Donald Trump reverses Barack Obama's police weapons clampdown

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Donald Trump has reversed restrictions imposed by former President Barack Obama which prevented the transfer of surplus military-style equipment to police.

The US President has signed an executive order providing police with bullet-proof helmets and armoured vehicles.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the aim was to enhance public safety and that Mr Obama’s restrictions “went too far”.

Mr Obama previously barred the military from handing over some types of equipment to police following unrest in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014.

Police using military-style armoured vehicles and guns had confronted protesters in the area following the fatal police shooting of a black teenager.

Obama made the restrictions following unrest in Ferguson in 2014 (AFP/Getty Images)

The use of military equipment in Ferguson prompted a wider outcry over its use by local police in the United States.

After a review, Mr Obama barred the military from transferring certain types of equipment to police or sheriff’s departments, including tracked armoured vehicles, armed aircraft or vehicles of any kind, .50-caliber firearms and ammunition, grenade launchers, bayonets and camouflage uniforms.

He also required law enforcement agencies to justify the need for items like helicopters and other aircraft, wheeled armoured vehicles, unmanned drones, riot helmets and “flash-bang” grenades.

“These restrictions that had been imposed went too far,” Sessions told a meeting of the Fraternal Order of Police union in Nashville, Tennessee, on Monday.

“We will not put superficial concerns above public safety. We will do our best to get you what you need.” 

Mr Sessions said helmets and body armour available through the Defence Department program were the types of equipment that saved the life of a police officer during the 2016 Orlando, Florida, nightclub shooting.

He said helicopters and armoured vehicles are vital to emergency and disaster response, he said.

Monday’s order drew criticism from some of Trump’s fellow Republicans in Congress.

“It is one thing for federal officials to work with local authorities to reduce or solve crime, but it is another for them to subsidise militarization,” Senator Rand Paul said in a statement.

He promised to introduce legislation that would ban transfers of certain military equipment to local law enforcement agencies, improve transparency surrounding such transfers, and require the agencies to return equipment prohibited under the proposed law.

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