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‘We need to be a little bit more vigilant’ on safety gear

The Obama administration is urging lawmakers to pass a law mandating more safety equipment for police departments in states that have not mandated such measures.

In a letter to congressional leaders released Thursday, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Scott Braddock, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, noted that a growing number of departments in California, New Jersey, Texas and elsewhere have enacted similar measures in recent years.

“We must be clear that when police departments are confronted with a public safety emergency, they must take appropriate measures to protect themselves,” Braddock wrote in the letter, which was also sent to members of the House Judiciary Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee.

Braddock said the department “recognizes that the overwhelming majority of officers in those jurisdictions do not possess a level of safety equipment that meets the requirements of the federal standard.”

“While we recognize that officers need to have access to basic protective equipment, we do not believe it is appropriate for police to be required to buy equipment that cannot be readily acquired by most civilians,” he added.

The department also called for states to “develop standards to ensure that officers can readily acquire and maintain their protective equipment,” and urged agencies to make sure that officers do not have “a ‘backdoor’ access to the equipment they require.”

“This is particularly important given that it is often difficult for civilians to obtain and maintain protective equipment in the first place,” Briscoe wrote.

He added that the department was concerned that “some states have implemented ‘zero tolerance’ policies for officers who use force while off-duty.”

Braddock noted that many officers are trained to use force “only when necessary,” and that officers should “follow their training and not be afraid to use deadly force in the line of duty.”

The department’s letter comes just weeks after President Barack Obama issued a memo ordering all federal agencies to require departments to equip their officers with body cameras by 2018.

The departments will then be required, under the policy, to report to the Justice Department “how many officers use force or have used force in public safety incidents.”

The White House’s policy, which is expected to take effect in March, comes in the wake of two high-profile police shootings of unarmed black men: Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died in police custody after a confrontation with an officer, and Alton Sterling, a white Baton Rouge, Louisiana, man who was killed by police after a pursuit.

Critics of the Obama administration’s policy have pointed out that the departments do not currently require officers to wear cameras, and that in some cases, officers are allowed to carry cameras during a traffic stop.