ARE POLICE RECRUITS BEING TRAINED TO FIGHT WARS OR TO PROTECT AND SERVE? FROM WAR FIGHTER TO CRIME FIGHTER- THE POLICE MILITARIZATION PROBLEM
The Davis, California City Council got it right when they told their police chief to get rid of a $700,000 armored car given to them by the feds- they thought it sent the wrong message and wasn’t needed since high-level-weapons designed for military battles have no place in civilian contexts. The decision raised concern among other police officials, the Sheriff of Santa Barbara County wasn’t convinced and said there was a lot of misunderstanding and even hysteria in the public about the federal program (Pentagon Law Enforcement Support Office- LESO) which provides free military-style weaponry to civilian law enforcement. However, it appears that elected officials, following the Ferguson, Missouri debacle have their sights set on dismantling or greatly restricting the Department of Defense 1033 program set up in 1996 originally to combat the “War on Drugs”. Representative Hank Johnson (Democrat, Georgia) has announced his intention to submit a “Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act” aimed at ending the 1033 program. On one of his website pages it states, “Our main streets should be a place for business, families and relaxation, not tanks and M16s. Our local police are quickly beginning to resemble paramilitary forces”. The LESO website indicates that the program has transferred $4.3 billion in military equipment to states and local communities, and more than $449 million in 2013 alone. The ACLU has harshly criticized the programs in a recent 2014 report consisting of over 90 pages. They report that roughly 36% of the property handed over free to the police is brand new and that LESO’s motto is “From War fighter to Crime Fighter” The ACLU states that, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Statistics, the majority of police recruits receive their training in academies with a stress-based military orientation; it appears the police are being trained for combat. The report notes that SWAT teams were created in the 1960’s as quasi-militaristic squads designed to deal with very serious matters such as riots, hostage scenarios and sniper cases, but they are now routinely being used in drug searches and other less serious crime matters. In some instances, innocent children have been terrorized, and innocent people killed during such police affronts. Other officials are speaking out as well. At least one police chief in Salt Lake City, Utah announced, “Were not the military, nor should we look like an invading force”. Reportedly, the state of Arizona has received, in addition to more than 21,211 types of military equipment, 120 utility trucks, 64 armored vehicles and 17 helicopters.
COMMENT: Police are in place to “Protect and Serve” the public- not to frighten people. It appears clear that the police are reluctant to turn down “free” military-grade equipment from the federal government themselves- lawmakers have to do it by cutting off funding. It also seems clear that if 36% of the equipment is brand new, money is being wasted in the first instance on military equipment. Moreover, it also appears that some of the more serious equipment is being turned over to law enforcement without proper training. The program is flawed to begin with, the lack of training substantially contributes to the danger the program presents to citizens.
UPDATE: 5/18/15: President Obama is taking action to ban the distribution of military-style weapons, and substantially restrict the transfer of other types of weapons, to police departments. The action is being taken to ease the tensions between minorities and others across the nation and intended to coincide with the mind-set that police should be “guardians”, not “Warriors”.