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Obama moves to demilitarize US cops

19 may 2015, 15:02

 President Barack Obama barred police from using tracked armored vehicles, bayonets, grenade launchers and large-caliber firearms, in response to accusations that US law enforcement has become too militarized, AFP reports.

After controversy over the policing of high-profile protests in Baltimore, Maryland and Ferguson, Missouri, Obama said communities should not feel there is an "occupying force" in their neighborhood.

Each of the demonstrations were met with police deployments, which Obama agreed appeared more like a military style operation -- with tactical units in full combat gear atop armored personnel carriers.

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

"It can alienate and intimidate local residents and send the wrong message."

The protests in both cities were prompted by the killing of unarmed black men by police.

According to US law, the use of deadly force by police is only justifiable if a suspect poses a credible threat to the officer or the public.

Obama's measures would bar the purchase of some military uniforms, firearms of .50 caliber or greater, grenade launchers and bayonets.

Many of the recommendations have long been advocated by civil liberties groups, which say billions of dollars' worth of military equipment is transferred from the federal government to police departments every year.

"This equipment never belonged in our neighborhoods," said Kanya Bennett of the American Civil Liberties Union.

She described the measures as "a critical step towards rebuilding trust."

But critics say the named weapons are rarely used by police, who will still be allowed under certain circumstances to use wheeled armored vehicles, Humvees, drones and riot batons.

    Underlying causes 

 Obama was speaking in Camden, New Jersey, which once had one of the country's highest violent crime rates.

There, he championed community policing as an alternative to heavy-handed law enforcement.

Obama has repeatedly sought to highlight the underlying causes of social unrest as riots have shaken several major cities.

"A sense of unfairness and powerlessness has helped to fuel the kind of unrest that we've seen in places like Baltimore, Ferguson, and New York," the president said in his weekly address.

"It has many causes -- from a basic lack of opportunity to groups feeling unfairly targeted by police –- which means there's no single solution.

"But there are many that could make a difference and could help. And we have to do everything in our power to make this country's promise real for everyone willing to work for it."

In March, Obama received a comprehensive package of measures following a string of alleged abuses.

He was told that US police shootings should be reported to the federal government and subject to independent investigation.

The panel also raised the prospect of annual mental health reviews for officers and a move to curb targets for issuing a specific number of tickets or carrying out a specific number of arrests.

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