As police officers are increasingly criticized for their appearance and actions, the mass media have highlighted — and demonized — law enforcement’s use of armored vehicles, heavy ballistic vests and other equipment, some of which is allocated to agencies through the Department of Defense. Critics argue that law enforcement has become militarized in both its equipment and its tactics. A more accurate analysis, however, is that our nation’s law enforcement agencies have simply acquired modern-day equipment to meet modern-day threats, utilizing advanced training techniques to save lives in any type of situation that may strike their communities, from conflicts to missing children to natural disasters.
The 21st century has provided many watershed moments for law enforcement agencies and officers, and how they operate. Changing and dangerous times have caused them to have to adapt their tactics and obtain new equipment, which better allows them to deal with these changing conditions.
Of late, an issue has arisen that has caused concern, and understandably so, among some civilians who are otherwise firm and ardent supports of law enforcement. They are concerned about the changes that have been occurring in the way they conduct various operations, as well as changes in the equipment they bring to bear on situations that are handled by day-to-day patrol units. However, here is some perspective
The use of military-proven equipment and arms by law enforcement agencies is nothing new. Hanging in the hallway of the Columbus, Ohio, Police Academy is a photograph from the Prohibition era. It shows an open-top roadster occupied by four Columbus police officers. The passenger officer is indeed riding shotgun — armed with a 12-gauge Winchester 1897 Trench Gun (a military weapon).
But the real attention-getters are the two officers in the rear. They are both armed with Browning BARs! Imagine patrolling or going on raids today with that magnificent, 23-pound, fully automatic arm chambered in .30–06 caliber and loaded with FMJ loads — especially in an urban area! It was truly a time of need for the cops of that era when facing the heavily armed and desperate crooks of the time, and as the need arose officers upgraded their weapons to deal with the threat.
After WWII, a large number of surplus weapons ended up in police armories. For many years, the Ohio Highway Patrol had Thompson submachine guns available in their armories (although they weren’t deployed on the road). During my employ at the Reynoldsburg, Ohio, Police Department, there were two M1 Carbines and two Winchester Model 12 shotguns in our armory that the department had obtained. At the same time, surplus M1 Carbines were the standard entry weapon of the Columbus Police SWAT team. The use of military-proven weapons by civilian law enforcement officers and agencies is nothing new.
Those who are concerned about the use of semi-automatic AR-15s in place of the traditional 12-gauge pump action have fears that are understandable at first glance. Law enforcement agencies need to explain to those they serve that the reason the AR is deployed more often than the shotgun involves increased safety — for officers, crime victims and innocent bystanders. Sending one single, precise projectile downrange that has a low ricochet and over-penetration potential can be better than sending nine to 24 shotgun pellets downrange with a higher ricochet and dispersion potential.
It is important to remember what Sir Robert Peel, the founder of the London Metropolitan Police, said nearly 200 years ago, “The police are the public, and the public are the police.” As long as we strive to keep those words in mind, we can help keep the public’s attitude towards us positive.
The Roots of so called Police Militarization
The media, and public are outraged that law enforcement officers are becoming militarized. They discuss how police get top notch military equipment, uniforms that are more militaristic, and training that is more militaristic. Why is this such a bad thing? The military has been protecting this country for decades. It is an honor to be a military solider, someone who selfless serves to protect our way of life. However the reality is that equipment and technology is getting better, safer and more streamlined.
50 years ago, police officers had hold over military flak jackets for protection against small arms fire. Today, they have breathable body armor, high capacity pistols as opposed to six shot revolvers, radios as opposed to police call boxes and computers as opposed to type writers. Are you starting to get the picture? When football originally started to be played in the United States, what was the equipment that was used for protection? By today’s definition, it wasn’t much. Pads are now sleek looking, provide exceptional protection, are modernized, and guess what they protect the players more than they did in the past. Law enforcement officers are experiencing the same thing which is nothing more than advances in technology for the protection of the person wearing the uniform. Yet we condemn those that want to protect the police with better technology. For those of you who do not understand this concept here is one final example. Take a look at lifesaving technology that is utilized by medics to treat people who have been in a car collision. How about someone found dead but were revived and brought back to life? Those same people 20–30 years ago would have died at the side of the road, or at their home. Advances in technology must be used for the safety of all.
There is an incredible amount of misinformation being spread about the “militarization” of the police on the right and the left.
While 9/11 did massively accelerate the amount of security funding going to police departments and the two wars led to a lot of surplus gear being offloaded onto local forces so that you have cops driving armored vehicles, that’s not where it began.
All 9/11 did was create an opportunity for local forces to solicit money and gear. That sort of thing has been going on forever. When the drug war was “hot” every police department was looking for money to get drug sniffing dogs and choppers. If aliens invaded tomorrow, they would be asking for spaceships. If the Ebola epidemic gets worse, they’ll all be asking for quarantine facilities and labs.
Despite all the talk about the militarization of the police, there is very little discussion of why. The police and the prisons are a societal immune response to an infection
Talking about the immune response as if it exists entirely apart from the infection is how we ended up with hysterical coverage of the unarmed teen shot in the back by a crazed racist officer. Not only was the media take on the story a lie, but it removed the context of the crime from the response to the crime. That was what made Brown’s shooting seem senseless and insane.
Stripping away the rioting and looting from the police in riot gear made the law enforcement response seem deranged and insane. It’s only when we see the rioting, the looting and the arson, the shots fired and Molotov cocktails thrown that the heavy gear suddenly has a context.
The police are the common defense we use to protect ourselves against the kind of society where store workers have to fear being killed. They are not perfect, but they are far better than the rule of the Michael Browns who take what they want and attack anyone who tries to stop them.
This is a trick that the left has been playing for a very long time. In Ferguson or Gaza, in Afghanistan or New York, it focuses on what soldiers and police do without the context of what they are responding to. Watch a few hours of media coverage from Gaza and you’ll conclude that Israel is fighting a war against crying children. Without footage of Hamas terrorists or Israeli children under fire, the Israelis seem like murderous lunatics.
And that is exactly what the media wants you to think.
If the United States continues bombing ISIS, the media will stop showing photos of crying Yazidi refugees and instead show us the crying Sunni Muslim children of the families in Mosul who support ISIS. And then the United States will be accused of murdering crying children for no reason at all.
This happens all the time.
The media gave us every detail of Clayton Lockett’s suffering after his botched execution. It didn’t tell us how he raped one teenage girl and shot her friend and buried her alive while she begged for her life. It didn’t even tell us that Lockett died horribly because opponents of the death penalty had been working overtime to cut off the supply of reliable lethal injection drugs.
Without that context, the justice system seemed monstrous for making a man suffer while the monster was passed off as the innocent victim of the senseless brutality of the system.
All systems and people are flawed, but our law enforcement and military are reactive. When we don’t talk about what they are reacting to, then there is nothing meaningful to say.
We have SWAT teams because of race riots and urban guerrilla warfare. Without Watts, the Black Panthers and the SLA, the police militarization would probably never have existed.
The militarization of the police was a response to left-wing violence and terror.
If the left hadn’t spent much of the last century inciting race riots and setting up terrorist groups, there wouldn’t be police officers armed for war.
If not for the left’s disastrous social experiments, the War on Drugs would never have been necessary. Instead the left trashes social values and criminal laws and then complains about the authoritarian rebound from the crime waves that follow. The wealthy liberal who snorts cocaine and dashes from sexual encounter to encounter can walk away with little damage done. The same behavior in the ghetto leaves behind shattered lives and destroyed communities because there is no safety net for it.
Finally, if the left hadn’t shifted immigration over to the Third World while sympathizing with Islamic terrorists, September 11 and its law enforcement and military aftermath would never have been necessary.
This is why the left tears away the context from a crisis. If we began to genuinely discuss why there are police officers dressed like soldiers or TSA agents examining your shoes, the line would trace all the way back to the left.
Communists realized how useful race riots and the authoritarian backlash could be to their agenda. Terrorists don’t just aim for the target; they also exploit the fallout to polarize a society.
That is what the left has been doing for generations since.
From the Weathermen to September 11, the left polarized the response while removing the context. The left plants the bombs and then acts as if the security men running around are insane fascists.
Ferguson is more of the same. The left’s army of activists and reporters troop down to the city. The activists start the violence while the reporters dramatize it. The coverage polarizes Americans and gives the left another hook for hanging on to power long after its economic policies have been as thoroughly discredited as those of the Soviet Union.
The left isn’t just covering up for the rioters and the looters, the terrorists and the murderers. It is covering up its own role.
That is why its cultural apparatus snips away the context, reacting to the reaction as if it were the cause. The left keeps yammering about finding the root cause, but it is the root cause.
The root cause isn’t poverty. It’s not racism. It’s the left.
After all the lectures about militarization, there was no better solution to the violence than the military. The police were never the problem. The looters and rioters were.
Polls consistently show that two of the institutions in which the general public has the most confidence are the military and the police. In both cases, men and women have volunteered to place their lives on the line to defend society from all enemies, foreign and domestic. And many military veterans become police officers to continue their service. The vast majority of us know which side of that “thin blue line” we want to be on when trouble starts. Historian Victor Davis Hanson has observed that “the more complaints against the so-called militarization of the police, the more some radical groups seem to have been empowered to commit violence.” This was the case in Ferguson. Though the police were well equipped and brandished their weapons and armored vehicles, they did not deter the arsonists and looters who quickly discovered that the political fix was in. No one would be shot, and thus the mob could not be stopped.
In most large municipalities, street gangs outnumber the police. Middle class flight to the suburbs was a reaction to the deterioration of security in the central cities. The police needed to acquire better arms and equipment in the face of gangs who by the 1990s could outgun local law enforcement and render entire urban sectors as “no go” areas for the authorities. A state of nature reigned again fully as Thomas Hobbes described, with the lives of too many residents “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” It was to address this dire development that the Defense Department started providing equipment to local authorities in 1997. So there is nothing new about this story. It is just a left-wing diversion which more savvy conservative commentators should have dismissed.
Everyone should read or at least scan the FBI’s 2011 Gang Threat Assessment Report before claiming that the police are the problem. The key findings section of the report summarizes the situation thusly,
Gangs are expanding, evolving and posing an increasing threat to US communities nationwide. Many gangs are sophisticated criminal networks with members who are violent, distribute wholesale quantities of drugs, and develop and maintain close working relationships with members and associates of transnational criminal/drug trafficking organizations. Gangs are becoming more violent while engaging in less typical and lower-risk crime, such as prostitution and white-collar crime. Gangs are more adaptable, organized, sophisticated, and opportunistic, exploiting new and advanced technology as a means to recruit, communicate discretely, target their rivals, and perpetuate their criminal activity.
There are an estimated 33,000 gangs operating in the U.S. with over 1.4 million members. Yet, even they only commit about half the crimes. We are very, very far from a “police state” and much, much closer to anarchy. It is far safer to walk down the street at night in Beijing than Chicago (I have done both).
Consider the liberal response to this situation. On August 18, John McWhorter, an associate professor of English at Columbia University, posted a column at The New Republic (where he is a contributing editor) calling for a “pullback in the War on Drugs” as the way to halt confrontations between police and gangs.
He writes, “Without that policy-which would include that no one could make a living selling drugs-the entire structure supporting the notion of young black men as criminals would fall apart. White men with guns would encounter young black men much less often, and meanwhile society would offer young black men less opportunity to drift into embodying the stereotype in the first place.” If this is what left-wing intellectualism now produces, it is safe to call it ignorant and irrational and dangerous.
How does ending the war on drugs make it impossible to make a living selling drugs? It simply removes obstacles (risk and expense) to the business. It will also increase the victims of the drug culture, especially within minority communities. Drugs destroy everything they touch. There is no upside to addictive poisons that ruin the character as well as the lives of those seduced into using narcotics for “recreation.” Yet, even if we indulge in McWhorter’s nonsense, it won’t be enough.
As the FBI report states, “Gangs are increasingly engaging in non-traditional gang-related crime, such as alien smuggling, human trafficking, and prostitution. Gangs are also engaging in white-collar crime such as counterfeiting, identity theft, and mortgage fraud, primarily due to the high profitability and much lower visibility and risk of detection and punishment than drug and weapons trafficking.” So we would have to quit enforcing laws on a wide variety of crimes to avoid police-gang confrontations. If the police are the problem, then legalize everything and the police can not only be disarmed, but disbanded. Though it would not be long before reports appeared about the “militarization” of neighborhood watch groups which would have to quickly take on a larger role in defense of homes and property.
Some liberal journalists tried to spin the issue, rather than just blame the police for being prepared for drug gangs, heavily armed criminals and terrorists. “Police today are much better armed because it’s the only way they can keep up with criminals,” noted Michael A. Cohen, a fellow at the Century Foundation, in a Boston Globe column. “When powerful semi-automatic and military-style weapons started to appear on the streets, police departments began moving from six-shot revolvers to semi-automatic weapons. That trend accelerated after several high-profile incidents where officers were simply outgunned by criminals, the most infamous being a 1997 shoot-out at a North Hollywood bank in which the robbers were toting automatic weapons and wearing body armor.”
Cohen, a liberal, insisted that “Our toxic gun culture and permissive gun laws are crucial factors in the ongoing militarization of America’s police departments.” But the Second Amendment cannot be blamed for the criminals’ ability to get these weapons and break the law. That is why they are criminals.
What is missing from the coverage, however, is the evidence that the police need and deserve better weapons to cope with their armed adversaries. That evidence was apparent in Ferguson, Missouri, if only the media would take note.
The “de-militarization” of police, as proposed by the publicity-hungry Senators McCaskill and Paul, would leave the officers at a distinct disadvantage, leading to more law enforcement personnel cut down in the line of duty, and their families left without husbands and fathers.
Does a more Militarized Police reduce Crime?What are the Benefits?
A Common Myth for those who oppose the Militarization of Americas Police Forces is that Militarizing our Police does nothing to combat Crime. This is a Myth.
The 1033 program was created by Congress as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, which was signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton. This program allowed the Defense Department to transfer excess military equipment to civilian law enforcement agencies.
As of 2014, approximately 8,000 local law enforcement agencies have participated in the program resulting in more than $5.4 billion in previously purchased, surplus military gear including computers, air conditioners, clothing, medical supplies, flashlights, ammunition, rifles, helmets, helicopters, and armored vehicles being recycled for domestic law enforcement purposes.
In the wake of the riots in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014 following the death of Michael Brown, President Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13688, which established a Law Enforcement Equipment Working Group.
That group subsequently issued a report recommending that the military be prohibited from transferring certain equipment, such as camouflage uniforms, high-caliber weapons, grenade launchers, and armored vehicles, with additional controls placed on the transfer of other equipment.
At the time he signed the executive order, Obama stated, “We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like there’s an occupying force as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting and serving them.”
He continued, “It can alienate and intimidate local residents and send the wrong message.”
While there have been occasions where law enforcement officials have overreacted and have unwittingly inflamed a situation, it is also true that there are occasions where law enforcement authorities need such equipment in order to protect the public for instance, during terrorist attacks, search-and-rescue operations, or in the wake of natural disasters.
In news footage of the French police in action in Paris after the Paris Attack in 2015, they looked “militarized” because the situation demanded it, and I didn’t hear Parisians complaints about them using helicopters and armored vehicles to quell the violence.
Equipment provided through this program was deployed in Texas to save lives in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Such equipment also resulted in lives saved during police operations in response to the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino in 2015 and at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016.
A study released earlier this month entitled, “Police Officer on the Frontline or a Soldier: The Effect of Police Militarization on Crime,” concludes that a “10 percent increase in the total value of military aid [given to a community] leads to a decrease of 5.9 crimes per 100,000 population” and that such aid is associated with a reduction in complaints about crime from local citizens.
The authors of this study estimate that $5,800 worth of military gear can result in savings to society (based on the average cost of a crime) of $112,000, thereby making military aid “a very inexpensive crime-reducing tool” compared to other types of law enforcement expenditures.
Retired Police Chief Jim Bueermann, President of the Police Foundation in Washington, D.C., cited several examples at the hearing about the benefits of the Pentagon’s 1033 program. His testimony included the following (in his words):
- Two weeks ago, the Cook County Sheriff’s Department used armored vehicles to get officers to the scene and extract six children and two adults being held hostage after a home invasion. Two officers were shot during the 20-hour standoff, but the equipment prevented further injury to law enforcement and helped with the safe recovery of the hostages.
- The Los Angeles police recently used an armored “Bearcat” tactical vehicle to protect officers as they apprehended a heavily armed suspect who was firing a high-powered rifle at them and had wounded an officer.
- In West Bloomfield, Michigan a suspect barricaded himself in a residential neighborhood and engaged in significant gunfire with law enforcement, ultimately killing police officer Patrick O’Rourke. During the 20-hour standoff, law enforcement used their armored vehicle to safely evacuate neighborhood residents from the area.
In the last case, the media learned that the cop-killer, Ricky Coley, a military veteran, had “a fully automatic Uzi” in addition to high-powered rifles, handguns, knives, a bullet-resistant vest and protective goggles. About 15 families were evacuated from nearby homes during the 20-hour standoff that ended when Coley was found dead. The local Fox TV station reported that the confrontation started after Coley’s marriage ended in divorce and he was accused of adultery and physical and emotional abuse. He had lost custody of his child and had been ordered out of his house. But he refused to be evicted.
The slain officer, Patrick O’Rourke, is survived by his wife, four children, parents and three brothers. Perhaps some additional “militarization” might have saved his life.
Wiley Price, a staff photojournalist at the St. Louis American newspaper, was allowed to testify at the Senate hearing and claimed, “What police used to defend themselves at the early stage of the confrontation was a high level of military weaponry not often seen on city streets in the United States. What we saw were large military style weapons including armored vehicles normally seen on the national news during conflicts in Middle East war zones. Most Americans would not be so shocked if this were a response to an overt terrorist attack on an American city, but not during a spontaneous protest over the shooting of a young African American male by a white police officer while walking in the street in the middle of the day.”
The notion that this was a “spontaneous protest” was never challenged, even though independent journalists and the police themselves documented the presence of outside agitators. The police presence became even more necessary after violence and looting erupted. Eventually, the National Guard was called in. So more, not less, “militarization,” was clearly required.
According to a local TV news report, the looted businesses included:
- Zisser Tire and Auto
- Quik Trip
- Family Dollar
- Ross Dress for Less
- Shoe Carnival
- Hibbett Sports
- Taco Bell
- Sprint Store
- Phillips 66
In total, it was reported that more than 20 businesses suffered damage.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the riots cost John Zisser, the owner of the tire store, about $100,000 in damaged and lost merchandise. St. Louis County Chief Operations Officer Garry Earls is quoted by Fox 2 News as saying that the final price tag of the riots could be as high as $6 million.
Let the media and the politicians tell these business owners, who lost everything, that the police were too “militarized.”
Why don’t we hear from them in a Senate hearing? Or would that contradict the “militarization” narrative promulgated by such “experts” and media favorites as Radley Balko?
Obama certainly had a point that law enforcement authorities must be vigilant as to how and when they deploy such equipment, and should guard against overly aggressive approaches that might unduly and unnecessarily alarm the public.
Law enforcement officers should establish guidelines governing such usage and should be adequately trained in using it.
Nonetheless, one cannot deny that when law enforcement authorities need such equipment, they really, really need it and we need them to have it.
Are Militarized Police misused Far too Often?
The FBI, which has earned the reputation of the world’s best trained, most professional, and most effective law enforcement agency, has used SWAT-type tactics since the Al Capone days, often stopping crime and criminals in their tracks.
Although there are certainly abusive uses of SWAT teams, they are used effectively and legitimately in almost all cases. The misuses, often in situations that turn out to be absurd, make for titillating news stories and fodder for pundits and politicians to denounce the whole concept. But in situations involving terrorism, hostages, and criminals with high-powered weapons, SWAT teams have been proven to be an effective weapon to dispel violence and restore the peace.
Military equipment and tactics are often used as a demonstration of available force, resulting in the age-old military concept of “peace through strength.” The arrival of an armored SWAT team, for example, in a potentially violent situation, well before anything actually happens, will convince the offender that he has no chance of survival unless he surrenders.
Similarly, just the arrival of an ominous-looking armored vehicle at a crime or riot scene can convince criminals that the better plan is to retreat before the equipment must be used. According to John Burke, who was team leader of 30 SWAT team members at the Detroit FBI office and trained countless SWAT team members at the FBI Academy, it is all about the professionalism and training of the team. “A well-trained SWAT team has no desire to shoot or injure anybody,” Burke said. “If good judgment is used, which from my experience it almost always is, a SWAT team is the a very effective way of restoring and keeping the peace.”
Libertarian journalist Radley Balko has been making hay over the supposed militarization of the police. In a raft of television interviews, op-eds, and other appearances promoting his new book on the subject he laments the Rise of the Warrior Cop, listing a series of SWAT team raids gone wrong. Some of Balko’s examples are certainly indefensible examples of untrained officers or unprofessional police conduct, sometimes resulting in horrible and tragic results.
Certainly, the police should be the first to safeguard citizens’ constitutional protections under the Bill of Rights, but the few bad examples Balko uses to make his case are vastly outnumbered by successful SWAT operations that save innocent lives and prevent further crimes.
Police work is dangerous. In 2012 alone, 120 U.S. law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty, and thousands more were threatened and wounded. Violent, heavily armed felons, sometimes high on PCP or other drugs, confront police somewhere in the country on a daily basis. Oftentimes a highly-trained and professional SWAT team is the only way to neutralize the criminal, saving innocent lives and protecting the safety of law enforcement officers in the process.
Balko is critical of the trend toward the “militarization” of local police. He is right that police are more heavily armed than they once were, that many departments use flak jackets, gas masks, and other protective military-type equipment. They are often armed with military weapons, armored personnel carriers, and even small tanks.
Most such equipment is military surplus, usually compliments of the US government. Is it necessary? Few people objected to the use of such materiel in the Boston Marathon bombing case, even in liberal Massachusetts, and are unlikely to object when their own safety and lives are at stake. And after listening to Balko, one would think that police are outfitted like the Delta Force all of the time which is hardly the case.
SWAT teams do serve a legitimate purpose but, like anything else, can be misused.Good training is essential, as are guidelines that are specific as to when they should and should not be used. Perhaps most important is a highly trained and professional team leader who spends hour after hour training his men and who has the professional judgment that only comes with vast experience and training.
One of Balko’s examples, involving a confrontation between a veteran and local narcotics strike force in Utah, appears to be exactly on point and demonstrates a lack of essential training, judgment, and professionalism.
A man suspected of a nonviolent crime was at home, naked in his bed when a battering ram beat down his door to let in a dozen heavily armed SWAT team officers. The officers fired over 250 rounds and only hit their target twice, neither time lethally, while fully half the officers ended up getting wounded and one was killed. And the naked veteran? He fought off the police with a single 9-millimeter Beretta pistol.
Not only does this remind us that police officers are not exactly safe in these situations. This story is an obvious example of officers not having the necessary training. Well-trained officers are essential to suppressing violent criminals, but when they lack necessary skills they become dangerous to their communities and themselves.
The much-maligned Los Angeles SWAT teams–the first in the country–were started by Daryl Gates, who later became Chief of Police in Los Angeles. They have rescued hostages, arrested countless violent criminals, and helped turn back a tide of rising violence in the city. In 1984, they worked 24 hours on and 24 hours off schedules, providing security for the Olympics Summer Games. The LAPD’s SWAT team alone executes over 120 high-risk warrants each year and deals with more than 100 barricaded suspects.
In April 2009, Richard Poplawski began a shooting spree after police were called to his mother’s home over a domestic argument. He was armed with an AK-47, a shotgun, and three handguns and was also wearing a bulletproof vest. He killed three police officers and then engaged in a four-hour firefight with a Pittsburgh SWAT team, during which he fired some 600 rounds.
The SWAT team was able to take Poplawski down, with no harm coming to anyone outside of law enforcement. Team members received awards for valor. It was a case of necessary and justified force.
SWAT teams came into being as a result of the riots of the 1960s and a series of shootings that could not be dealt with by conventional police methods. One was Charles Whitman’s August 1966 rampage at the University of Texas. Perched from a bell tower, Whitman rained down bullets without interruption for an estimated 96 minutes. He killed 14 people and wounded dozens of others before police finally shot him in the head.
By all means, let us rein in excesses in local police work, sometimes abetted by the availability of federal funds. But let us not use those excesses as an excuse to disarm law enforcement. Well-armed, well-trained SWAT teams, carefully deployed, are essential because they work.
There is no question that there are cases where the armoring up of police forces has been misused, often foolishly or because of lack of good training, good judgment, and good leadership. But those misuses are far outweighed by the effective demonstration and use of “militarization” by law enforcement. To condemn the practice overall because of a handful of misuses makes no more sense than to ban the purchase and ownership of handguns, rifles, and shotguns because a few people misuse them.
SWAT teams and similar law enforcement tactics are an integral part of effective policing. In the battle against violence, gangs, and terrorism, they are law enforcement’s most potent weapon, and over the years have saved many innocent lives.
Now, as for why use a SWAT team instead of regular patrol cops or other detectives? SWAT teams work and train together like no other group of cops, and thus they function as a cohesive team. They are better trained for dealing with room clearing, for dealing with booby traps (yes, we do actually encounter those, especially in drug raids) and they are better trained for dealing with armed individuals. If they make an entry and none of those are present, then all is good. If they make an entry and encounter one or all of those, they are the best people we have to deal with it.
A big part of the decision to use SWAT comes down to two things: 1) being prepared for the worst and 2) if they are available, why would you choose not to use them?
Finally, the issue of intentionally bad info, or info greatly exaggerated. Unfortunately, this situation appears to happen more and more lately, and as “personal responsibility” seems to have died off, I don’t see anything changing this. The supplier of that bad info faces little to no repercussions for providing it. The cops take the heat and the informant gets none of it. It is becoming all too common for dirt bags to try and use the cops as a tool for revenge against jilted lovers or “business” rivals. Therein lies the conundrum. Which tips do you follow up on and which do you disregard?
Is Police Overuse of Force a Reflection of Militarization?
When Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act in 1994, legislators mandated that the attorney general begin studying and reporting on excessive use of force by police. Soon after, the Bureau of Justice Statistics developed a series of recurring studies that measured everything from police behavior in specific situations, like traffic stops, to incidents in which police use force. Much of the data was based not on reports by local police departments, but on direct surveys of citizens, providing some 20 years of information on how the police interact with American citizens, and how those citizens see the police.
If Congress believed that this new data might provide some context and insight for national debates about the use of force by police, such as the one we’re having now in the wake of grand jury decisions not to indict police officers for their role in deadly incidents , legislators were largely mistaken.
After the Ferguson grand jury made its ruling, Former President Obama told the nation that “the law too often feels like it’s being applied in a discriminatory fashion.” Since the Ferguson incident involving Michael Brown and officer Darren Wilson last August, the New York Times has published stories about communities where minorities get stopped more frequently than whites, implying racial discrimination. But these stories ignore Bureau of Justice Statistics data showing that crime victims disproportionately identify minorities as perpetrators of crime, too. Senator Rand Paul has even used Ferguson to launch an attack on the war on drugs, saying that it puts the police in a difficult situation in dealing with the public though drugs had little to do with the confrontation between Brown and Wilson (except as they may have influenced Brown’s aggressive behavior).
Despite such pronouncements, two decades of data on police interactions with the public don’t support the idea that something extraordinary is afoot, that the police are becoming “militarized” as Former President Obama has suggested, or that distrust between police and local communities has produced an enormous spike in conflicts. By contrast, the data show that significant crime declines have been accompanied by a leveling off and then a reduction in confrontations with the police, as reported by Americans of all races.
After the 1994 legislation passed, Justice Department researchers began exploring ways to study the issues as Congress had mandated. In 1996, they produced a preliminary report on police/citizen interactions that broadly estimated that some 45 million Americans had some type of contact with law enforcement during the preceding year. Of those 45 million, the study found, slightly more than half a million reported that the police had used force against them. This initial study, regarded as experimental, wasn’t detailed enough to say much more and was subject to large margins of error, but it led to a series of more comprehensive and in-depth reports, produced from 1999 through 2011.
What’s striking in the progression of these later studies is a steady decrease in the number of people having interactions with the police — from about 45 million in 2002 to 40 million in 2011 or from about 21 percent of the 16-and-older population to about 17 percent. One clear reason for the decline has been the corresponding drop in crime: the number of people reporting crimes or other problems to the police fell by about 3.6 million from a peak in 2002. More important, perhaps, was that reports of use of force by police also fell, from 664,000 in 2002 to 574,000 in a 2010 report. Those declines occurred across all races. The number of African-Americans reporting that police used force against them fell from 173,000 to 130,000. Among whites, the number has dropped from a peak of 374,000 to 347,000.
Since 1999, Justice Department studies have also measured how police and citizens interact during more mundane encounters, like traffic stops — vastly expanding the data about how citizens who otherwise don’t have cause to deal with the police might see their performance. In the most recent survey, in 2011, 88.2 percent of those stopped by the police said they thought officers acted properly.
There were few significant distinctions by race. Nearly 83 percent of African-Americans judged police behavior to be proper, for instance. The study also asked citizens whether they thought the police had stopped them for a “legitimate” reason and here the data on race is particularly interesting. Some 80 percent of all drivers viewed their stops as legitimate, compared with 68 percent of African-Americans. But the study also asked drivers to report the race of the officers who stopped them, and African-Americans were just as likely to say that stops initiated by white officers were legitimate as those initiated by black officers. Similarly, white drivers saw no difference in how they were treated by white officers or black officers on this question.
Since 1994, Washington has produced other legislation meant to monitor how local law enforcement behaves. In 2000, for instance, Congress passed the Death in Custody Act, which mandated that the Justice Department collect data on deaths in local and state prisons, including data by race. These data show no startling trends that might raise flags about how those arrested and incarcerated locally get treated. Average mortality in local prisons measured per 100,000 prisoners has decreased from 151 in 2000 to 128 in 2012. Among African-Americans, average mortality has dropped from 127 per 100,000 to 109.
These data are particularly instructive in the context of another series of Justice Department surveys, which ask Americans whether they have been victimized by crime. Those who say yes are then asked to identify the race of their attacker. In a 2008 survey, 58 percent of violent crime victims of identified the perpetrators as white, and 23 percent as black. That compares with a national population 74 percent white and 12 percent black. (After 2008, questions about the race of offenders disappear from the victimization data on the FBI’s website.) Police frequently point to this survey and others like it to explain that stop rates and arrest rates are higher for minorities because crime rates are higher in minority areas. Victims disproportionately identify perpetrators as minority.
Still, surveys like the victimization report haven’t stopped some activists from advocating a form of law enforcement that expects police stops and arrests to mirror the population at large, rather than to reflect a police response to reports of crime. In the aftermath of Ferguson, Attorney General Eric Holder said that he intended to wipe out racial profiling. But as a 1999 Justice Department study on traffic enforcement made clear, racial differences alone in stops or arrests by police “may not signal racial profiling.” The study went on to clarify that “to form evidence of racial profiling,” the data would also have to show that “Blacks and/or Hispanics were no more likely than whites to violate traffic laws,” but were still targeted more frequently than whites. That distinction, which puts stops and arrests within the context of violations committed by a group, has been lost in much of today’s media discussion on policing.
National statistics and trends, of course, don’t obviate the need to investigate individual acts of force by the police, especially when they result in the death of a citizen. Clearly, even more precise, improved statistics are needed. We don’t have good national data on how often police officers discharge their weapons, for example, so we don’t know how that changes over time. And as the Wall Street Journal has noted, the FBI’s statistics on justifiable homicides by the police nationwide are inaccurate, thanks to a lack of standards in how police departments categorize and report those incidents.
Some of the data reported by large police departments suggest that it’s possible to make strides in these areas. New York City keeps detailed records about the use of guns by police officers on duty. Since 1991, the peak of crime in New York, the number of yearly shooting incidents by NYPD officers has declined by more than two-thirds, from 332 to 105. The number of individuals shot and killed by police officers has fallen from 39 to 16. Something similar might be afoot nationally, but we don’t have the data to know.
Police brutality, dereliction of duty, abuse of power and the like are issues that should count for much for all decent people, especially the libertarian. But none of these things are necessarily a function of “militarization,” much less equivalent to it.
That there are police officers that abuse their authority and power is not only an empirically verified fact; it is a no-brainer to the lover of liberty who knows, along with Lord Acton, that while “absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely,” even a limited degree of “power tends to corrupt.”
But when police do violate their oath to serve and protect, then we can and should call out their violations for what they are. Conflating or obscuring issues with bumper-sticker friendly misnomers like “militarization” is counterproductive.
Is the Militarization of Policing a New Phenomenon?
The Use of the the Military to Enforce the Law is nothing new. And dates back to the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. The American Revolution was barely even a decade in the past when the young Republic felt its first growing pains.
In an effort to pay off the states’ massive debts from the American Revolution, the Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, developed a system of consolidating all debts into the Federal government, and then using tariffs and domestic taxes to pay down the debt. The first such tax, which had been made legal under the Constitution, was on distilled alcohol, namely, whiskey, enacted in 1791. As Americans were averse to any taxes and loved whiskey, this did not sit well. Pennsylvania farmers, in particular, had long been accustomed to distilling their own whiskey and selling it where they wished. Cries of the injustice of the new tax and rumblings of British-like tyranny from President George Washington’s government went up across the state. People did not understand why they should be made to pay other people’s debts under the new Constitution, nor why they were being taxed without local representation.
Tax collectors were harassed, and in many places suffered indignities such as being tarred and feathered. Armed groups of dissidents raised Liberty Poles, a symbol from the American Revolution, and took over local militia groups. Areas of western Pennsylvania became in essence lawless as Federal officials could not enter them without fear for their personal safety.
Events reached a head in July of 1794. Armed men surrounded the home of a Federal marshal, David Lenox, who had been issuing subpoenas for the arrest of those who had not paid the excise tax. Lenox was supported by ten U.S. Army Soldiers from the garrison in nearby Pittsburgh. On July 17, 600 armed men, led by Revolutionary War veteran James MacFarlane assaulted Lenox’s home and a firefight ensued. MacFarlane was killed in the action, leading to his status as a martyr for the rebels. Lenox and the Soldiers were captured; the Soldiers were sent away, while Lenox would later escape.
With this, western Pennsylvania exploded. The insurrectionists held conventions in Pittsburgh to debate secession, and perhaps ally themselves with Great Britain or Spain. Most of the rebels were poor farmers or “squatters” (landless persons occupying either Federal lands in the Ohio Valley or Indian lands) who had economic grievances against the new Federal government. This insurrection gave outlet to their rage.
President Washington took a two-pronged approach. He sent commissioners to meet with the insurrectionists to try to negotiate with them to end the crisis. On August 4, Justice James Wilson of the Supreme Court declared the western counties of Pennsylvania to be in rebellion. That gave Washington the right to call up the militia. He called on the insurrectionists to disperse by September 1 while raising an army of nearly 13,000, a force comparable to that which he lead in the American Revolution. Washington himself took control of the Army as it entered Pennsylvania in October (the first and only sitting President to lead troops) before turning it over to Henry “Lighthorse Harry” Lee (ironically, the father of Confederate General Robert E. Lee).
In the face of this massive force, the insurrection disintegrated. Ten ringleaders were captured and charged, and two were sentenced to death. Their sentences were commuted by Washington, and their lives were spared. The incident demonstrated that the new Federal government had the capacity and capability to put down local rebellions. It was received favorably by most of the rest of the nation, although there were local objections to the Federalization of militias. Overall, the incident can be seen as part of the long discussion between Federalists (for a Federal Constitution) and anti-Federalists (against a Federal Constitution) as to the role of the Federal government.
A a common trope in response to this Argument would be that after Posse Comitatus Act, the Enforcement of the Law was done through non military style means.
This is simply not true
One example of this was the Bonus Army protests of World War 1 Veterans during the Great Depression. President Hoover sent in the military to deal with the protesters. His chief of Staff, Douglas MacArthur ordered the 12th infantry and 3rd Calvary regiments to assemble. Tanks rolled across the streets of Pennsylvania Avenue, mobilized against American Citizens.The Soldiers advanced with Teargas and fixed Bayonets and burned the camps to the ground. 54 veterans were injured, and 135 arrested.
Labor Strikes in the United States for a while often ended in violence, and were handled by modern day “Militarized” means. The 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike, The 1914 Ludlow Massacre, The 1917 Bisbee Deportation, The Great Strike of 1877, The Mayday Strike of 1886, The Coal Miner Wars, The 1894 Pullman Strike and the First Red Scare. All were handed by what would now be referred to as “Militarized Police” and SWAT like tactics. And these are just a few examples out of a long list of examples
Throughout the 20th century, the United States has faced large and heavily armed criminal organizations, in which law enforcement officers were clearly outperformed. In the 1920s during the Prohibition Era and in the early 1930s during the Great Depression, criminal syndicates and individual bank robbers such as John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde were frequently armed with Thompson submachine guns and Browning Automatic Rifles.The Federal Bureau of Investigation as well as police departments in cities such as Kansas City, Missouri and Kenosha, Wisconsin,began deploying automatic weapons, including the Thompson submachine gun, and armored cars in the 1920s and 1930s.
George Fletcher Chandler, a veteran of the Pancho Villa Expedition and the first Superintendent of the New York State Police, was an early advocate of law enforcement officers wearing their weapons exposed on the outside of their uniforms.
The police in America have always been an armed entity, organized on a paramilitary basis with regards to structure, training, and culture. That is dictated by the nature of the work they perform in terms of emergency services, with the need for a distinct chain of command and vital requirement to adhere to training and orders. You might as well say that the Fire Department is “militarized” with its battalions and fire brigades, as that organizational structure is also paramilitary.
If “Militarized” Law Enforcement then didn’t lead to a Police State, why would it now? Especially in our era of Hyperdemocracy and vastly increased oversight relative to say the 19th or early to mid 20th centuries?
Militarization and Limited Government
The charge that police forces have become “militarized” is almost as perplexing as the charge also increasingly common among these same libertarians that “racism” is alive and well among America’s police officers and white Americans generally.
And this, I believe, is because the term “militarization,” in this context, is about as meaningless as that of “racism.”
I am profoundly sympathetic to libertarianism. Indeed, I consider myself a libertarian of a sort, a Neolibertarian, as it were, a libertarian who recognizes the need to emancipate libertarianism from the abstract, rationalistic excesses with which it is all too often saddled.
It is because of, not in spite of, my affection for libertarianism that I felt the need to take to task those who insist upon peddling this “militarization” of the police bit.
For starters, it is unclear as to what libertarians even mean in claiming that the police are “militarized.” From what I can gather sorry, but no self-avowed libertarian writer who I have yet encountered is clear on this it is the fact that today’s police forces are equipped with weaponry of a technologically sophisticated sort, the sort with which our soldiers are armed when confronting enemies overseas, that warrants the charge of “militarization.”
I’m bothered by the phrase, “militarization of the police.” I’m bothered because I’m almost certain that the people using it cannot define it. The phrase seems to require that (A) the police may use certain kinds of weapons and (B) only those kinds of weapons, while armies have other kinds of weapons, or unlimited choices of weapons. But at least the first two of those requirements must be false. I doubt that anyone would say that police today must use only the arms they used in the 18th Century, or that police in America are restricted to those weapons used by Bobbies in Great Britain.
Even though “militarization of the police” has been mouthed by conservatives, it seems to follow from the typical leftist mistake of confusing a difference in degree with a difference in kind. “No private citizen needs an assault rifle” is exactly analogous to, “the police don’t need military weapons.” I’ve never understood why 8 bullets in a magazine is moral, and 9 would be immoral. Nor is there anywhere on the continuum of firepower that a thinking person can draw a hard line and say, “armored cars good; tanks bad.”
How the mere possession of things is a cause of alarm for, of all people, the libertarian, is beyond me. In personifying inanimate objects he comes perilously close to sounding like just those enemies of liberty against whom he’s tirelessly railing, those who would personify guns, wealth, and, say, SUV’s.
While it makes perfectly good sense to speak of the phenomenon of militarization, it makes zero sense to identify this with the mere possession of weaponry, or of weaponry of a specific sort. Rather, the idea of militarization is inseparable from the ideas of purpose and coercion. To be more exact, militarization occurs when moral agents are coerced into pursuing purposes e.g. “victory” that they may have otherwise chosen not to pursue.
Moreover, libertarians are the first to champion the (law-abiding, adult) citizen’s constitutional, even “inalienable,” right to bear whatever arms he prefers. How, we must ask, does it turn out to be permissible not “militarized” for the janitor next door to possess a machine gun, but somehow impermissible “militarized” for the police to do the same?
It is the libertarian who defends the right of the average, law-abiding citizen to own firearms. Furthermore, the libertarian thinks that, in principle (even if not always necessarily in fact), the average, law-abiding citizen has a right to own whatever kind or kinds of firearms that he chooses regardless of whether his neighbors think that he “needs” them or not.
Libertarians above and beyond anyone else champion (at least in theory) the right to bear arms, the right of any law-abiding (adult) citizen to arm himself with, and carry, weaponry of all sorts.
Why is it permissible for private actors to bear such an arsenal but impermissible “militaristic” for the police to do so?
So, if there is nothing objectionable about the hairdresser next door owning a bazooka or an M16, then why is it objectionable for the police the police who exist solely for the purpose of shielding civilization from barbarism to own and, if need be, use bazookas and M16’s?
The distribution of arms among the police, on the one hand, and the citizenry, on the other, utterly fails to establish that the police, or anyone, haven’t a right to arm themselves like Rambo i.e. it fails to supply a single warrant for the charge of “militarization.”
If the libertarian insists that it isn’t the possession by police of weaponry as such to which he objects, but the fact that, as things currently stand, the police have access to these weapons to which other citizens are denied, then it is the distribution of this access, and not the access itself, that has him upset.
Surely, it can’t be the mere presence of such weaponry in the hands of uniformed police officers that has the libertarian howling about “militarization.” If so, then the libertarian sounds eerily similar to his leftist counterpart who can’t resist personifying inanimate objects like guns and SUV’s.
There is no rational answer to this question if one is a libertarian. That private actors are not permitted to arm themselves to the extent that police officers are permitted to do so is a separate issue entirely, one that has absolutely no relevance to the topic at hand.
Maybe what’s got the libertarian’s goat is the fact that, as the law currently stands, police are permitted to possess weaponry that are forbidden to citizens: the latter should be permitted to own, say, machine guns, but they are not.
It is as sensible for the libertarian to go on about “the militarization” of the police because it is illegal for citizens to bear comparable arms as it is sensible to become outraged over the practice of rewarding and punishing because, sometimes, individuals don’t deserve the rewards and punishments that they receive.
It is the distribution of benefits in this case, arms to which our laws lead, and not the benefits themselves, to which the libertarian objects
Now, if it is this that has the libertarian apoplectic, then he is in desperate need of new terms in which to cast his position, for it isn’t “the militarization” of the police at all to which he objects. He is unhappy that citizens aren’t also allowed to be “militarized.”.
If this is the case, then the proper complaint is not, “The police are ‘militarized’!” The proper complaint is that, “We should be allowed to be ‘militarized’ too,” or something like this.
In other words, the charge of “militarization” makes no sense here.
The concept of “militarization” encompasses the concepts of collective purpose and coercion.
Government, by definition, has a monopoly on force. Yet, theoretically, the libertarian, unlike the anarchist, has no objections to this: the libertarian recognizes the authority of government to both enact and enforce laws. Since police officers are government agents, the libertarian affirms their authority to deploy the power at their disposal to coerce citizens into abiding by the laws that police are committed to safeguarding.
So, the sheer fact that police are endowed with the power to coerce prospective and actual violators of the law can’t be something with which the libertarian has a problem, for he has no problem with government per se.
In other words, that police are using force to maintain law and order precisely what police have always done and what they’ve always been meant to do can’t be the spring of the libertarian’s howls of “militarization.”
Only if government agents whether police or otherwise are coercing citizens in the service of fulfilling some grand collective purpose will the charge of “militarization” apply. Coercion, in and of itself, is insufficient to constitute “militarization.”
To conclude that a police force is “militarized” because of the tools with which officers are equipped is like concluding that a person is a writer (“writer-ized”) because he is equipped with a computer and a creative imagination, or a mechanic (“mechanic-ized”) because he possesses a carjack and a sophisticated miscellany of tools.
But this, in turn, means that the actual weaponry with which the police (or any other agent of the government) are endowed is irrelevant to determining whether the police, or any other agent of government, are “militarized.” If police were armed only with clubs, but used these clubs in order to insure that citizens were exercising three days a week for the purpose of producing “The Physically Fit Society,” say, then this would indeed show that the police had a “militarized” set of mind.
Conversely, if the police are armed to the teeth with the stuff of soldiers but used their arms only to insure that the rule of law was preserved, to protect the life, limb, and property of citizens from those like the rioters in Ferguson who are intent upon undermining civilization, this would fail to establish that they are “militarized.”
It is the manner and purposes for the sake of which a person deploys his resources, and not the resources themselves, that determines what he is.
Similarly, it is the manner and purposes for the sake of which the police deploy their resources their weaponry and not their resources themselves that determine whether or not the police are “militarized.”
And this means that if the police are using their fierce weaponry to, not corral decent citizens into parting with their blood, sweat, and treasure to serve some visionary project of the government, but ward off fierce barbarians who are threatening to undo law and order, then it is simply inaccurate to say of the police that they are “militarized.”
Since the “militarization” of the police is all about the weapons, things, the relevant question is: At what place should the line be drawn between police equipment that is morally acceptable and that which is unacceptable because it results in “militarization?” Should police not be permitted to wear helmets and bullet-proof vests? Should they not be allowed to carry guns at all? What about armored vehicles with bullet-proof windows?
My contention is that, as long as we continue to identify “militarization” with the weapons with which police are armed, there is no non-arbitrary point at which to say: “Ah ha! The police are ‘militarized’!!”
Another consideration regarding the libertarian’s position against “the militarization” of the police is that it requires the drawing of precisely the sorts of arbitrary lines when it comes to distinguishing permissible from impermissible weaponry for police that the libertarian abhors when the discussion shifts to, say, the topic of drug legalization.
Since (as I too believe) the most significant argument for drug legalization adduced by the libertarian centers in an affirmation of the liberty of the individual (adult) to engage in self-destructive conduct, he rightly regards as capricious the decision to, say, legalize marijuana for recreational purposes while criminalizing other, “harder” drugs. Similarly, if the police can be said to be “militarized” when officers are armed with, say, “rocket launchers,” then on what grounds can we deny that police are “militarized” when officers are armed with hand guns?
Were police “militarized” when, back during the Prohibition era, officers were armed with machine guns while combating Al Capone and his goons? If the libertarian answers this question in the negative, then we must inquire into the basis for his determination that police are non-militarized when packing machine gun heat but “militarized” when armed with more than this.
However, there is one final critique of the libertarian’s position, and, from his standpoint, it is by far and away the most important reason for why he should relinquish talk of police “militarization.”
England, for instance, is a place that is even more socialist and multi-cultural obsessed than the contemporary United States. For this reason, it is more of a genuinely militarized society than is America. That police in England are forbidden from carrying firearms changes this not one iota.
When a state a “nation-state,” a “society” is imagined to be, not a “civil association,” as the philosopher Michael Oakeshott describes what we’re inclined to call a “free society,” but an “enterprise association” an organization animated by a grandiose vision toward the realization of which all members are coerced to contribute there is, necessarily, militarization.
It is the existence of laws of a certain type, accompanied by the self-conception of a people that permits these kinds of laws to arise not the apparatus in place to enforce those laws that differentiates a militarized society from a non-militarized one.
It turns out that the “militarization of police” is a sensational term for police officer safety in the face of drug gangs, crazy gunmen and race riots.
It can be hoped, however, that the dangerous flirtation too many supposedly conservative pundits had with left-wing rhetoric will now be seen as an embarrassing episode not to be repeated. When even a social conservative like former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee falls for the “militarized police” line on his Fox TV show, it is clear that the intellectual content of right-wing discourse has taken a nose dive.
A major issue where conservatives initially joinws with liberals to claim that the police response to the violence was the problem. That the police deployed with armored vehicles, flak vests and assault rifles was considered “shocking” by those who sit comfortably in distant TV studios and do not have to be in the streets facing gangs throwing rocks and firebombs, and perhaps carrying assault weapons of their own.
The mob outnumbered the police. Patrol cars had been shot at. Stores had been looted and burned because there are not enough cops to guard everything. The looting was stemmed one night when property owners took up defensive positions with their own guns to deter attacks. I have only seen one interview with locals about how the police response has not been strong enough to “serve and protect” the general public from the roving criminal bands. The rules of engagement under which the police were operating with were very restrictive. It has been alleged that law enforcement backed off during one of the protests last week to avoid a confrontation, allowing looters to have their way.
“Militarization” is nothing more then Modernization.
I read an opinion piece on the Wall Street Journal’s website by Radley Balko where the author examined one instance of a raid on a suspected marijuana grow in which the resident was shot and one of the SWAT officers was killed during a gun battle that ensued after the SWAT team breached the door and were clearing the home. The resident, portrayed in this article as an innocent military vet attacked by the cops, fired 31 rounds from his Beretta pistol (at least 1 reload), at uniformed cops who had been in the home for several minutes, and had cleared all but one room of his home where the man lay in wait with his gun. The man was found to have 16 marijuana plants growing in his basement, which was the basis for the warrant the cops were serving. The author uses this instance to suggest that the cops were somehow at fault in this situation, and that the “militarization of the police” was somehow a factor.
Granted, all that I know of that particular case is from research I have done on the internet, but even the uber-liberal Huffington Post article about this incident does not make it sound as fluffy, cuddly and innocently one sided as the WSJ article does. I fail to see how the incident singled out by the author demonstrates anything but the opposite of what he is trying to convey. The armed, pot growing, mentally unstable man inside the home shot 6 uniformed cops and killed another. How is that the fault of the “militarizing” of the cops? Quite the contrary, had they been more militarized, they might have gotten out without nearly as many injuries.
If you, the reader, are going to argue that pot should not be illegal, please just stop now. That is completely irrelevant to this discussion, because the fact of the matter is, at the time and place that incident occurred, it was illegal, and the man in the home damn well knew that. As did his ex-girlfriend (likely a pissed off ex-girlfriend) who provided the information about the grow to the cops and upon whose statements their warrant was based.
After recounting his version of that case from Ogden, UT, the author points to the fact that law enforcement is receiving “military-style equipment” to bolster his claim that cops are becoming more militarized. The military for the last 100 years or so, has been giving surplus equipment to law enforcement. Way back in the day, many agencies were the recipients of full-auto Tommy guns which they used when conducting raids. In a comment that took me back to the most recent presidential debates, the author makes a completely erroneous comment about cops using bayonets. Really, bayonets? Let’s just leave those silly, uneducated comments to the former gun grabber in chief shall we?
In the same sentence as his bayonets comment, he complains that cops are using M-16 rifles. The rifle issue to me comes across as a somewhat schizophrenic argument. On one hand, the public demands that we be able to deal with the crazed armed gunmen, but in the next sentence, they are being derided for carrying a weapon that will better allow us to do just that. The incident that drove the push for patrol rifles for many departments around the country was the North Hollywood Shootout in 1997.
I would refer the critics of the so-called “militarization” of the police to the infamous (but apparently forgotten) North Hollywood shootout. This was an armed confrontation between two heavily armed and armored bank robbers and officers of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) in the North Hollywood district of Los Angeles on February 28, 1997. Both robbers were killed, eleven police officers and seven civilians were injured, and numerous vehicles and other property were damaged or destroyed by the nearly 2,000 rounds of ammunition fired by the robbers and police. I would recommend viewing that shootout on YouTube, as it makes a very dramatic and real statement about what hazards the police can face today.
That was an eye-opener for police across the country. It was a miracle that there were not a score of officers and civilians killed in that incident. Officers had to put themselves at risk to rescue wounded and trapped officers and civilians that were in the line of fire. This was accomplished by driving unarmored police cars into the line of fire to extract those victims. Hence the need for armored vehicles available to respond when the need arises. And if the financially strapped police departments can obtain that kind of equipment at a discount or for free from the Defense Department, all the better for the taxpayers as well as the officers that are safer. There have been scores of armored vehicle rescues of people trapped in the line of fire since departments have been acquiring them.
After that incident, departments rightfully saw the need for rifles to be available to regular patrol cops instead of only to dedicated tactical teams (SWAT). Many departments did not have the budget to run out and buy rifles, so they relied on freebies from the feds, just as they have been doing for over 100 years. The feds had stockpiles of Vietnam era M-16’s laying around which they freely gave to just about any agency that asked.
Now, before you start freaking out about tons of regular patrol cops running around with full-auto M-16’s, let me explain that both of these agencies went to the trouble to convert all the patrol rifles to semi-auto only. While not every agency may have done this, I think you would find a majority of them did. Police administrators look to the lowest common denominator when making many of their administrative decisions, and weigh the pros and cons. While having rifles available to patrol cops is prudent, I think you would find most administrators think giving them all full-auto rifles would not be.
The argument for the cops having access to a rifle is no different than the argument for Joe public having a rifle, except that statistically speaking a cop is more likely to need to employ their rifle at some point in time as compared to the average gun owner.
And one could argue that the general populace has become more “militarized” over the years in terms of weaponry and ammunition, along with a propensity to aggressively engage against law enforcement personnel. If it’s your husband or wife or son or daughter wearing that badge, placing themselves in harms way, how much armor and protective gear is too much? Do you want your police officer loved one coming home unscathed?
The “armored personnel carriers” is another hyped up, glorified argument. It is not like local SWAT teams are driving Strykers or Bradleys, or even MRAPs around (that is the DHS)*. That said, most SWAT teams do have some sort of armored vehicle, many use a Bearcat. These armored vehicles fill a vital role in being able to approach barricaded, armed subjects without being shot. My department has one, and it has taken quite a few rounds over the years, a few of which would have likely been fatal head wounds had the officers been in an unarmored vehicle.
Moving on to those nasty armored vehicles. I honestly do not see what difference it makes if the vehicle is wheeled or tracked. Is tracked more evil or deadly? It is not as if agencies have been given M1 Abrams tanks (the scary “T” word that media keeps using when referring to armored cars). Armored vehicles serve only one purpose for law enforcement, and that is to provide cops with a bullet proof/resistant vehicle to use in high risk scenarios, such as riot control and barricaded suspect/hostage situations. Throughout this article, they continue to refer to Ferguson as an example, yet the majority of the armored vehicles I saw there were in fact Lenco Bearcats, not military handouts, and definitely not tracked vehicles.
The author then cites a 22 year old study about homicides in an effort to demonstrate that drug dealers and growers are not heavily armed. This tactic is often employed by the gun grabbers, While the two crimes (drug dealing and homicide) do have some correlation, you cannot logically apply murder statistics to show that drug dealers only have low powered handguns.
It just doesn’t work that way. AND, even if it did work that way, he is apparently suggesting that we should just knowingly send in the cops under-gunned because statistically speaking, there is a low chance the drug dealers will have big guns? Sorry, but Homie don’t play that. I have the same attitude at work that I have at home: It is better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. That is the same reason you and I carry concealed weapons is it not? Always hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst? Why should cops serving warrants (as in his examples) be any different?
Finally, he addresses something that he deems a new concept, he says it as “Whatever I need to do to get home safe”. While that concept is not new, the author’s choice of words is. That concept goes back a very, very long time, except it is more often said as “My number one job is to go home safe every night”. I may be arguing semantics, but word selection is very important, and his choice of words is misleading.
But in their rush to blame the police for enforcing law and order in Ferguson, Missouri and protecting business owners, our media failed to note the abundant evidence of shoddy work by Balko in the piece, which was published last year. “The correction to Balko’s reporting stands as one of the most epic reporting corrections in the annals of journalism,” the S.H.A.M.E. Media Transparency Project pointed out.
A 200-word “corrections and amplifications” at the end attempted to set the record straight about some of the article’s erroneous assertions about the “militarization” of law enforcement at various levels of government. It said:
“The Consumer Products Safety Commission does not have a SWAT team. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that it does. Also, the U.S. Department of Education and the Fish and Wildlife Service have law-enforcement divisions, but the agencies say they don’t receive tactical or military training and don’t operate as SWAT teams. An earlier version of this essay incorrectly said that the agencies have SWAT teams. In addition, the earlier version incorrectly described the execution of two search warrants. In the first case, the FWS says that its officers’ weapons weren’t drawn when it searched a Gibson Guitar factory in 2009. The essay incorrectly called it an ‘assault-style raid.’ In the second case, the Department of Education says its search of the residence of alleged members of a student-loan fraud ring was successfully executed. The essay incorrectly described the search as ‘bungled’ and incorrectly implied that the home was searched because a resident had failed to repay her student loan. Finally, Mr. Balko says that he sought comment from the U.S. government agencies mentioned in the essay while researching a book in 2012. The essay incorrectly implied that the agencies had failed to respond to recent requests for comment.”
This is quite a laundry list of distortions. Yet, Balko, a former media fellow at the Cato Institute, keeps appearing in the media as an expert.
Nevertheless, Balko continues to write on these topics for The Washington Post, and to promote his book. Among his latest allegations is that police “tear-gassed a news crew from Al-Jazeera” in Ferguson. Balko linked to a dubious site claiming it was an example of “state security forces” attacking journalists, like Missouri is some communist or third world police state.
The claim crumbles under scrutiny.
The film footage supplied by Al Jazeera only showed one of the correspondents being “caught in the crossfire” when a tear gas canister was shown near the news crew. It was not clear where it came from or who threw it.
Milking the controversy, however, Al Jazeera highlighted the incident by claiming that its correspondent, Ash-Har Quraishi, had escaped “serious danger as police fired tear gas in his direction.” The correspondent himself was quoted as saying that “people started running toward us, saying they were being fired on with rubber bullets. Rubber bullets were fired on us, and then a canister. We had to retreat into the neighborhood.”
So the tear gas had been used to disperse agitators, not to target a news crew.
A close look at the video shows the correspondent wandering into the tear gas, not away from it. How convenient that the cameras were rolling at the time, in order to capture this for dramatic effect. It seems that a desperate Al Jazeera will do anything for ratings.
Not to be outdone, the Russia Today (RT) propaganda channel covered the incident under the sensational headline, “Press freedom? Police target media, arrest and teargas reporters at Ferguson protests.”
In Russia, journalists are murdered with real bullets and the real killers, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, are never prosecuted.
Mark Lomax, executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association in suburban Philadelphia, has previously commented on the situation faced by law enforcement in some dangerous neighborhoods. “We didn’t create this, the bad guy did,” he said. “This is policing that has had to adapt to the crime, the criminal, and to the type of weaponry that’s out there today.”
The group points out that the use of specially selected, trained and equipped police personnel “was born out of necessity,” and that “the violent riots and disorders of the decade of the sixties, many of which involved sniper fire directed at police and civilians,” were a significant factor.
At the time, there was abundant evidence of outside agitation, sometimes by organized communist groups. The Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, which was dismantled by liberals, published a report that included testimony about an instruction manual captured from a communist group that described in detail how to manipulate mobs. The recommendations include creating confusion by starting fights in public spaces, linking arms to resist police dispersal tactics, throwing objects at police, the use of fire and explosives, and, of course, looting.
More recently, the threats posed by heavily-armed narcotics-traffickers and terrorists have justified the use of SWAT teams and special response units.
During an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News, Chief Thomas Jackson of the Ferguson Police Department blamed “a lot of outside agitators” for the looting and other violence.
Liberal commentators have shown no interest in finding out who they are and, in fact, gripe about Jackson bringing up that subject. Instead, they want to find fault with the police for protecting themselves and the community.
The liberal media are angry that the police released videotape of the dead thug, Michael Brown, bullying and “strong arming” a much smaller convenience store manager after he was caught stealing. This was before he reportedly attacked the policeman who shot him.
On Saturday, CNN highlighted the “news” that the videotape was released over the “objections” of the Obama Justice Department, as if the truth about what preceded the “execution” or “murder” was not relevant.
I thought the media were in favor of transparency, or freedom of information.
In fact, their narrative about the case was falling apart, just as it did in the Trayvon Martin case. But the media will never admit they’re wrong. They will keep pumping out distorted coverage, using discredited sources such as Radley Balko.
On a side note, much of the argument made by the author seems to revolve around drug cases, specifically marijuana cases. The first case examined was a raid on a marijuana grow where the author completely ignores the illegal actions that prompted the police response. Other examples he used to bolster his argument were of marijuana eradication efforts beginning in the 1980’s, which leads me to believe there may be some ulterior motive for him writing this.
I would like to address the bigger picture for a bit though, as attempting to dissect the author’s points individually is not necessarily productive. The bigger picture, at least what I take away from this article, is that cops are trying to be more and more like the military, both in appearance/gear and in the way that we interact with the general public.
One of the issues seems to be the general appearance of the cops, right down to their uniforms (BDU style uniforms). Just like the military, so has the patrol cop’s standard load out changed though out the years. With the evolution of police gear, and the introduction of more and more options for less-lethal weapons, the demands (driven by the public) for what they carry with them have continued to grow. Long gone are the days of a cop carrying a pistol, some spare ammo, a baton and handcuffs (1 set).
Finally we get to the clincher, that one thing that will solve all the law enforcement related strife in the US; those damned camo uniforms! You know, because so many cops are running around in camo on a daily basis, and doing camo things with their camo clothing… Camouflage uniforms, as far as law enforcement is concerned, are typically only worn by one group of people, and that is the SWAT team. The problem is the media and cop haters both take about a zillion pictures of SWAT personnel in camo and plaster those photos all over the internet, making it appear that the cops are all out there in military camo, which is far from the truth. While camo has very little useful application in riot control, it actually has does play an important role in many of the things that SWAT units train for, such as hostage situations and barricaded subjects. From a simple logistics standpoint, it does not make any sense for SWAT to have five different uniforms to choose from, which is why their tactical uniform is typically some sort of camouflage, and for larger agencies, is usually purchased by the agency anyway, not surplus.
Cops are expected to carry not only their duty gun, ammo and handcuffs (most likely 2 sets), but now we have a portable radio, pepper spray, a Taser, a flashlight (or two), a baton, a cell phone, leather gloves, germicidal hand wipes, rubber gloves. Some officers carry a spare rifle magazine, a first aid kit, a CPR pocket mask, a backup gun. A recent article about the Hawthorne, CA police shooting the dog had people suggesting they carry tranquilizer guns. Every time a new less-lethal device comes out, the public demands they carry it. That 1940’s era mostly empty gun belt quickly ran out of room. Cargo pockets on the BDU style pants are not there for looks, they are there to help carry some of the gear that the public demands they carry. It may not look pretty, but given the physical space requirements, they are a necessity.
The bigger problem that I see, that the author does not specifically address, is that there is a general disconnect between the public and the cops who work in their community. Historically speaking, when you look at policing at the beginning of the 20th century, the local cops knew their beats, they knew their people, they knew their crooks, and for good reason, their beat was very small. In cities, the cops were on foot. They had a small area of responsibility and they got to know the people in their area. The cops could tell when something was amiss, and they could count on the people to back them if the chips were down. That cop was a part of that community, and it was a good relationship for both the cop and the citizen.
Sadly, that era has gone the way of the dodo. Except for some very rare examples such as the NYPD, where a foot beat still makes some sense, that type of policing will never be seen again. As technology has improved, so has an officer’s ability to cover a larger area. To the administrators and the bean counters, if by providing a car, you can have 1 cop cover the area that was covered by 10 or more cops, it is a no-brainer. With the advent of radios, that area grew. With the advent of computers and computer aided dispatch, that area again grew. Officers, who 100 hundred years ago, would have covered an area consisting of a few square blocks, are now covering an area hundreds of times that size. Generally speaking, on swing shift (statistically speaking, the busiest shift), that area is staffed by 5–8 cops, but some days as few as 3.
My point in discussing that evolution of the patrol cop’s beat is not meant as a pity party. I bring it up to point out the very real problem that evolution has created. There is a massive disconnect between the cops working an area and the people who live there. No one can reasonably be expected to know even a fraction of the people living in their beat. A person would be lucky to notice small changes in a neighborhood that they drive through only on rare occasions, and only when they are heading to a specific location to deal with a call for service.
Patrol cops typically only get to know the criminals in their beats, and we get to know the neighborhoods the criminals live in, because that is where they spend their time. Since they don’t have daily, positive contact with the public, we begin to be seen as just some guy who shows up when needed, and we begin to see the public as some person who just calls them when their world has gone to shit. The advent of newer, better technology, which makes some aspects of their jobs more efficient, has eroded the once good relationship that the cops used to have with the public, and that hurts all of us.
That eroded relationship with the public affects not only how cops do their job (less direct knowledge of people and area), but also how the public views the way their handle their jobs (no direct knowledge of the cop’s personality or attitude). Using the author’s primary case example, let us imagine that had occurred 100 years ago. It is highly likely that the local beat cop would have been the first person that the pissed off ex-girlfriend would have contacted.
Her claims of “he is a huge drug dealer” would have a much better chance of being filtered down to reality (he is crowing a few plants for personal use) because the beat cop would be familiar with the area and likely would at least have some hint if there was a huge drug dealer living in his beat. That beat cop, if he even thought it was necessary, might call one or two beat partners to join him in contacting the resident of the home. The contact at the home would likely have played out entirely different if the cops responding had the intimate knowledge of the area that cops used to have.
Times change, things evolve, including police work and gear. As technology has evolved over the years, so has the way cops operate, and not always for the best. Their ability to cover larger areas has removed us from the personal contact cops used to have with the people in their beat. With that loss of contact, society seems quicker to blame bad outcomes on the cops, whether or not the blame is deserved.
In order to demilitarize something, it has to have been militarized in the first place. There is no such thing actually taking place. Suggesting that because 38 people were killed by SWAT teams is in no way, shape or form any sort of evidence of militarization, nor does it even indicate that any, let alone all, of those deaths were not justified.f
What in fact has been going on in law enforcement is modernization, not militarization. Law enforcement is not using tanks, they are not running around in “full battle rattle,” they do not have machine guns, and we are not running around if fire teams. Armored cars are not new and have been employed by law enforcement as early as the 1920’s. An external, load bearing vest is not a plate carrier. A semi-auto AR-15 is not a “machine gun.” Nearly everything that goes into the “militarized cops” argument is just emotionally charged BS.
When critics wonder “Why do the police need armored assault vehicles and machine guns?” a good response is to ask these three questions:
- If your loved one was in an area that was exposed to hostile contact, would you want law enforcement officers to have the equipment and capabilities to conduct a safe and effective rescue?
- If your loved one was the law enforcement officer, would you want them to have the needed equipment to safely and effectively do their job?
- How much is one life worth — or, better yet, how much is your life worth?
The correct answer to the first two questions from anyone in their sound mind is “yes.” Many have been asked the third question after a tragic event that cost someone their life has already occurred. It is probably safe to assume that the answer didn’t come easy, if it came at all.
Unfortunately, the majority of lessons learned in law enforcement are learned through mistakes, many of which are due to lack of training and equipment. Over the years, there have been countless incidents where specialized equipment was needed but was simply not an issued option for the responding agency, and individuals were injured or killed as a result. There are also some calls that have tragic outcomes no matter what the response is. The “risk factor” or “X factor” of an incident is unpredictable, and calls for service can inherently go bad for responding personnel, sometimes without warning and with little reaction time. Given all these facts, there is absolutely no excuse for law enforcement officers to lack the proper training and equipment to enable them to mitigate any situation safely and effectively. This burden rests on the shoulders of law enforcement executives, local government and community leaders, who must take the time to educate themselves on the benefits of the specialized training and equipment available to the agencies that serve their communities.
Upgrading equipment and training for first responders gained popularity during the 1960s. One notable incident was the August 1, 1966, Texas Tower mass shooting. Charles Whitman, a 25-year-old Marine Corps veteran suffering from mental illness and acute fits of anger, heavily armed himself, ascended the tower at the University of Texas at Austin and shot 46 people, wounding 31 and killing 15. Responding law enforcement officers had no specialized training for this type of incident, and most were armed with revolvers and shotguns. Some of them reportedly went home and retrieved their personal weapons to combat the deadly sniper threat.
Since then, mass shootings employing varied-caliber weapons have become sadly commonplace occurrences. Ambushes on officers, domestic and international terrorism, and natural disasters are just a few of the other rising trends that first responders are tasked with confronting. Today’s threat paradigm is dynamic and unforgiving, and law enforcement is expected to respond to any incident and handle any situation with textbook proficiency. The public’s expectations for success weigh heavily on all first responders — another reason they should be properly equipped and trained to do their jobs, with tools and methods that are equal to the task at hand.
A major source of advanced gear for law enforcement is the federal government’s 1033 Program, which was created in 1997 when President Bill Clinton signed a law authorizing the Department of Defense to transfer excess military equipment to civilian agencies. Since then, more than $6 billion worth of property has been transferred to thousands of agencies nationwide, including rescue equipment, tools, rifles, clothing, medical supplies, utility vehicles, armored vehicles, generators, air frames and much more.
However, in the wake of the 2014 Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, and other recent controversies over police actions, the 1033 Program has come under fire from the public, the media and political figures. Critics of police were outraged that officers deployed military vehicles during the subsequent protests and riots in Ferguson. The media reported over and over how Ferguson police were patrolling the streets in military armored vehicles, and the follow-on stories detailed how law enforcement agencies across the nation obtain such vehicles through the 1033 Program. But according to a tactical supervisor who worked the entire Ferguson incident, the St. Louis County Police and Missouri Highway Patrol provided the tactical armored vehicles. The vehicles on scene included a Lenco BEAR and BearCat equipped with a Patriot System, both of which were purchased by their respective agencies and not furnished by the 1033 Program or any other type of government surplus program. In addition, few media outlets acknowledged the fact that armored vehicles and other advanced apparatuses are invaluable tools for protecting first responders and community members.
In January 2015, President Obama issued an executive order establishing the Law Enforcement Equipment Working Group (LEEWG) to address concerns that law enforcement was becoming too “militarized.” The group’s recommendations, which went into effect in October 2015, established controlled and prohibited equipment lists restricting the items available to law enforcement from federal agencies or using federal funding. Prohibited items included tracked armored vehicles, grenade launchers, and firearms or ammunition of .50 caliber or higher; controlled items included wheeled armored or tactical vehicles, breaching apparatuses and riot helmets.
The FOP and other law enforcement leaders have repeatedly pointed out that restricting the 1033 Program hampers the capabilities and effectiveness of many agencies, especially those with tactical units. For instance, in response to the June 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, law enforcement used a controlled explosion to distract the shooter and an armored vehicle to breach the walls, and one officer survived being struck in the head thanks to his ballistic helmet — yet at the same time all of this lifesaving equipment was considered “controlled” and made more difficult for departments to obtain. The FOP is hopeful that these restrictions will be rolled back by the new Congress and administration.
There are many myths about law enforcement equipment. Some people believe that armored vehicles are assault vehicles used to wage war against the public, but the reality is that they are utilized to transport officers, provide ballistic protection for both officers and citizens during critical events, deter hostile acts toward officers and others, and navigate severe weather conditions. Similarly, critics may believe that heavy body armor is worn to intimidate, when its main purpose is to provide officers with a higher degree of ballistic protection and allows additional gear to be worn for efficient access. Rather than being used to spy on the public, helicopters equipped with infrared camera and lighting systems help law enforcement locate lost persons, provide aerial surveillance for ground officers during pursuits and searches, and perform rescues in areas that deny ground access, day or night. The purpose of weapons systems is not to kill people, but to provide a means for officers to defend themselves and others when ability, opportunity and jeopardy exist to utilize a warranted level of force. Specific weapons systems allow for precision engagement to effectively stop a threat and minimize the chance of collateral harm.
There are countless stories of how first responders utilizing advanced training and specialized equipment have saved lives in recent years. In Bozeman, Montana, in June 2015, a man barricaded himself in a hotel room with a small child and shot at responding officers. The Bozeman Police Special Response Team arrived with a BearCat, and the subject released the hostage and surrendered upon seeing the vehicle. When a gunman opened fire on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs in November 2015, killing two civilians and an officer, law enforcement ended the resulting standoff by ramming an armored vehicle into the front of the building, allowing the civilians trapped inside to escape and leading the shooter to surrender. Following the December 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, law enforcement used armored vehicles for protection as they surrounded and approached the terrorists’ heavily armed SUV; only one officer was injured in the shootout that killed both suspects.
This equipment is not only useful for minimizing loss of life in violent confrontations. In 2011, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department in South Carolina used its infrared-equipped helicopter to locate a wanted armed robber in a rural area that ground units could not approach, then directed officers through a high-speed vehicle pursuit on winding roads until the suspect was apprehended without incident. And agencies throughout the nation, including in Louisiana, West Virginia and North Carolina, have used surplus military vehicles in flooded areas to reach stranded drivers and rescue residents trapped in their homes.
Law enforcement officers are the guardians within every community. There is a hierarchy of life that is followed during all law enforcement responses: victims, other innocent persons, officers and suspects. Time and time again, officers knowingly place themselves in harm’s way in order to protect the public, the majority of whom are total strangers. The availability of equipment and training plays a huge part in their success. Every feasible measure must be taken to ensure that the most modern tools and tactics remain available to public safety agencies.
Technology advances, criminals use said advanced technology to commit crimes, and cops use advanced technology to enforce the law. Its really that simple. There are SWAT teams, there are regular patrol officers. Not much has changed. If you get off your computer you’ll see these police officers are still commonplace. When criminals get more violent the police have to be able to respond with an advantage
Black Nationalist terror was part of the original reason for the militarization of some police forces. It continues to be a serious issue today. And as long as police officers have to face domestic terrorists in the streets, backed by our intellectual elites, they have to be prepared for violence. Disarming police under the guise of community perception costs lives.
Not looking “too militarized” is yet another policy that originates from the left. They hate the police and the military because they preserve law and order or protect the nation. They will continue to undermine them until they get into power and then will give the police all kinds of power to punish citizens who step out of line.
The left and their allies create the need for militarization, then decry it. They create racial hatred, then decry it. Then they claim that they are the solution. Only they, the authors of evil, can stop it.
The federal government has a program where they give out older or obsolete military equipment to local municipalities and sheriff’s dept’s. The misguided argument from liberals and many conservatives is their worry about a police state and how it is unnecessary for the police to have military equipment to “terrorize” it’s citizens. Of course, they cite isolated incidents of raids where they might have gotten a wrong house or individual.
If that is their argument than I guess police dept’s across the country should have stuck with a six shooter.
These writers are concerned that “excessive” (degree) weaponry could be misused. Well, certainly but that’s not the issue. First we have to define “excessive.” When law enforcement is called into an unpredictable situation, they can only know if they’re over-equipped after the fact. Before and even during the event, it is not known how much firepower will be needed to protect lives and property. From the recurring lawlessness in Ferguson, Missouri, we’d have to say that the police and Highway Patrol have been ineffective. That may be due to strategy, tactics, firepower, press conferences or a number of different factors, but we can hardly say that the authorities have been too heavy-handed if they haven’t accomplished their mission.
What if, for “militarization of the police” we substituted “carpenterization of plumbers?” We know that a plumber carries wrenches and washers and a heating torch not hammers and nails. But what if a plumber were confronted with a situation that required him to nail something in place before he could proceed with his plumbing? What if he encountered that scenario often, and started carrying a hammer in addition to his more expected tools? Would we consider him some kind of reprobate for using the tools he needed, rather than the tools we expected?
The editorialists are chagrined that “military” hardware has come to local peacekeepers through the federal government. OK, maybe the national government shouldn’t be giving out goodies to States and municipalities, any more than to businesses or individuals. But again, that’s a different issue than “militarization of the police.”
The professional police force is a novelty, historically speakingonly 300 years old. You can make up rules that police should be like this or like that but those are just rules you made up. God gave governments the “sword” to punish evildoers distinguishing between evildoers inside the country, and outside. It’s the same grant of authority and the same sword. The kinddistinction the principle doesn’t limit police other than to demand that they use their power justly.
There is some fear that local authorities might come to wield these powerful weapons (and wield them clumsily) against law-abiding people. Fair enough. But isn’t it also imaginable that, in some dark day in the not-too-distant future, the federal government with all its armaments comes over the hill toward your town to enforce its arbitrary will? In that hypothetical day, will it be a good thing or a bad thing that your Sheriff’s Department and your cops have tanks?
The fact of the matter is the world is a much more violent place. Bad guys are getting their hands on more sophisticated weapons. Bad guys are much more confrontational with law enforcement. Should the police just stay stagnant while they get outnumbered by the criminals? Maybe they should have sling shots or bow and arrows this way the public doesn’t get intimidated by the cops.
There is even some policy and procedures now that cops cannot have tattoos, or if they already do must be covered up by long sleeves. This is so the public (mostly black community’s) don’t feel threatened by the scary police guys and gals. Never mind the open drug sales, robberies, murders, etc, that go on just make sure we can’t see tattoos on cops.
This is the lunacy we live in.
The real issue isn’t the militarization of the police. It’s the militarization of racism. Violence doesn’t come from police officers decked out in military gear. It comes from the toxic mingling of entitlement, anger and hopelessness that is the hallmark of failed states and failed communities. The odor isn’t new.
The SWAT team emerged from race riots. The War on Drugs was actually declared by LBJ, not Nixon, and was a spinoff of the racial failures of the Great Society. Ferguson will come again. The riots, the tear gas and the clenched fists are a familiar script that will only stop when we start telling the truth about it.
Police are armed to the extent that they are because “the criminal threat” has become such that local law enforcement agencies simply wouldn’t be equipped to adequately resist it otherwise.
The so called “militarization” of the police has everything to do with the criminal threat, Law enforcement agencies were ill trained and equipped to handle a criminal threat which was better armed and willing to use tactics that the police were vulnerable to.We helped balance that by providing training and equipment to meet these evolving threats.
In short, in just those areas like Ferguson, Missouri where police have exhibited the weaponry that have given rise to howls of “militarization,” Officer Friendly wouldn’t last a second. Libertarians, then, who have a problem with these exertions of force on the part of besieged police in these bastions of violent crime should consider spending a fraction of the time that they reserve for blasting the police or, more accurately (and more ludicrously), the “militarized” weapons of police for blasting the outlaw thugs that made these weapons a necessity.
The latter is more politically incorrect, and certainly more dangerous to one’s reputation, but it’s also more truthful.
A society with no military and police armed with sticks and stones can be more militarized than one with a standing military and cops armed to the teeth.
To be sure, America is, to an alarming degree, a militarized society. But this is the point: America is militarized. To speak of its police forces as being militarized totally misses the mark. It’s like a person who’s dying of lung cancer complaining that it is his lungs, not himself, that’s sick. Yet even this analogy fails to capture the crux of the difficulty with this reasoning. More illustrative is the case of a cancer patient who identifies the chemo-therapy with which he’s treating his sickness with the sickness itself.
The idea that the presence of “militarized” police is somehow responsible for the exhibitions of barbarism that unfolded in Ferguson is of a logical piece with the old, tired mantra that poverty causes crime. But as Walter E. Williams once remarked, while there certainly is a causal relation between poverty and crime, it runs in exactly the opposite direction of that imagined by the conventional wisdom: crime causes poverty.
Similarly, the police in Ferguson were “militarized” precisely because of the legions of merciless black rioters with whom they have to contend. Yet there’s another consideration that gives up the lie that the police in Ferguson have provoked the black violence there: Sixty-seven percent black Ferguson, like heavily populated black areas throughout the country, was ridden with crime and violence long before anyone ever heard of Michael Brown. Most of this criminality, though, consists of black-on-black attacks.
Is the militarization of the Ferguson police responsible for the obscene rates and grisly nature of the crime that has been everyday life in Ferguson for years? Is it this that explains why blacks are murdering, raping, beating, and pillaging other blacks?
Is the “militarization” of police in Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta, Camden, Newark, the Bronx, Los Angeles and black cities throughout the nation the cause of the truly scandalous degree of violence and vice that’s become a permanent fixture of daily existence for the residents of these areas?
At long last, let’s be truthful: Police officers in high crime areas which, today, is virtually synonymous with high black areas must be armed to the teeth to protect themselves as well as the law-abiding citizens of these areas who are routinely victimized by the predators in their midst.
The sooner people get over the appearance issues the better. There are many things that started out as military gear or tactics that help law enforcement do their job better, safer, and more effectively, thus keeping the public safer, including many things that have been routinely used to save their lives. This is not a new concept either. Law enforcement has been doing this for hundreds of years.
Just because they adopt gear or tactics that were used or developed by the military does not in fact make them a military.
Policing is a dangerous occupation and given the police officer’s task of confronting crime and protecting the rest of us from criminals, sometimes violence and killing is necessary. I will give any cop the benefit of the doubt over any suspected crook, whatever his color, until I am given evidence to think otherwise.
It behooves the rest of America to do the same. Or, I say police should refuse to work in areas where they are put upon by small-minded politicos, such as the Democrat governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon, and race-mongering law officials like Eric Holder. Police officers have unions; they should demand that bosses support the boycotting of hell-holes such as Ferguson, if they are to be demeaned.
One final note, ignore the libertarian scare mongering about “militarized police.” Libertarians tend to be elites who live nowhere near inner-city communities. They are more likely to be in gated facilities or areas so financially set that crime is something they experience only in the news. They have the luxury of whining about how the police are equipped; the rest of us just want them equipped at their best, and armed to the teeth.
The situation is not that much different than reconstitutiong failed states overseas. As a 2005 RAND study Restoring Law and Order After Conflict found, “A state’s long term prospects for governance and stability depend on viable police, security forces, and justice structures to deal with the most significant internal threats from insurgent groups, criminal organizations, and local militias and warlords.” Analogous threats exist in most of our major cities and defeating them should be the real topic of meetings in Washington and across the country. Tragically, President Obama’s meetings didn’t even come close to addressing these real problems.
As Adam Smith reminds us in The Wealth of Nations, “It is only under the shelter of the civil magistrate that the owner of that valuable property, which is acquired by the labour of many years, or perhaps of many successive generations, can sleep a single night in security. He is at all times surrounded by unknown enemies, whom, though he never provoked, he can never appease, and from whose injustice he can be protected only by the powerful arm of the civil magistrate continually held up to chastise it.” Conservatives (and others) should never forget on which side of the police line they are almost always going to find themselves; and why it is their best interest to make sure the “thin blue line” has the strength of armor plate.
If anything, Police should become more militarized. I agree, don’t get crazy. But I think regular police officers, not just SWAT, would greatly benefit with more tactically sound gear and technology. Having mobile deployable drones, night vision, optics, and the option to wear a chest rig to name a few, would aid in protecting their lives as well as the public.
“Police Militarization” is not a new Phenomena. The police have generally looked like the military since the late 1800s. Departments have been organized into para-military structures since that time. If you were to look at a picture of a U.S. Army officer in 1875 next to the Athens, AL Police Chief of the same year, the uniform is almost identical. Also, domestic terrorism, who do you think responds to that? So yeah, 150 years later, they still look similar to the military. If the criminals hadn’t upgraded their artillery and armor, they probably wouldn’t have either.