Sunday, September 23, 2007

Militarization of America’s Police

One of the most troubling results of the “War on Drugs” in my opinion has been the militarization of our local police forces. Using the usual tactics of fear and race many police organizations and politicians have promoted the false picture that the police are under constant assault and threats and therefore need the same material as the armed forces. They need armored personnel carriers, assault helicopters, assault rifles, and all of the other gadgetry being employed by the military.

The truth of the matter though is somewhat different than what is being presented. While one of the hazards of being a police officer is the possibility of death, the numbers do not bear out the need for such military hardware in civilian life. In 2005, there were 153 police officers killed in the line of duty out of over 800,000 officers, this hardly resembles the full scale assault being touted by the military hardware manufacturers and the police organizations. It is important to remember that many current police officers are ex-military so the thought of using military equipment will always appeal to them and arms makers looking for civilian markets for their military hardware will continue to overhype the threat to police officers.

The next step it appears is to arm the police with military style assault weapons. It seems that our local police do not have enough deadly force at their disposal, so the officers in Miami will now be offered the option to carry assault rifles.

MIAMI, Sept. 16 (AP) — Patrol officers here will have the option of carrying assault rifles as they try to combat the rise in the use of similar weapons by criminals, the city’s police chief said Sunday.

The chief, John F. Timoney, approved the policy last week, before a Miami-Dade police officer was killed on Thursday in a shootout with a man wielding an assault rifle.
Years ago, law enforcement specialists like SWAT teams were the only officers to carry assault weapons, but now even some small town police agencies are arming officers with the AR-15, a civilian version of the military M-16 rifle.

Patrol officers in Danbury, Conn., have been allowed to carry the weapons since 2003. Police departments in Merced, Calif., and Waterloo, Iowa, have put them in all patrol vehicles for several years. In Stillwater, Okla., about 70 miles west of Tulsa, every patrol officer is issued an AR-15.[1]

As we move closer to the time when there will be only two classes in this country, it will be important that the police forces are heavily armed to beat back the hordes of poor people storming the gated communities. There was a time in America when the police actually did policing, where officers knew the people in their patrol areas and actually walked their “beats”. The drug war has replaced community policing with military tactics. We have declared war on our communities and the people living in those communities. Instead of the police being accessible and respondent, today they are disconnected to the communities they are hired to protect and serve.

This disconnection to the communities has led to more violence and less cooperation with law enforcement. Instead of the police and the communities coming together to solve the crime issues, today they appear to be at odds with each other. With many in the community no longer willing to participate in the efforts to prevent crime believing that they can’t count on the police for protection the hoodlums and thugs have taken over entire neighborhoods. The answer is not more powerful guns and hardware, the answer is a return to the style of policing prior to this failed attempt at a war on drugs.

Somewhere it was decided that having the police riding around in their patrol cars would extend their range and reduce crime, I think it is time to rethink this policy. A community must feel connected to those that are assigned to protect them. The citizens in the Black community do not feel this connection. Hence, a lot of crime goes unreported or people refuse to testify for fear of retaliation. It should be incumbent on the community to protect itself, ie vigilantism, but if the police refuse to protect the citizenry something has to be done. Enforcing the laws should be a joint partnership between the police and the community, but this is going to require better communication and more interaction.

The only time most people in the Black community see the police is either while being arrested or after a crime has occurred, this is not an acceptable police policy. No matter how many or how powerful the guns you give the police, there will be no change in the climate until we have a police force that is more responsive to the community. A police force that is willing to interact with the community on regular basis to develop the lines of communication and repair the lack of trust within the community.

Just as our military is limited in its war with Iraq, so will our police force here in our communities, if we continue to stress the hardware and not the software. Our neighborhoods don’t need occupation forces, they need policing that is empathetic to their plight. There was a time when the police lived in the areas they patrol, it gave them a sense of ownership and it gave the locals a connection to the police. Let’s call off the war against our communities and begin to demilitarize our police.


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