An Orlando police officer’s life was saved Sunday, when a bullet was stopped by his Kevlar helmet, but if Hillary Clinton becomes president, future first responders may not be so lucky.
At a rally in Cleveland this week, notably held at a military-grade helmet manufacturing plant, Mrs. Clinton emphasized her commitment to supply law enforcers with the equipment to carry out their life-threatening missions.
“I will make sure our law enforcement and intelligence professionals have all the resources they need to get the job done,” she said.
“In Orlando, at least one police officer was shot in the head,” Mrs. Clinton said. “Thankfully, his life was saved by a Kevlar helmet, something here folks at Team Wendy know a lot about.”
But earlier in her campaign, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee came out in support of President Obama’s executive order curtailing a Pentagon program aimed at providing law enforcement officers with surplus military-grade equipment.
Chuck Canterbury, national president for the Fraternal Order of Police, said military-grade gear and vehicles were crucial in saving the lives of hostages and first responders at the Orlando nightclub massacre, but the president’s executive order makes it much more difficult for departments to obtain such equipment.
“Under the current executive order, the anti-ballistic helmet that saved the life of an officer responding to the terrorist attack at the Pulse nightclub is on a ‘controlled’ list and is much more difficult to obtain through Federal programs,” Mr. Canterbury said in a press release.
In justification of the executive order, which was issued in January 2015 after the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, President Obama said military-grade equipment “can sometimes give people the 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.”
Mrs. Clinton backed the order in May 2015, but on Monday said we must “do more to support our first responders, law enforcement and intelligence officers who do incredible work every day at great personal risk to keep our country safe.”
The Clinton campaign did not respond to a request for comment clarifying her stance.
The former secretary of state made police reform one of the pillars of her candidacy. Following the death of Freddie Gray, which sparked riots across Baltimore last year, Mrs. Clinton dedicated a significant portion of her first major policy speech to demilitarizing the police.
She said in the April 2015 address that funds should be allocated toward providing better training, “rather than to buy weapons of war that have no place on our streets.”
Ron Martinelli, a retired police officer and forensic criminologist, said Mrs. Clinton was “talking out of both sides of her mouth” Monday when she said she would better equip first responders.
“She just did a complete 180-degree spin,” Mr. Martinelli said.
Orlando police relied on military-grade equipment Sunday at the Pulse, a gay nightclub, after an armed man stormed in and opened fire on patrons.
A heavily armored vehicle known as a “BearCat,” or Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck, was used to ram down a wall to the nightclub in order to gain entry. After the wall was breached, authorities engaged in a gunfight with military-grade weapons and wearing military-grade armor. A controlled explosion was set off in order to distract the assailant.
No law enforcement officers were killed in the exchange, and more than 30 hostages were rescued.
The executive order removed some armored vehicles, weapons and gear from the exchange program, while requiring departments to demonstrate need in order to gain access to other equipment.
Mr. Canterbury said the BearCat that breached the wall is on the same “controlled list” as the Kevlar helmet that saved the officer’s life.
“Why? We need these tools to respond to existing threats and incidents — how does it make any sense to reduce the availability of this equipment?” he said.
Danny Coulson, a former FBI hostage negotiator, said Mrs. Clinton’s recent statements are “totally inconsistent” with her previous stance on demilitarizing the police.
“I like the training part, get them ready and enhance their preparedness with regard to training, but to preclude them from getting the right gear, especially armored vehicles, that’s a mistake,” he said. “Would we have our police officers go up with handguns against a person with an assault rifle? I don’t think so.”
The gunman at the Orlando nightclub reportedly pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State before being killed in a shootout with authorities. He killed 49 people and maimed 53 others.
Pointing to an earlier massacre in San Bernardino, California, also carried out by surrogates radicalized by the terrorist group, Mr. Martinelli said it is imperative that first responders have access to military-grade weapons and gear in order to counter the threat posed by Islamic State.
“The Orlando situation and San Bernardino provide two excellent examples of why law enforcement needs to have specialized military equipment,” he said.
“We’re at war,” Mr. Coulson said. “Do they not realize that?”
• Bradford Richardson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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