Reversal of military surplus for police gets mixed response

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WOODBURY -

Local police departments will soon have access to military-grade equipment now that President Donald Trump has signed an executive order rolling back Obama-era restrictions on the same items, a move that both sparked criticism and bolstered supporters.

The plan will allow the federal government to reinforce local police departments with surplus military gear like high-caliber weapons, grenade launchers and armored vehicles.

"The executive order that the president is signing today will ensure that you can get the lifesaving equipment you need to do your job," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, addressing police officers.

For Mark Gillott, a Huntington resident who comes from a family of police officers, the president's move is a welcome one.

"Police are outgunned and outnumbered," he argued. "If you want the police to do their jobs, you can't send them out with a .45 to fight a semi-automatic pistol."

In 2015, President Barack Obama sharply limited the transfer of surplus military gear to police. He did so in response to public outcry that it inflamed racially charged clashes between protesters and heavily armed officers in Ferguson, Missouri and other cities.

"We've seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people the feeling like there's an occupying force, as opposed to a force that is part of the community that's protecting them and serving them," Obama said at the time.

Since then, critics have said that the Obama-era rules placed too many constraints on police departments.

"I think most law-abiding citizens would be more than happy with that new change," David Schwartz, of Plainview, said about Trump's reversal of the policy.

But civil liberties groups are criticizing the about-face.

"People panicking, thinking something's going on, worrying about what's going to happen, why do we have to take such drastic measures?" asks Hicksville resident Gabriella Peterson.

She is among a number of Long Islanders who say giving big guns to small-town police departments could do more harm than good.

"Civilians shouldn't be in harm's way of military-type weaponry," says Alan Chasan, also of Plainview. "Grenade launchers? We're not in Afghanistan right now."

The National Fraternal Order of Police says it backs President Trump's decision. The program will also give police access to bulletproof vests, riot shields and ammunition.

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