Militarization of Police

Everyone should read Radley Balko’s article in Reason, Tanks for Nothing, describing federal government efforts to transfer surplus military equipment to local police departments:

The Pentagon giveaway program began in the late 1980s, and is almost certainly responsible for the dramatic rise in the number of SWAT teams across the country, which led to the 1500 percent increase in the number of total deployments over the last 25 years, and to the increasing use of paramilitary tactics for nonviolent crimes. Many criminal justice experts say the program, along with the fact that SWAT teams and narcotics officers are often trained by former members of elite military groups like the Army Rangers or Navy Seals is responsible for the “cowboy” mentality that pervades many SWAT and narcotics units.

My favorite is this part:

About 3/4 through the book, Wright explains how the full-time Marines were getting increasingly irritated with a reserve unit traveling with them. The reserve unit was mostly made up people who in their civilians lives were law enforcement, “from LAPD cops to DEA agents to air marshalls,” and were acting like idiot renegades. Wright quotes a gunnery sargeant who traveled with the reserve unit:

“Some of the cops in Delta started doing this cowboy stuff. They put cattle horns on their Humvees. They’d roll into these hamlets, doing shows of force—kicking down doors, doing sweeps—just for the fuck of it. There was this little clique of them. Their ringleader was this beat cop…He’s like five feet tall, talks like Joe Friday and everybody calls him ‘Napoleon.'”

I don’t have any problem with the police having the hardware they need to do their job. I don’t wince at the idea of patrol cars having AR-15s. I think every patrol car should have one, in fact. I don’t even have issues with police SWAT teams, provided they are used only in rare circumstances, in situations that call for it.

But this phenomena has gotten out of control. It’s time to start pushing to bring police work back into the civilian realm. Police ought not be super citizens, with special rights, privileges and yes, equipment, that sets them apart from you and I. That engenders an attitude that is dangerous to maintaining a free society. Police are civilians, that we hire to maintain law and order. That’s it. Their attitudes and equipment need to reflect that.

2 thoughts on “Militarization of Police”

  1. how do we do that? Will they rat each other out if their partner uses excessive force?

    If they are prone to certain behaviors and they do not “police” themselves according to to the lawes that are in place now, what else can you do?

    It’s like saying it’s a good idea to give the vice president the option to be an absolute dictator as long as he thinks it’s a good idea and just hoping he doesn’t abuse it. That is not the way the Constitution was written and it’s absurd.

    If you don’t want mugged downtown at night, stay out of that back alley. If you don’t want people to abuse force, don’t give military-grade weapons to them.

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