In 2013, NBC News described Camden, N.J., as “a moonscape of crumbling infrastructure and abandoned homes” where in the previous year someone was shot every 33 hours. This January, though, in his state of the state address, Gov. Chris Christie proudly declared that “there is no better example of what we can achieve if we put aside party and pettiness than the results we are seeing in Camden.”
President Obama traveled to Camden today to meet with law enforcement and young people from the city to stress the importance of rebuilding trust between police and the community.
The president also introduced some new guidelines for law enforcement: the 116-page Ferguson-inspired Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (available here as a PDF) and Recommendations Pursuant to Executive Order 13688: Federal Support for Local Law Enforcement Equipment Acquisition (also available online).
A large part of rebuilding that trust between police and the community comes through “demilitarizing” law enforcement agencies. The task force, for example, suggests that police departments:
…minimize confrontation by using “soft look” uniforms, having officers remove riot gear as soon as practical, and maintaining open postures. “When officers line up in a military formation while wearing full protective gear, their visual appearance may have a dramatic influence on how the crowd perceives them and how the event ends.”
Executive Order 13688 requires law enforcement agencies to provide additional documentation and justification to acquire controlled equipment, including riot helmets and riot shields. Equipment that is now prohibited includes tracked armored vehicles, grenade launchers, and some camouflage uniforms.
“Although grenade launchers can be used to launch tear gas and other nonexplosive and less‐than‐lethal projectiles,” reads the order, “their use and misuse can be detrimental to maintaining public trust in law enforcement, and other devices that do not have similar militaristic connotations are available to launch tear gas”