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Mr. Obama has ordered an official review of the program, with an eye toward seeing if it’s meeting its aims.

“The goal is a — it’s a laudable one,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters. “The question, though, is: Is the program operating as was intended? Are there situations in which local law enforcement organizations are getting equipment that they don’t actually need?”

Mr. Earnest also said they want to see whether the police and deputies who end up with the equipment also have the training needed to use it properly.

The spokesman wouldn’t speculate about whether equipment already sent out could be recalled in the wake of a review.

The issue has turned politically heated, with those in Mr. Obama’s liberal base joining with the libertarian right to call for changes.

“Instead of getting out of their cars and working with communities to tackle crime, police increasingly hide behind high-tech weapons, vehicles and armor made for use on a battlefield — not the city streets of small-town America. In Ferguson, we are starkly witnessing how this limits freedom and puts law-abiding Americans’ safety at risk,” Charles Chamberlain, executive director of Democracy for America, a progressive pressure group, said in a fundraising email to supporters earlier this month.

Rep. Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Georgia Democrat, has written legislation to rein in the 1033 Program, particularly by restricting the transfer of lethal weaponry.

Analysts said it’s time for a review of the program in light of both the changing war on drugs and the evolving fight against terrorism.

“Federal funds can be very valuable to help control crime and protect the public. But they should be tailored to support successful practices,” said Inimai Chettiar, director of the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The question is not whether police should have more money or less money, but rather what they do with that money.”

Needed firepower

Police officials nevertheless touted the benefits of the 1033 Program, not for supplying military-grade firepower but for providing “tools” to safeguard the public.

Officer Tatum of the Tucson Police Department said every officer on the force is equipped with individual first-aid kits obtained through the program.

He said the military medical supplies, including field dressings for combat wounds, have proven more valuable on the streets of Tucson than a 10-ton tracked vehicle could ever be.

“We’ve had a couple [of] situations this year where people were stabbed or shot, and [police] have been able to save their lives because of the kits,” he said.

Sgt. Darin Johnson of the Hughes County Sheriff’s Office in South Dakota said that they rarely, if ever, use the five assault rifles and three grenade launchers, which are used for launching canisters of tear gas or pepper spray, that they received through the 1033 Program.

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