Under President Obama's new policy, police forces will need certification before accessing certain types of military-style equipment.
If it seems like local police forces have become increasingly militarized, it's because they have.
One of the most alarming aspects of the police response to protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, was just how much heavy-duty military gear was involved and how out of place that looked against the backdrop of an American city.
On May 18, 2015, President Obama addressed this in both speech and policy, vowing to limit the amount of military-style equipment the federal government gives to state and local police.
Speaking in Camden, New Jersey, Obama addressed how when people see the police around them decked out in military-style gear, it's easy to feel as though they're simply an occupying force.
Earlier that day, the president rolled out a list of military equipment that will no longer be available to local law enforcement, including tracked armored vehicles (tanks, basically), weaponized vehicles, large ammunition and firearms (.50-caliber or higher), grenade launchers (why were these needed in the first place?), bayonets, and some forms of camouflage uniforms.
Some militarized equipment will still be available, however, so long as departments go through proper training and certification to get it. That includes planes, helicopters, drones, armored and tactical vehicles with wheels (like the Humvee shown above), explosives, and riot gear.
The public is split on the topic of state and local police using equipment designed for the military.
In an August 2014 USA Today/Pew Research poll, people were asked to weigh in on whether they felt confident that local police could be trusted to use military equipment appropriately. 45% of those polled stated that they either had "not too much" confidence in police or "none at all."
This initiative alone won't resolve the tension between police and the public, but it will certainly have some positive effects.
In his speech in Camden, the president also announced the launch of the White House Police Data Initiative, which will help bring transparency to police work.
The initiative will make certain data available and more accessible to the public and will also help police departments internally identify officers with troublesome behavior patterns earlier:
"While many police departments have systems in place, often called “early warning systems," to identify officers who may be having challenges in their interactions with the public and link them with training and other assistance, there has been little to no research to determine which indicators are most closely linked to bad outcomes. To tackle this issue, twelve police departments committed to sharing data on police/citizen encounters with data scientists for in-depth data analysis, strengthening the ability of police to intervene early and effectively." — Launching the Police Data Initiative
In Oakland, where police have been wearing body cameras for the past four years, a team of data scientists from Stanford University is going to "comb through the audio to surface police/citizen encounters that either went particularly poorly or went particularly well." From this data, the Oakland Police Department will be able to "quickly identify problems and also to lift up real world examples of the great police work that happens every day."
It might be a few years before we start to see the effects of this data collection, but this is definitely a step in the right direction.
You can watch Obama's full speech in Camden here: