .50-caliber or higher.
The president's decision has drawn criticism from the police as national president of Fraternal Order of Police Chuck Cantenbury said: “That equipment is used for protective reason, not an offensive purpose.”
Obama said the decision was made according to recommendations of a task force, formed after countrywide protests following the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man, Michael Brown, by a white police officer.
Excessive use of force by the police ignited protests across the US since last year as a string of black men died at the hands of the police.
Michael Brown was fatally shot by police while unarmed in last August in Ferguson, Missouri. Eric Garner was killed after a police chokehold in New York City in last July. Last month, Walter Scott was fatally shot in the back by a police officer fleeing the scene after a traffic stop in South Carolina. Finally, Freddie Gray died on April 19 after suffering spinal injuries while in police custody in Baltimore. All the victims were black men.
Following the protests after Gray’s death, Obama said minorities in America were “being treated differently by law enforcement,” during a speech in the Bronx.
The executive order also includes other measures to improve police practices such as additional training programmes and grants for purchase of body cameras for police use.