War On Militarization

The War On Militarization

“History is but the record of crimes and misfortunes” – Voltaire

If history is this accumulation of crime and misfortune, then it would seem we have arrived at an interesting historical junction in which the perspectives of what constitutes a criminal and where misfortune falls are being brought into question. The definitions of crime have changed drastically in the past fifty years, and with this change comes a change in reactions. Many police departments across the US are seeing an increase in military equipment at the same time as growing distrust in these very same institutions continues. The once stable democratic relationship between citizen, police, and criminal has bent into an unsustainable fashion. And the question is now; how do we return to a balance? How do we want our police force to protect our general well-being? Is this up to the public, or administrative individuals in the government? This is what public and private interests need to negotiate over if we are to have a stable and safe society.

As private citizens we should have the Right to a warrant before searches of private property. And at the same time it is in the public interest to go after real criminals who may be trying to use this Right to continue to commit unlawful acts. As a private individual in the police force you may think your squad needs a bulletproof vehicle. And yet, the public may not want to see their police force escalate slowly into a military. It is a complicated issue to say the least.

If we are to unwarp the association between citizen and police force the elements of hostility should be reduced as much as possible. With a recent economic crisis, police departments across the nation have seen budgets shrink when it comes to training but not when it comes to surplus military equipment. This has led to more poorly trained officers sometimes armed to the teeth entering the force. Add that to a growing trust issues between the public and police officers and you have what can only be a recipe for disaster. There is, on one hand, this necessity for the police as an element in our democracy, but, on the other hand, perhaps the best way to protect both officers and people is not to have an all-out arms race with criminals or to scare our citizenry into submission. There are alternatives to combating crime that are far healthier for society, reach the same goals of protecting the public and still include a safe modest police force. Stress and scrutiny, at this junction in our history, should be put on what constitutes a modest police force. This analysis will show that a modest police force should not include a donations or trade system between local police and the military when it comes equipment and that such a system is detrimental to the over all goal of community protection and health. It will also go into the other reasons for the growing mistrust between community and police force.

Many people across the nation are starting to see their local patrol cars turn into armored response vehicles. This is not only in high risk areas either, this is happening in rural and typically safe towns across America, towns and communities that have almost no need for such tools in their force. And people are starting to get worried and voice their concerns. Who can blame them? It is quite a strange sight to see a SWAT team geared up and ready to go, at least in most of the country, and I think this is a good thing. Most people seem to be under the impression that this turn of events is out of the ordinary, although some might not care or even find the increase in strength necessary. It is interesting then to look back just a couple centuries and note that the government was not always the provider of such police services. The Boston PD touts that it is the first paid, professional public safety department in the country, with origins going back to the early 1800s (BPD). Before that the government had much less of a role in policing local communities. When it finally became normal for the government to provide this service it was still with certain restrictions. The Posse Comitatus Act was introduced following the Civil War with the intent to end the use of federal troops as a police force in the recently defeated south (RAND, 1997). However, over the years this act has had several exceptions added to it, including; exceptions for the National Guard, the president’s power to quell domestic violence, surveillance by military personnel, and a “drug exception” as part of the War on Drugs (RAND, 1997). With these exceptions and the handing over of military equipment to the police it is almost as if the Posse Comitatus act doesn’t exist anymore as a rule of law. This is no longer the faint suspicion of a police state but a bold shadowy outline of what is to come in the future.

The more recent increase in police armament all started with growing civil unrest in the 1960s and 1970s. This is when our famous Special Weapons and Tactics (or Attack Teams, which ever acronym you prefer) were brought into use (Haberman, 2014). Their utilization seemed to be justified for a time, despite calls that their use was sometimes overzealous. Fast-forward to the 1990s and one might assume that the increase in police force was for the best. It was in the 90s that crime rates started to significantly drop across the board. What is even more interesting to note about this, is that the cities with the highest immigrant populations were the ones that saw the lowest drops in crime rate. And even though no one was expecting an all-out de-escalation of efforts to fight crime, nobody expected what was to come next.

Police departments across the nation began adopting a new system called CompStat; which evaluated police officers and precincts on the quantity of arrests and not their quality (Taibbi, 2014). This development was coupled with a new stop and frisk policy, turning the police into fishermen and citizens the potential catch, regardless of innocence. The smallest offences were now subject to jail time in bizarre twists of legalese and mandatory minimums. Many have already heard that the US now has the world’s largest prison population with 20% of the world’s prisoners and only 5% of the world’s population (ACLU, 2011). And as the 90s continued the subtle arming of the police picked up pace. In 1996 the War on Drugs continuation prompted congress to alter a previous agreement that local police and the Department of Defense had. The National Defense Authorization Act Section 1208 had allowed for “transfer to Federal and State agencies personal property of the Department of Defense, including small arms and ammunition, that the Secretary determines is (A) suitable for use by such agencies in counter-drug activities; and (B) excess to the needs of the Department of Defense” (Wofford, 2014). Section 1033 was then added to help agencies continue to battle the war on drugs only this time with camo, assault weapons, bullet proof armor, smoke bombs, tear gas, and other tactical equipment.

With the police looking to fill their quotas in a decade of low crime they started treating drug addicts as enemy combatants. Even with prisons full, the government’s response was to further arm police departments to the teeth with surplus military equipment, sometimes free of charge. While many Police Chiefs have been able to responsibly use their SWAT forces to reach peaceful ends, we have seen that this is not always the case. In 1999 during the Seattle World Trade Organization riots the police were seen to have used heavy handed tactics on protestors sitting down holding up peace signs (Burton, 2014). This is certainly not what the government had armed these police for, well at least not explicitly on paper. Two years later, after 9/11, the government had even more reason to arm the police. The war on crime and drugs had already given them enough reason to create a police state, and now they had a war on terror to fight as well. All of these developments brought in new rules to how the police were allowed to play.

However, for some reason, it really wasn’t until August, 2014 that people started to really take notice. After the shooting of Michael Brown police in Ferguson came out that month and showed, not only the US but the world, that many towns in the country were ready to install marshal law at a moment’s notice. The incident has become a beacon example for police brutality and militarization. And it is about time too. As of 2014, according to Professor Peter Kraska of the School of Justice Studies at Eastern Kentucky University, the amount of police departments with SWAT teams had grown to over 80% (BDN, 2016). This is quite a staggering percentage when one takes into account that 48% of departments employed fewer than 10 officers (Fulton and Reaves, 2015). Small town America is ready for war, but with who exactly?

Whether it is crime, drugs, or terror, the War is On. Most people probably can accept that a good degree of police security involves police strength. It is their deadliness that is part of what makes them effective protectors of the public. They are the severe necessity for the unimaginable situation. However, strength cannot be everything for a police officer. There is also a responsibility to safe guard life and only take it when necessary. And although, the line between which of these is more important is being blurred in precincts across the nation, some in the police force argue that there is flat out no militarization. They are adamantly still peace officers first and tactical sharpshooters second. Protection of the community is still the constant goal here. However, the quality of that protection may need augmenting.

Special Weapons and Tactics teams are not only necessary in a lot of violent instances, they are also obligated to try and de-escalate the situation if possible. They should remain vigilant but non-lethal and their first priority should be to protect citizens. Unfortunately, defusing the tension in these situations is sometimes a near impossibility. Americans have somewhere between 270 million and 310 million guns, that is a gun for pretty much every individual in the country, and yet weirdly enough only around one-third of Americans admit to owning a gun (DeSilver and Posts, 2013). We are a nation of John Waynes. And remember, these are not just hand gun six shooters we are talking about. Some felons are armed very well and are not in best of psychological states, making them even more dangerous.

Police officers in America do need appropriate response firepower and armor in many situations if they are to be successful and save innocent lives. In the blink of an eye a suburban home somehow becomes a castle. There are plain clothed officers, ducking behind trees and cars, and the nearest armored vehicle that could get them close enough to the house to do anything is over an hour away. There is certainly a need here to protect these officers and make the best of a heinous situation.

It was not too long ago, in April 2009, that Richard Poplawski gunned down three police officers in Pittsburgh (Robbins & Hamill, 2014). He did this with an AK-47, a shotgun rifle, three handguns, and a bullet proof vest. During the four-hour long exchange of fire with Pittsburgh SWAT he managed to fire off some 600 rounds (Regnary, 2013). If our officers are potentially going up against Kalashnikovs in urban encounters they will certainly need adequate armor. And if their potential adversaries may also have bullet proof vests, they will need to have the tools to work around that too. Unfortunately, some parts of America are like that; a war zone.

In the past ten years the average number of officer deaths was 150 per year; according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund that is 1,501 all-together and one officer death every 58 hours (Malkin, 2014). Sometimes these deaths have even involved ambushes on officers, giving them little warning or chance to respond. We are ever grateful for their sacrifices and protection. And our ever present anxiety for these men and women is certainly worth the effort to better equip them. In a poll by Rasmussen, it was found that 58% of likely voters think there is a war on cops in America (2015).

This is an interesting point of view to have though, especially when one notices that police deaths have actually been steadily declining as fatalities committed by police have gone up. Data from the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund notes that the highest year for officer deaths was 1930 with 304 officers killed, this declined significantly during the war effort and remained in the low 100s until the 1970s (2004). From 1970 to 1974 officer fatalities jumped from 220 to 280. It would have been around that time that SWAT efforts kicked in and officer deaths have remained below 200 since those years. As it turns out 2015 marked possibly the safest years for police in a quarter century (Lartey, 2015). While police continue to get safer themselves it is increasingly more dangerous to be caught by them. It would seem the wars on everything have tipped the balance in the war on cops. We missed that crucial balance point, perhaps around the turn of the century. That was when crimes were going down in the 90s; including gun homicides which continue to decline (Krogstad, 2015). While no one is saying that we should accept high police mortality, many are concerned with the fatality of police. There are still too many unarmed victims and gun misfires for anybody to be content.

In a PBS special called Police and Guns, police chiefs, sheriffs, SWAT team leaders, as well as family members of victims of police brutality and heavy handedness, met and discussed the issue of whether law enforcement is becoming too dangerous. One victim, a mother, talked about the police had raided her house without warning or warrant, got the wrong house, and a tactical grenade landed in her child’s baby crib. The child survived but barely and with life altering complications. It was in front of her, and to others like her, that these police veterans and leaders had to give an explanation (PBS, 2016).

The officials offered their sincere condolences and properly laid out the reasons why we do need these kinds of tactical programs. One police chief pointed out that a lot of the military gear received was non-lethal, such as radios, and that the grenade launcher was for gas canisters and not grenades (PBS, 2016) For many of the other law enforcement officials in attendance the equipment was given to them so they could save money. Basically saying that it wasn’t their fault that they had the assault weapons and armored cars. They are however, still responsible for any acts of militancy that may come from the use of that hardware. Several also mentioned that due to budgetary constraints training for officers was becoming insufficient. It seems odd that the Department of Defense would be short-sighted enough not to see that military gear in the hands of non-military officers might eventually be abused.

For many police though, there is no militarization at all, everything is completely normal. VICE recently interviewed a Ferguson veteran black cop to talk about militarization and racial divisions. He had this to say about people calling for demilitarization in the city.

“So it was kind of surprising to see some of the backlash that people were saying about the military tanks. I’m a veteran myself, and I was in a tank brigade and those aren’t tanks. If you look at a Brinks truck, that’s basically what you’re looking at. As far as any type of gunnery or equipment that they would have used on that particular vehicle, that’s not given to us. They’re vehicles we’ve always had. I guess that’s my surprise: to see people seeing these vehicles for all these years, and we never heard anyone say, “We don’t [want] the police with the militarized vehicles” (Zimmerman, 2016).

It would seem many cops don’t see the problem as it is right up front, they look at the extra armor and from their perspective it is protection and not aggression. This is a dangerous mind set for our protectors to have. The divide between the police and the communities they watch over is becoming more and more apparent. When an officer finds that it is necessary to wear military equipment to deal with the community he or she works in on a daily basis, something is off. Until they metaphorically step out of the uniform, step into the shoes of the people they technically work for, they will never see the tank in the Brinks trunk.

Even the government has noticed steps need to be taken. But the administration can only do so much apparently. “Pentagon officials said they ordered Ferguson to return the two vehicles in June this year after discovering in a data review that the city had been given twice as many Humvees in 2013 under the so-called “1033” equipment transfer program as they had previously known, without proper federal authorization” (Swaine, Ackerman, and Siddiqui, 2015). However, weaponry continues to find its way to the police only now with more red tape in the way. Whether we like it or not a surplus extra army has been raised in America.

It is clear that in moments of social turmoil (including peaceful protests) there will be people who take advantage of the situation, looting, hurting people and property, using the shelter of other people’s constitutional right to assemble to bring violence to police. It is true that the media does not report often on successful raids enough (it isn’t good for ratings apparently). So much good work goes unnoticed and when a few cops step out of line suddenly they are all in question. It must be frustrating beyond belief. However, this is necessary of the media in one sense. The sense that the media is doing its job of checking the powers that be. So with the information at hand, should the American people be worried about their guardians increasing power? Or is the extra strength necessary to protect the collective citizenry?

While some preach the necessity of heavy weapons and tactics others point out that such military presence only escalates tensions. Those others are usually citizens. So do bigger guns and armored vehicles ignite a feeling of fear? In the light of a majority of opinions and my own, the answer is most certainly yes; militarization (or equipment overflow or whatever you want to call it) does escalate tensions for citizens. The minute it becomes normal for average police to view citizens as potential combatants and not human beings, that is the minute both sides start looking for more protection. When cops show that they are threatened by the community, the community will show that they are feeling threatened as well, just as any two animals in the woods might upon crossing each-others path. The police don vest, helmets, and load up bigger guns. The citizens start collecting more bodies and to show their frustration the sticks and stones may start flying. When tear gas and rubber bullets become the response it is usually answered with further disobedience. It is here that sometimes, perhaps too often even, violent opportunists ruin any chance for the police to see a gathering of people as anything but hostile.

When I think of armored cars I don’t think of tanks necessarily or all-out-war either. I think of someone in an office deciding which options are going to be cheaper in the long run. It is a cold calculation that says we are here to stay and to control the area. It screams of occupation. Tear gas, rubber bullets, real bullets, assault style weapons, are all now in the police tool belt all over the nation. We have seen this tool belt be abused on peaceful protestors merely acting in accordance with their rights. Haiku, of the Black Lives Matter movement, pointed out during the PBS sit down that weapons definitely escalate the situation (PBS, 2016). It is not out of our understanding of psychology to notice that military gear in any situation heightens tension and increases the chance for violence. Despite this violence already being present in some communities across the nation the weapons still send the wrong message. A friend of Mr. Poplawski (our AK-47 enthusiast from Pittsburgh) pointed out that the shooter felt his life was being diminished, he said he would be ready for an invasion in the US and had stockpiled guns and food just in case (Robbins & Hamill, 2014). He apparently thought that even a militarized police wouldn’t be bothered to help him out in any such eventuality or perhaps he thought they themselves would be the first to invade. We have a military for a reason and a police force for a very different reason. The police are not occupying or liberating us. They are our community guardians. However, some police officers, the bad eggs, are forgetting their specific role in society. Matt Taibbi points out in his book The Divide that putting an entire segment of the population on the defensive, leads to distrust of police and laws. Stupid behavior by police, stop-frisk strategies, dragnets, all these things lead to less respect for police (Taibbi, 2014).

There are several reasons for distrust in police. First of which is the lack of transparency. Steven Greenhut in California reported on a fix the Assembly Public Safety Committee got away with. “Police lobbyists and union officials were given reserved seats at the front. As I reported at the time, some onlookers in attendance openly mocked the people who showed up to support the transparency bill. The committee chairman gave a rambling chat defending police” (Greenhut, 2016). The court shut down public access to information about police who may have broken the law and abused their positions. A just democracy is almost impossible without transparency. It is even more concerning when that lack of transparency leads to a lack of accountability.

The absent accountability is the second reason for mistrust. Tess Owen from VICE shows us how bad things have gotten in America.

“Federal prosecutors in the United States declined to bring charges against cops facing allegations of civil rights violations in 96 percent of cases between 1995 and 2015, according to an investigation by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The newspaper sifted through almost three million records from the US Department of Justice, and found that prosecutors did not pursue 12,703 potential civil rights violations out of 13,233 cases. The same couldn’t be said for other kinds of cases against non-police defendants. The investigation found that federal prosecutors declined to bring charges in only 23 percent of other types of criminal cases.

The stunning findings provide the hard, nationwide data to back up one of the fundamental claims driving the Black Lives Matter movement – that police officers are rarely held accountable when faced with allegations of brutality or misconduct, and whose victims, more often than not, are black and Hispanic” (Owen, 2016).

This is a completely unjustifiable turn of events and it still isn’t the worst we have heard. The CATO Institute reported that police militarization has led to extreme constitutional violations. When SWAT raided Andrew Cornish’s home they made every mistake they could have and saw no rebuke. “First, the police violated the knock-and-announce rule when they failed to wait more than five seconds for him to answer the door after knocking. Second, the police violated the prohibition on excessive force when they shot him to death” (Sharipo & Meyer, 2015). The law then saw fit to let them get away with these infractions. You may also remember the Baltimore Riots last summer after the killing of Freddie Gray by police. Edward Nero, one of the six officers tried for his murder, recently received a verdict of Not-guilty (Marbella & Campbell, 2016). Citizens, including members of Black Lives Matter, have been calling for accountability that they may never see. The BLM movement thought that after Michael Brown and Eric Garner in New York City they might see some justice in Gray’s case; they were disappointed.

A third reason for the state of mistrust is the increasing fraternal feeling of the police force. When this comes in contrast with the community they stop being seen as protectors and start being seen as others. This otherness creates an ‘us versus them’ attitude for both parties involved. There are really only two things that can happen with weapons; the first is that they are used, the second is that they sit there do nothing and instill a sense of uneasy fear, like some sort of crazed mutually assured destruction within a single country.

The biggest reason for mistrust is that many see that race is still a playing factor here. The Ferguson police officer interviewed by VICE even admitted that “We cannot have the support of the community if the police are looked upon as racially profiling, [ticket] writing, shooting innocent people, unarmed people. Those types of images have done nothing but bring law enforcement back” (Zimmerman, 2016). A library could be written about these racial injustices and since the focus here is on police militarization I will only add that what I have read has made me sick. And to anyone who sits content with the fact that they are not a minority, realize that how the government treats minorities is an indication as to how they would treat everybody if they thought they could get away with it.

The fifth reason for distrust may be the dangerous mindset that some officers seem to have acquired. It is a perspective where they look down at the community instead of respecting it. I have come to think of this as the Die Hard problem. Too many cops now have this bizarre idea of what it means to be a cop because of this mass movie culture. As Hans Gruber puts it in Die Hard; “Just another American who saw too many movies as a child, another orphan of a bankrupt culture, who thinks he is John Wayne, Rambo…” (McTiernan, 1988).

Of course, not every cop has fallen prey to this. Some Americans can even still separate fact from fiction. But not every human being is so capable under such circumstances. Awhile back I was visiting a friend in Brussels. At a pub we met this police officer from the United Kingdom. After striking up a conversation and finding out that I was American, he began to reveal to me how he wished he was a cop in the USA. I did not have to ask him why. He told me he wanted to have a gun, he wanted to save the day, and shoot the bad guys; bang-bang. I told him straight to his face that I was glad he didn’t have a gun, most of the UK was glad he didn’t have a gun, and that he didn’t need one to do his job right. At least not in England and Wales, where there have been 55 fatal police shootings in the last 24 years (Lartey, 2015b). For comparison, police in the USA killed around 990 people just in 2015 (Somashekhar & Rich, 2016). (This is also the only instance in which I would over look police action in Northern Ireland, where another unjustifiable escalation of community and police violence existed for a long time.) The point here is that a demilitarized police force clearly reduces fatal shootings by officers. It should also point out the Die Hard problem, the psychology that shows how human beings want these admirable things like respect, adrenaline, and power. This is the insane idea that any old New York city cop can stop an invading troop of terrorists. I hope they can, but I don’t want them to go looking for it. That is the last kind of person, cop or civilian, that I want to have an assault rifle.

The reasons are many for the recent divide between the police and the communities they protect. They are mixed and varied and together they create quite a mess. The next questions are; are the police really as dangerous as people are starting to think? And if we want to demilitarize, is it already too late?

Fatal shootings by police have continued to increase in the past few years. It turns out militarization, like surveillance, may be used for enemies at first but later they are used on anybody. We have seen it here and we have seen it all over the world, even in western countries. Force is now being used in a highly inappropriate manner. The CATO Institute pointed out that: “SWAT teams and tactical units were originally created to address high-risk situations, such as terrorist attacks and hostage crises. Today, however, these extreme situations account for only a small fraction of SWAT deployments; they’re used primarily to serve low-level drug-search warrants” (Sharipo & Meyer, 2015). And if we remember there has also been an 80% increase in number of SWAT teams across the country. Rural American doors are being smashed in to fight the War on Drugs. Sometimes it may be dangerous drugs like methamphetamines but a lot of the time it is not worth the risk or loss of life. In January 2011 police did little investigation when raiding a house for pot, the owner Matthew David Stewart had no idea who was coming into his house, he shot back and killed an officer (Balko,2014). We will soon need a color coded threat meter for our own police departments. Not just for us but for them as well. What makes these men and women dangerous, what separates the good officers from the bad ones, is probably the lack of training that seems to be going around like a flu. While the budget doesn’t have room for better training it somehow has room for new weapons. These new military weapons are now being handled by untrained officers. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly 1 in 4 local police officers worked for a department that required entry-level officers to have at least a 2-year degree (Reaves, 2015). Small police departments, the White House said, “often lack the resources for training and equipment accessible to larger departments” (Johnson, 2015). It is these small and local police departments that do not need an increase in firepower, while their training remains stagnant. How is it that military surplus equipment was ever seen as a cure all? The problem with lack of training is that it makes any police officer more dangerous and it makes them want to use their new tools. Some departments, when receiving equipment, have had to assure the Department of Defense they would use the tools at least once a year. They are just fanning the flames here.

This danger from under-trained and under-educated officers brings up an interesting instance from New London Connecticut. Robert Jordan had dreamed of being a police officer and after acing the test he was subsequently told his I.Q. was too high to be a cop. It turns out many police use the WONDERLIC personality test, which showed them that Robert would have gotten bored at such a job (Agorist, 2014). Or at least that was their excuse. How many other too smart civilians were turned away and didn’t know why? How many officers scored just above passing and were given a gun? I think it would be prudent to have police go through 4 years of training and university for all of our sakes.

Regardless of excuses we now have a heavily weaponized and untrusted security apparatus that is drastically under-trained with a score of members apparently no smarter than the guy flipping your burger at McDonalds. As it stands the national police force seems to be a danger to its own mission. The calls for demilitarization have been heard but is it the answer? I believe it may be too late for that. The guns are out there, the armored bobcats are out of the bag, and de-arming the police would be almost as difficult as disarming the gun toting population of the country. So what are the alternatives to our desperate situation here?

First let us take a look at the quality of our police force. There has been a clear decline in trust, an increase in military equipment, a lack of transparency and accountability, abuses of power, excessive force, and abysmal training. These things make it difficult for good police officers to do their job, to stop crime, and to protect citizens and themselves. There is almost no logic behind these developments. Our police were not always so feared. Our citizens have also never been so innocent (drop in crime rates) or so armed themselves (gun ownership). It is more important now than ever to have the democratic oversight necessary to hold police accountable to the terrible distinction they have to make between civilian or criminal. We must realize it is a difficult choice to make but we must also not let them be immune to scrutiny. If there is no response to mistakes who knows what they will start to think they can get away with. Corruption itself is already problem enough.

In my local community I get annoyed when I am pulled over, but in general I am glad they don’t perceive us all as potential criminals. But the mentality is not the same across the board. This is especially true in the more dangerous neighborhoods in America. This is where things need to change to help the cops to better make this distinction between threat and non-threat. Only then will police mortality and fatality decline. The change could come in a variety of ways but the most reasonable way to balance population and police safety would be to set these standards:

  1. Stricter standards need to be set for officers in choosing non-lethal alternatives when it is possible. Time is also a good weapon in the right circumstance. A week long standoff is better than a three hour one with heavy casualties. I also scrolled through too many incidences in 2015 fatalities where a victim was hit with a Taser gun and then also shot. We need to move away from Trigger Happy policing.
  2. The way in which police are hired and recruited needs to drastically change. We need smart cops who understand the extraordinary role they play in our democracy.
  3. Police Training quality should improve drastically. If money is really the only thing in the way of our collective safety I think we should find it. Budget or not an inept officer is a danger to not only civilians but fellow officers as well.
  4. Greater transparency should also be sought after. Some departments have already started using the body cams and this is a great step in the right direction. But those videos need to be available to the public, or when that is not possible due to security concerns it should still be used as evidence in any case. There have been some reports of cops not even turning their cameras on, which leads to our next standard.
  5. Accountability needs to start becoming the norm. There have been too many times when witnesses have testified that the victim was not a danger and the officer who fatally shot them was allowed to walk free. Only with greater accountability will bad cops stop trying to see how much they can get away with. No police force should be above the law.
  6. The use of datasets to reduce police violence is another solution. Data so far has been mostly lacking when trying to prove that police abuse or corruption had taken place. Better more comprehensive data should allow us to pinpoint which departments need reform and in what manner. If departments still ignore calls for just reform the data could be used by the U.S. Attorney General to improve federal litigation and force them to take action (Rushin, 2016). This is how we can work to hold police accountable from a national level.
  7. From the local level another solution arises. The use of community patrols, a common part of the job, have been shown “to stimulate community involvement with the police force and to reduce individual feelings of insecurity”(Montolio & Planells-Struse, 2015). This will help to re-build the trust that has been lost between the community and the protectors.
  8. Lastly, if at all possible, demilitarize. Perhaps turn those surplus army vehicles into drunk buses or anything else that could be more beneficial to the community at large. We are Americans, we are innovative and I see no reason why surplus military equipment could not be used for good. We do not want these things to be used to intimidate people practicing their rights to gather and speak their mind.

There are many ways to solve this problem. The worst course of action would be to do nothing at all. If we risk that we may see the police state come to full fruition in the future.

Historically when local deputies have been armored and strengthened it signaled a government preparing for a seizure of further control over the citizenry. But something about our case here in America doesn’t quite fit with that narrative. Perhaps what we are experiencing is not the ever feared hostile reduction of liberties. Perhaps it is merely the overflow of the dreaded military industrial complex. So many weapons and still more and better ones are made. While piles of assault rifles have been gathering in the developing world, those piles are now showing up in our own borders. And I wonder which scenario is worse. The one where the government has accidently created one too many paramilitary police departments or the scenario where they are gearing up for a crackdown on civilians in the near future.  If these police departments continue to get surplus equipment without training there is one very likely scenario. The weapons will do exactly what they were made to do.

We cannot afford more momentum on militarization, and I cannot remember ever voting on allowing this, so maybe a vote is order. Should the US allow surplus military transactions to police to continue? Or perhaps a vote on increasing police training in dangerous areas. To those who say that it is economically unfeasible, I say we get creative. According to the Federal Register government website the fee for incarcerating inmates in 2014 was $30,619 ($83.89 per day) (FR, 2016). That would be a good place to start. There must be enough people in prison that don’t need to be already. Instead of creating repeat offenders and putting low-criminals in with advanced-criminals, we need to start focusing on making better citizens and better police officers.

To close I will leave two ideas. The first is that of the Black Lives Matter group. One member had said after the Freddie Gray case that policing is a “profession that refuses attempts for accountability and justice” (Lartley, 2015b). This seems to be unfortunately true in cases that are appearing too frequently. The second is a story from my home state of Maine. Police in Bangor came across Russell. A homeless man with some interesting tattoos. Across his knuckles he had inscribed ‘Cops Suck’. But the police did not take offence. This cop knew his job well and had this to say. “Maybe the ink came at a time when Russell was having a problem with authority. We understand. We have all had a problem with authority at one time or another,” Bangor Police wrote. “Could we change the way Russell feels about law enforcement if we treat him with kindness and respect?” (Levenson, 2016). They even posed for a photo with him showing the tattoo after they kindly asked him to move from the spot that he was occupying. There are clearly good cops and hopefully they are the majority. But until their brothers in arms stop using their position to intimidate instead of protect no one will feel comfortable with any kind of increase in force. The city of Bangor is also trying to get an armored car and are seeing some backlash from citizens who don’t want more militarization. After researching this issue I would say that they should have it to protect our boys blue. But do not waste tax payer money on those sorts of things unless they are absolutely necessary. Spend money on training and education and perhaps we may see the end of the killer cops in America.

Bibliography

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FR (2016) Annual determination of average cost of incarceration. Available at: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/03/09/2015-05437/annual-determination-of-average-cost-of-incarceration (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

NLEOMF (2004) ‘National law enforcement officers memorial fund: Officer deaths by year’. Available at: http://www.nleomf.org/facts/officer-fatalities-data/year.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/ (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

RAND (1997) OVERVIEW OF THE POSSE COMITATUS ACT. Available at: https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monograph_reports/MR1251/MR1251.AppD.pdf (Accessed: 16 May 2016).

Rasmussen (2015) If it’s in the news, it’s in our polls. Public opinion polling since 2003. Available at: http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/lifestyle/general_lifestyle/august_2015/58_think_there_s_a_war_on_police_in_america_today (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

ACLU (2011) The prison crisis. Available at: https://www.aclu.org/prison-crisis (Accessed: 16 May 2016).

Agorist, M. (2014) US court says it’s okay for police departments to refuse to hire someone who is too smart. Available at: http://thefreethoughtproject.com/court-police-departments-refuse-hire-smart/ (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

Balko, R. (2014) Internal documents show that Utah police did little investigation before fatal drug raid. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2014/07/17/internal-documents-show-that-utah-police-did-little-investigation-before-fatal-drug-raid/ (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

BDN, T. (2016) It takes more than an armored vehicle to militarize a police department. Available at: http://bangordailynews.com/2016/05/05/opinion/editorials/it-takes-more-than-an-armored-vehicle-to-militarize-a-police-department/?utm_source=BDN+News+Updates&utm_campaign=42465d53bf-RSS_AFTERNOONUPDATE_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_715eed3192-42465d53bf-82593745&goal=0_715eed3192-42465d53bf-82593745 (Accessed: 17 May 2016).

Burton, L. (2014) WTO riots in Seattle: 15 years ago. Available at: http://www.seattlepi.com/local/article/WTO-riots-in-Seattle-15-years-ago-5915088.php (Accessed: 17 May 2016).

DeSilver, D. and Posts (2013) A minority of Americans own guns, but just how many is unclear. Available at: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/06/04/a-minority-of-americans-own-guns-but-just-how-many-is-unclear/ (Accessed: 17 May 2016).

Fulton, A. and Reaves, B. (2015) Bureau of justice statistics (BJS) – local police departments, 2013: Personnel, policies, and practices. Available at: http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=5279 (Accessed: 17 May 2016).

Greenhut, S. (2016) Boosting police transparency in California. Available at: http://reason.com/archives/2016/02/26/boosting-police-transparency-in-californ (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

Haberman, C. (2014) The rise of the SWAT team in American policing. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/08/us/the-rise-of-the-swat-team-in-american-policing.html?_r=0 (Accessed: 16 May 2016).

Johnson, K. (2015) Lack of training, standards mean big problems for small police departments. Available at: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/06/23/small-police-departments-standards-training/28823849/ (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

Krogstad, J.M. (2015) Gun homicides steady after decline in ’90s; Suicide rate edges up. Available at: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/10/21/gun-homicides-steady-after-decline-in-90s-suicide-rate-edges-up/ (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

Lartey, J. (2015a) 2015 may be one of the safest years for law enforcement in a quarter century. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/sep/04/police-deaths-2015-law-enforcement-safety (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

Lartey, J. (2015b) By the numbers: US police kill more in days than other countries do in years. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jun/09/the-counted-police-killings-us-vs-other-countries (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

Levenson, E. (2016) Bangor police enjoy a laugh with man bearing ‘cops suck’ tattoo. Available at: https://www.boston.com/news/local-news/2016/05/23/bangor-police-enjoy-laugh-man-bearing-cops-suck-tattoo (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

Malkin, M. (2014) A cop is killed every 58 hours. Available at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/385458/cop-killed-every-58-hours-michelle-malkin (Accessed: 24 May 2016).

Marbella, J. and Campbell, C. (2016) Response measured to not-guilty verdict in Nero case. Available at: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/freddie-gray/bs-md-ci-nero-reaction-20160523-story.html (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

McTiernan, J. (1988) Die hard. .

Montolio, D. and Planells-Struse, S. (2015) ‘Police patrol’, The Encyclopedia of Crime and Punishment, , pp. 1–4. doi: 10.1002/9781118519639.wbecpx195.

Owen, T. (2016) US prosecutors didn’t charge police officers in 96 percent of alleged civil rights violations in the past 20 years | VICE news. Available at: https://news.vice.com/article/prosecutors-didnt-charge-police-officers-in-96-percent-of-alleged-civil-rights-violations-in-the-past-20-years (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

PBS (2016) Armed in America: Police & guns. Available at: https://youtu.be/WTgZbHEh4oI (Accessed: 17 May 2016).

Pegues, C. (2016) Once a cop: The street, the law, Two worlds, One man. United States: Atria Books.

Reaves, B.A. (2015) Local police departments, 2013: Personnel, policies, and practices. Available at: http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/lpd13ppp.pdf (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

Regnery, A.S. (2013) SWAT teams save lives. Available at: http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2013/07/29/swat-teams-save-lives/ (Accessed: 24 May 2016).

Robbins, L. and Hamill, S.D. (2014) Gunman kills 3 police officers in Pittsburgh. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/05/us/05pittsburgh.html?_r=0 (Accessed: 24 May 2016).

Rushin, S. (2016) Using data to reduce police violence 57 Boston college law review 2016. Available at: http://heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?handle=hein.journals/bclr57&div=5&id=&page= (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

Shapiro, I. and Meyer, R.J. (2015) Police Militarization leads to extreme constitutional violations. Available at: http://www.cato.org/blog/police-militarization-leads-extreme-constitutional-violations (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

Somashekhar, S. and Rich, S. (2016) Final tally: Police shot and killed 986 people in 2015. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/final-tally-police-shot-and-killed-984-people-in-2015/2016/01/05/3ec7a404-b3c5-11e5-a76a-0b5145e8679a_story.html (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

Swaine, J., Ackerman, S. and Siddiqui, S. (2015) Ferguson forced to return Humvees as US military gear still flows to local police. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/aug/11/ferguson-protests-police-militarization-humvees (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

Taibbi, M. (2014) The divide: American injustice in the age of the wealth gap. United States: Random House Publishing Group.

Wofford, T. (2014) HOW AMERICA’S POLICE BECAME AN ARMY: THE 1033 PROGRAM. Available at: http://www.newsweek.com/how-americas-police-became-army-1033-program-264537 (Accessed: 16 May 2016).

Zimmerman, A. (2016) A veteran black cop talks police Militarization and the racial divisions still plaguing Ferguson | VICE | United States. Available at: http://www.vice.com/read/a-veteran-black-cop-talks-police-militarization-and-the-racial-divisions-still-plaguing-ferguson (Accessed: 17 May 2016).

Citations, Quotes & Annotations

BPD (no date) Boston Police Department History. Available at: http://bpdnews.com/history/ (Accessed: 16 May 2016).

(no date)

FR (2016) Annual determination of average cost of incarceration. Available at: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/03/09/2015-05437/annual-determination-of-average-cost-of-incarceration (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(2016)

NLEOMF (2004) ‘National law enforcement officers memorial fund: Officer deaths by year’. Available at: http://www.nleomf.org/facts/officer-fatalities-data/year.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/ (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(2004)

RAND (1997) OVERVIEW OF THE POSSE COMITATUS ACT. Available at: https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monograph_reports/MR1251/MR1251.AppD.pdf (Accessed: 16 May 2016).

(1997)

Rasmussen (2015) If it’s in the news, it’s in our polls. Public opinion polling since 2003. Available at: http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/lifestyle/general_lifestyle/august_2015/58_think_there_s_a_war_on_police_in_america_today (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(2015)

ACLU (2011) The prison crisis. Available at: https://www.aclu.org/prison-crisis (Accessed: 16 May 2016).

(ACLU, 2011)

Agorist, M. (2014) US court says it’s okay for police departments to refuse to hire someone who is too smart. Available at: http://thefreethoughtproject.com/court-police-departments-refuse-hire-smart/ (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(Agorist, 2014)

Balko, R. (2014) Internal documents show that Utah police did little investigation before fatal drug raid. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2014/07/17/internal-documents-show-that-utah-police-did-little-investigation-before-fatal-drug-raid/ (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(Balko, 2014)

BDN, T. (2016) It takes more than an armored vehicle to militarize a police department. Available at: http://bangordailynews.com/2016/05/05/opinion/editorials/it-takes-more-than-an-armored-vehicle-to-militarize-a-police-department/?utm_source=BDN+News+Updates&utm_campaign=42465d53bf-RSS_AFTERNOONUPDATE_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_715eed3192-42465d53bf-82593745&goal=0_715eed3192-42465d53bf-82593745 (Accessed: 17 May 2016).

(BDN, 2016)

Burton, L. (2014) WTO riots in Seattle: 15 years ago. Available at: http://www.seattlepi.com/local/article/WTO-riots-in-Seattle-15-years-ago-5915088.php (Accessed: 17 May 2016).

(Burton, 2014)

DeSilver, D. and Posts (2013) A minority of Americans own guns, but just how many is unclear. Available at: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/06/04/a-minority-of-americans-own-guns-but-just-how-many-is-unclear/ (Accessed: 17 May 2016).

(DeSilver and Posts, 2013)

Fulton, A. and Reaves, B. (2015) Bureau of justice statistics (BJS) – local police departments, 2013: Personnel, policies, and practices. Available at: http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=5279 (Accessed: 17 May 2016).

(Fulton and Reaves, 2015)

Greenhut, S. (2016) Boosting police transparency in California. Available at: http://reason.com/archives/2016/02/26/boosting-police-transparency-in-californ (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(Greenhut, 2016)

Haberman, C. (2014) The rise of the SWAT team in American policing. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/08/us/the-rise-of-the-swat-team-in-american-policing.html?_r=0 (Accessed: 16 May 2016).

(Haberman, 2014)

Johnson, K. (2015) Lack of training, standards mean big problems for small police departments. Available at: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/06/23/small-police-departments-standards-training/28823849/ (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(Johnson, 2015)

Krogstad, J.M. (2015) Gun homicides steady after decline in ’90s; Suicide rate edges up. Available at: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/10/21/gun-homicides-steady-after-decline-in-90s-suicide-rate-edges-up/ (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(Krogstad, 2015)

Lartey, J. (2015a) 2015 may be one of the safest years for law enforcement in a quarter century. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/sep/04/police-deaths-2015-law-enforcement-safety (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(Lartey, 2015a)

Lartey, J. (2015b) By the numbers: US police kill more in days than other countries do in years. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jun/09/the-counted-police-killings-us-vs-other-countries (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(Lartey, 2015b)

Levenson, E. (2016) Bangor police enjoy a laugh with man bearing ‘cops suck’ tattoo. Available at: https://www.boston.com/news/local-news/2016/05/23/bangor-police-enjoy-laugh-man-bearing-cops-suck-tattoo (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(Levenson, 2016)

Malkin, M. (2014) A cop is killed every 58 hours. Available at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/385458/cop-killed-every-58-hours-michelle-malkin (Accessed: 24 May 2016).

(Malkin, 2014)

Marbella, J. and Campbell, C. (2016) Response measured to not-guilty verdict in Nero case. Available at: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/freddie-gray/bs-md-ci-nero-reaction-20160523-story.html (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(Marbella and Campbell, 2016)

McTiernan, J. (1988) Die hard. .

(McTiernan, 1988)

Montolio, D. and Planells-Struse, S. (2015) ‘Police patrol’, The Encyclopedia of Crime and Punishment, , pp. 1–4. doi: 10.1002/9781118519639.wbecpx195.

(Montolio and Planells-Struse, 2015)

Owen, T. (2016) US prosecutors didn’t charge police officers in 96 percent of alleged civil rights violations in the past 20 years | VICE news. Available at: https://news.vice.com/article/prosecutors-didnt-charge-police-officers-in-96-percent-of-alleged-civil-rights-violations-in-the-past-20-years (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(Owen, 2016)

PBS (2016) Armed in America: Police & guns. Available at: https://youtu.be/WTgZbHEh4oI (Accessed: 17 May 2016).

(PBS, 2016)

Pegues, C. (2016) Once a cop: The street, the law, Two worlds, One man. United States: Atria Books.

(Pegues, 2016)

Reaves, B.A. (2015) Local police departments, 2013: Personnel, policies, and practices. Available at: http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/lpd13ppp.pdf (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(Reaves, 2015)

Regnery, A.S. (2013) SWAT teams save lives. Available at: http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2013/07/29/swat-teams-save-lives/ (Accessed: 24 May 2016).

(Regnery, 2013)

Robbins, L. and Hamill, S.D. (2014) Gunman kills 3 police officers in Pittsburgh. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/05/us/05pittsburgh.html?_r=0 (Accessed: 24 May 2016).

(Robbins and Hamill, 2014)

Rushin, S. (2016) Using data to reduce police violence 57 Boston college law review 2016. Available at: http://heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?handle=hein.journals/bclr57&div=5&id=&page= (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(Rushin, 2016)

Shapiro, I. and Meyer, R.J. (2015) Police Militarization leads to extreme constitutional violations. Available at: http://www.cato.org/blog/police-militarization-leads-extreme-constitutional-violations (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(Shapiro and Meyer, 2015)

Somashekhar, S. and Rich, S. (2016) Final tally: Police shot and killed 986 people in 2015. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/final-tally-police-shot-and-killed-984-people-in-2015/2016/01/05/3ec7a404-b3c5-11e5-a76a-0b5145e8679a_story.html (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(Somashekhar and Rich, 2016)

Swaine, J., Ackerman, S. and Siddiqui, S. (2015) Ferguson forced to return Humvees as US military gear still flows to local police. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/aug/11/ferguson-protests-police-militarization-humvees (Accessed: 25 May 2016).

(Swaine, Ackerman, and Siddiqui, 2015)

Taibbi, M. (2014) The divide: American injustice in the age of the wealth gap. United States: Random House Publishing Group.

(Taibbi, 2014)

Wofford, T. (2014) HOW AMERICA’S POLICE BECAME AN ARMY: THE 1033 PROGRAM. Available at: http://www.newsweek.com/how-americas-police-became-army-1033-program-264537 (Accessed: 16 May 2016).

(Wofford, 2014)

Zimmerman, A. (2016) A veteran black cop talks police Militarization and the racial divisions still plaguing Ferguson | VICE | United States. Available at: http://www.vice.com/read/a-veteran-black-cop-talks-police-militarization-and-the-racial-divisions-still-plaguing-ferguson (Accessed: 17 May 2016).

(Zimmerman, 2016)

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