The Militarization of the Police.
Instapundit links to a Wall Street Journal column by a retired officer on the recent shooting of three black men in an automobile. Some fifty shots were fired by three officers. According to a link provided by Zendo Deb, one officer fired thirty-one rounds – 15 +1 in the chamber, and another full magazine. According to the WSJ piece, the police opened fire after the driver of the vehicle struck a plainclothes police officer who had identified himself.
A week ago Tuesday, three Atlanta police officers performed a raid of a 92 year-old woman’s home on a drug warrant. She opened fire, hitting the three officers in their extremities. They killed her. At most, minor amounts of marijuana were found on her property. There are serious questions about the way the warrant was obtained and the “confidential informant” who gave the evidence for it. This is hardly an unusual occurrence. Radly Balko is probably the best source for in-depth coverage of stories like this one, and others such as Cheryl Ann Stillwell’s, or Cheryl Lynn Noel’s; or just look at his map of botched raids.
A commenter to Instapundit’s piece said:
Police officers carry “high-caliber” semi-automatics nowadays because they should have access to the best tools possible when they are really needed. Trust me on this: even the most routine call is an “extraordinary circumstance” to a cop in trouble.
I have no problem with this. If my life was on the line and I carried a gun as part of my professional duties, I’d want it to be semi-automatic and in a caliber starting with .4 myself. I certainly agree that the .38 Special is not really up to the task, nor is the standard-issue “riot gun” the best long arm an officer might use.
My problem is with the tactics and the attitude.
A lot of cop-bashing goes on over at AR15.com, where more than a few members are uniformed and plainclothes police officers. A lot of comments about “going home safe at the end of the shift” get bandied about, like a scene from “Hill Street Blues.” Cops go dressed in body armor and face-masks. They crash through doors with battering rams in “dynamic entries” ostensibly for their own protection. I realize that this can be a necessity. It should not be standard procedure.
Glenn Reynolds also has a piece up at Popular Mechanics which largely makes the point I want to here:
Dress like a soldier and you think you’re at war. And, in wartime, civil liberties—or possible innocence—of the people on “the other side” don’t come up much. But the police aren’t at war with the citizens they serve, or at least they’re not supposed to be.
I’m fond of quoting Sir Robert Peel’s Nine Principles of Modern Policing:
1. The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.
2. The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.
3. Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.
4. The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.
5. Police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.
6. Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient.
7. Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
8. Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.
9. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.
It would seem that we’ve abandoned at least a couple of those principles. Specifically, we’ve abandoned #7, and #6 seems to be on the wane. The public are now “civilians,” and the police apparently no longer see themselves as also civilians. But they are. The police are not subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, they’re under the same civil law as the rest of us – except they get away with a lot more than we do, because they’re “professionals,” I guess. To a lot of cops, the rest of us don’t even seem to qualify as amateurs.
Most of the militarization of the police, I think, can be placed at the feet of the War on (some) Drugs™. Dealing with heavily-armed drug dealers meant that cops had to up-arm and “go tactical” too, but it’s greatly increased the police perception of the citizenry as “them” instead of “us.” I don’t want to disarm the police. I don’t think it would be a good idea to strip them of their AR15 rifles, MP-5 submachineguns, 15-round Glock pistols, body armor, etc. But I would prefer it if their attitude was less “as long as I go home safe at the end of the shift” and more like the Coast Guard’s “We have to go out. We don’t have to come back.” After all, their job is supposed to be “To Protect and Serve,” not “Kill People and Break Things.”
UPDATE: Say Uncle prefers the term “Ninjafication” to “Militarization,” and makes a good argument for the difference.