The Militarization of Law Enforcement


The only resistance I have seen to this sort of thing is coming from the far right:
In the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, our soldiers have been waging what's known as counterinsurgency. They're supposed to be both warriors and community builders, going village to village driving out insurgents while winning the hearts and minds of the population. But counterinsurgency has had mixed results - at best. 
We met a Green Beret who is finding out -- in his job as a police officer -- that the strategy might actually have a better chance of working, right here at home, in the USA. 
Call him and his fellow officers counterinsurgency cops! They're not fighting al Qaeda or the Taliban, but street gangs and drug dealers in one of the most crime ridden cities in New England.
This is the militarization of law enforcement, which is the result of bringing military security tactics and training to a law enforcement mindset. Whether or not people accept or agree with this change in how the cops do their jobs is not necessarily an indicator of where a person is on the political spectrum but is, rather, a darned good indicator of what people are willing to trade in order to feel safe.

Would you trade your rights to be secure? Or is that a false choice driven by misinformation?

I don't want talk about dronez! or anything like that, but this adoption of military tactics does open the door to allowing military technology to enhance what is being done on a counterinsurgency scale. It does allow for an expansion of tactics to include the use of surveillance and data collection and for the growth of industries that provide the equipment and the personnel. Without a clear understanding of the ramifications of turning local law enforcement into a high-tech supported surveillance and assault entity that drives profits for defense and security contractors, there is no way to get a handle on what this means for a community.

Security contractors are looking at a draw down in what they can sell the military; it would be a natural consequence to start selling things like body armor and assault weapons to domestic law enforcement. If you have an overstock of heavily-armored vehicles, why wouldn't you seek out the police departments that have grant money and budgets large enough to consider the procurement of such vehicles? If this an effective use of funding, then it should be opened up for public discussion. Putting cops in tanks and armored personnel carriers is what kind of a solution when the problem is terrorism or widespread criminality?

It is important to note that counterinsurgency tactics rely on getting the citizens to start informing on one another in order to derive a clear picture of who is doing what and which elements of the "tribe" or the neighborhood are aligned with the criminals and who is trying to resist being part of the criminal element. This is all well and good in a war but in a setting like Springfield, Massachusetts, how much can you trust? Who is going to be altruistic and only inform on the criminals and who is going to protect friends or relatives or try to settle petty grievances with businesses or other citizens? Do we want information or do we want to expose the underbelly of a community and then use the full force of the police department to tear it apart? What is left when all of the grudges are sorted out?

Right wing politicians were quick to decry the lockdown of Boston and the subsequent appearance of heavily armed police officers. It's simple logic--cops do not want to get shot and killed. But their presence overwhelmed the sensibilities of people who would prefer to never see a cop and to live in a clean area with free access to come and go. I think there is an aversion to dealing with unpleasant realities, whether from natural disasters, man-made incidents, or any situation where public safety requires a heavy presence. We are not ready for tanks to roll up and down the block.

What I have not seen is enough emphasis on telling people to get away from their windows and to seek cover when there is a firefight in the midst of a busy neighborhood. The overwhelming threat to public safety occurs when a suspect trades shots with the police and when both sides are armed with high-powered rifles or assault weapons. The killing range of a high-powered rifle round is far and away beyond the general area where shots are being exchanged. To see the footage shot by cell phones when there are police officers shooting rifles mere yards away was to see an example where the public was simply not informed. The media should have done a better job of explaining that, unless you are under cover, you can be shot standing in a window.

So, the extension of counterinsurgency tactics to local law enforcement can lead to several things that need to be discussed. One, the technology puts a lot of power in the hands of cops. Second, the use of information derived from citizens can lead to the settling of grudges and to the making of arrests driven by revenge and not actual criminal information. Third, when there are exchanges with suspects, the militarization of law enforcement means the introduction of weapons that are well beyond anything people are properly informed about.

Should we militarize the police department? I think we need to avoid doing so in order to maintain some semblance of control over the rule of law. The potential for an abuse of power is too great.