AG Jeff Sessions announces lift of limits on military gear from police

(Photo: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Attorney General Jeff Sessions was in Nashville Monday to speak at the National Fraternal Order of Police conference.

During his speech, Sessions announced a new executive order that will restore surplus military equipment to local police. The announcement was received with cheers from the audience.

“Life-saving gear like cavalier vest and helmets, first responder rescue equipment like they are using in Texas right now,” he told the crowd of about 6,000.

The Attorney General says the change will help protect our citizens and reduce crime.

“Studies have shown that this equipment reduces crime rates, reduces a number of assaults against police officers and actually reduces a number of complaints against police officers,” Session said.

(Photo: WKRN)

President Barack Obama issued an executive order in 2015 that limited the program, partly triggered by public outrage over the use of military gear during protests in Ferguson, Missouri, when police responded in riot gear and armored vehicles, with assault rifles.

“These restrictions that had been imposed went to far, we will not put superficial concerns above public safety,” explained Sessions.

While he hasn’t seen all of the details, James Smallwood, president of the Nashville FOP, supports the order.

“The government always has surplus and anything we can do to help our members and police officers across the country do a better job, certainly providing them the equipment that they need to do their job is essential,” Smallwood told News 2.

Police agencies will have access to surplus equipment that is de-militarized before they get it, according to the national FOP president.

“They are de-militarized vehicles and the American public have already paid for them, 5.3 billion dollars’ worth of equipment that would be sitting somewhere in a dessert in Arizona if it wasnt being put to use for the tax payers and there’s no reason for the citizens of Nashville or Tennessee to pay for that equipment twice,” explained Chuck Canterbury.

The group, Showing Up for Racial Justice Nashville, sent a press release saying this reversal will put weapons of war in the hands of police officers who are already under heavy scrutiny for frequent fatal shootings of people of color.

The group is hosting an “Unwelcome the FOP” march outside of the courthouse downtown Monday night at 6:30 p.m.

The yearly FOP conference is being held at the Gaylord Opryland Resort. It’s the first since the 1970s that the event has been held in Nashville.

“It’s great to bring all of our friends to the city and show them what Nashville has to offer. We’re happy to welcome them to happy to show them what Nashville has to offer since 1975 and how much it’s changed,” said Smallwood.

Law enforcement officers from all across the country attended to talk about trends and learning tools.

Nashville Mayor Megan Barry was also in attendance.