WASHINGTON - President Obama is asking Congress for $75 million to buy 50,000 more body-worn cameras for local law enforcement after the national uproar over the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo.
Obama also said Monday that he would not significantly change a federal program that provides military equipment to local police, despite complaints after police with riot gear and assault-style weapons responded to protesters in Ferguson.
"I think Ferguson laid bare a problem that is not unique to St. Louis or that area, and is not unique to our times," Obama said. "And that is a simmering distrust that exists between too many police departments and too many communities of color."
Obama spent much of Monday in meetings on the continued unrest, a week after a St. Louis County grand jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the August death of Michael Brown.
Obama met separately with his cabinet, young civil rights leaders, a group of elected and law enforcement officials, and civil rights and religious leaders from around the country. No members of Congress were invited, though they would have to approve funding for Obama's plan.
The proposals also include a task force aimed at building trust between police and minority communities.
"The president and his administration are very focused on the underlying issues that have been uncovered in a pretty raw way in Ferguson," said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. "These kinds of issues - the nature of the relationship between law enforcement agencies and the communities they're sworn to serve and protect - is something that a lot of communities across the country are dealing with."
Obama will ask Congress to spend $263 million over three years to increase use of the cameras, expand training for law enforcement, and increase the number of cities where the Department of Justice works with local police. The $75 million camera program calls for state and local funding matches.
Individual cameras can cost $800 to $1,200. Thirty-nine percent of agencies responding to a Justice Department-funded study of police cameras by the Police Executive Research Forum identified price as a primary reason for not ordering the cameras.
Analysts described the benefits of cameras, including better documentation of evidence, increased police accountability and a reduction in the use of force.
"I've found widespread agreement that body cameras protect police and civilians alike," said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.).
"If widely implemented, that single change would not only establish real transparency when force is used during a police incident, it would also substantiate the fact that the vast majority of police officers carry out their duties with bravery and integrity," said Rep. William Lacy Clay (D., Mo.).
Obama has said the nation has work to do to resolve the tension between law enforcement and minority communities. In recent years, Obama started a program called My Brother's Keeper to empower young black men.
Obama said he knows that people are often wary of more task forces, but that he plans to take action after the studies are complete. "In the two years I have remaining as president," he said, "I'm going to make sure we follow through."
In August, after the shooting in Ferguson, Obama ordered a review of federal programs that provide military equipment to police. Among other things, the review was supposed to examine "whether these programs are appropriate."
But a senior administration official with knowledge of the review but who was not authorized to speak publicly as matter of policy said Monday that the review did not examine whether the equipment should be used.
Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing - chaired by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey and former Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson - will look at reducing crime while increasing public trust. It will prepare a report within 90 days.
President Obama called Monday for $75 million in federal spending to get 50,000 more police to wear body cameras that record their interactions with civilians.
The president made the announcement during a series of meetings with his cabinet, civil rights leaders, law enforcement officials, and others following a grand jury's decision last week not to charge the police offer who fatally shot unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Elsewhere, some Americans walked off the job or out of school in support of the Ferguson protests. Here's a look at the latest developments:
Obama proposed a three-year $263 million spending package to increase use of body cameras, expand training for law enforcement, and add more resources for police reform. The package includes $75 million for the small, lapel-mounted cameras to record officers on the job.
The White House has said the cameras could help bridge deep mistrust between law enforcement and the public. It could also help resolve the types of disputes between police and witnesses that arose in the Ferguson shooting.
However, Obama is not seeking to pull back federal programs that provide military-style equipment to local law enforcement. He had ordered a review of those programs after critics questioned why police in full body armor with armored trucks responded.
to dispel demonstrators.
As part of a national protest, people walked off their jobs or out of school holding their hands up in a show of solidarity with Ferguson protesters.
Monday's walkouts stretched from New York to San Francisco, and included Chicago and Washington, D.C. At the University of Missouri-St. Louis, three dozen students rallied outside the library and walked out of class.
The protest came a day after five players for the St. Louis Rams entered the football field with their hands raised. The St. Louis Police Officers Association called for them to be disciplined and for the NFL to apologize.
An NFL spokesman said the league respects "the concerns of all individuals who have expressed views on this tragic situation." - AP