A senior Obama administration official said Saturday the White House is weighing whether the federal government should continue to arm local police departments with military equipment in the wake of fiery protests over the past two weeks in Ferguson, Mo.
"It makes sense to take a look at whether military-style equipment is being acquired for the right purposes and whether there is proper training on when and how to deploy it," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement released to USA TODAY.
"This equipment flowed to local police forces because they were increasingly being asked to assist in counterterrorism,'' Holder said. "But displays of force in response to mostly peaceful demonstrations can be counterproductive.''
The administration review was first reported Saturday by the New York Times.
The Defense Logistics Agency estimates it has transferred $5.1 billion in surplus equipment including weapons, vehicles, office equipment, clothing, helicopters and boats to state and local police agencies under a 1991 law designed to combat the illegal drug trade.
Although the agency says only 5% of the equipment are weapons, there has been limited oversight on how the equipment is being used.
President Obama has asked whether state and local law enforcement are provided with the necessary training and guidance on the equipment they receive and whether the federal government is sufficiently auditing their use, the senior official told USA TODAY.
"The review will be led by White House staff including the Domestic Policy Council, the National Security Council, the Office of Management and Budget, and relevant U.S. agencies including the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, Treasury and in coordination with Congress,'' the senior official said.
Members of Congress are planning hearings to investigate the program — known as the Law Enforcement Support Office — after lawmakers return from their August recess.
Images of heavily armed police officers firing tear gas and pointing rifles at protesters have inflamed debate over the practice.
"The whole country and every representative and senator have seen the visuals, and at some level, it made all of us uncomfortable," Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., told the Times.
McCaskill will lead a hearing in September into police use of military-style equipment.
"It's a moment where we can take a timeout and look at these policies," she said.