This week, Trump has rolled back the ban on the federal government providing surplus military equipment to local police departments that the Obama Administration put in place after the Ferguson backlash.

It might surprise you to learn that this was a measure by Obama that I supported at the time it happened.  Believe it or not, I was disgusted by the Ferguson Police Department’s hamfisted response to the protests that broke out after the Michael Brown shooting and was even initially sympathetic to Black Lives Matter and its cause.  It disappointed me to see that the various militia groups (who usually have their shit together) were uniformly on the side of the police instead of protecting the rights of the protesters.  Remember that this was happening at about the same time as the Bundy Ranch standoff.

Over time, my attitude toward BLM changed.  I lost respect for them because of the Ferguson riots and their application of the obnoxious and dangerous “freeway blocking” protest tactic, among other things.  Even though I think their original cause was a good one, they managed to lose my goodwill by their own conduct.

Still, I was–and remain–leery about militarized police departments.  Not only do I think it’s un-American for police departments to even present the appearance of being an occupying force in our neighborhoods, I find it distressing that some police officers seem to literally think this is the role they should hold.

There are problems I have with modern policing.  I think cops place too much emphasis on “officer safety” at the expense of “public safety”.  No, I don’t want to see police officers die or get hurt for the sake of every crackhead who’s waving a knife around, but I also believe that a society such as ours shouldn’t tolerate law enforcement using extreme force in situations that clearly don’t require it when there’s a good chance that an innocent will be harmed.

I also think that police officers are far too reliant on their firearms and lack confidence in empty hand and conflict resolution techniques.  That they behave this way is not a reflection on the bravery of your average police officer, in my opinion.  Instead, it’s simply the product of the bad doctrine that’s being propagated at police academies all over the country.  They’re being taught that they should not risk injury to themselves at all costs and the doctrine favors this approach in even the most ludicrous circumstances.  They’re taught to fear the people they’re supposed to be serving and protecting.  This is how you end up seeing unarmed people getting gunned down by jumpy cops in routine traffic stops.

I suppose some people might look at the recent civil brawls in places like Charlottesville and Berkeley as examples of why police departments need more advanced weaponry and equipment.  I don’t.  If anything, I think those incidents are more indicative of police departments learning the wrong lessons from Ferguson.  It’s even a byproduct of the “Ferguson Effect”.  The police are terrified to take a hard line against rioters because they’re afraid of how they’ll look when video gets uploaded to YouTube by witnesses and rioters.   They’ve foolishly gone to the opposite extreme and seem to be content to allow all hell to break loose through inaction rather than risk bad publicity through over-reaction.  This approach is wrong too, of course, and giving them infantry fighting vehicles isn’t going to make it better.

Above all else, any police officer who is so afraid of the community in which he patrols that he thinks he needs a tank should find another career.  The president shouldn’t be feeding this attitude, but he’s made being “tough on crime” due to fear about the perceptions of increasing violent crime a centerpiece of his presidency.

Police departments do not need better toys.  They need better rules.

6 comments

  1. I agree here with you. Placing a priority on vets applying to be cops is also a practice that I believe should be abolished. I think combat experience is preferred because many municipalities believe that these potential cops have experience under fire and providing security in hostile situations, but with manny of these interactions go public with cell phone cameras what we are actually seeing are the police creating highly stressful situations going in guns drawn and barking orders at civilians.

    In all the situations you use to bolster your argument I think there’s two that need to be discussed in greater detail because the explain the dynamic from the police angle. The first is the Bank of America robbery in 1994 in north Hollywood and the second is actually the Charlottesville incident itself.

    The Bank of America robbery forever changed poking in America. It was a case, albeit isolated to date, where the police couldn’t neutralize a threat because they were hopelessly outgunned because of protocol. Before that robber cops carried glocs and possibly a shotgun. The bank robbers famously used assault rifles and doubled up body armor. After that robbery there was a big push for officers to carry welp obey to meet the threat of force based on that exchange. While I personally believe the response is about as productive in practice as the logic that made shoe removal before flights a practice, it does lay a legitimate case for cops to be armed that way. Especially in a world of terrorism, cops are going to be first responders and our fear of losing civil liberties will take a back seat. Even the Boston marathon showed for the first time police departments expanded role in counter terror.

    In the case of Charlottesville we saw that power of the second amendment. I truly believe the police stood down out of fear that the wrong move could lead to armed insurrection and I think they were right in that assumption. The police probably had every intent to disband the white supremacists but out of fear that the protestors could light their shit up, they tolerated far more than they should have.

    Your overarching point is spot on, though. Despite these examples I’d still favor smarter cops that have degrees in psychology over militant dumbasses that are probably suffering from ptsd. I have a friend who I worked with that became a cop with no history of military service. He had a degree from college and that was it. He ended graduating at the top of his class and has made a damn fine cop. As a tax payer I’d favor sweetening the pot on cop salary and going for more people like him.

    I don’t have my head in the clouds about modern policing. The nature of police work has changed and I don’t think a libertarian head in the sand view of policing is cohesive logic. However, I do believe before we go full retard and allow the militarization of police, if like to try just getting smarter cops that employ mind over matter engaging the public.

  2. Part of the problem is also manpower, police departments are having a hard time retaining good cops or getting qualified new recruits, so you wind up with people who shouldn’t be wearing badges or good cops pushed to their limits. Too many are quitting or in some cases taking their own lives. Also, police work is different than the military-cops aren’t soldiers although a lot of cops are veterans. The police are and should clearly remain civilian by nature.

  3. Over time, my attitude toward BLM changed. I lost respect for them because of the Ferguson riots and their application of the obnoxious and dangerous “freeway blocking” protest tactic, among other things. Even though I think their original cause was a good one, they managed to lose my goodwill by their own conduct.

    I never had respect for them because Michael Brown was a thug who deserved to get shot for his actions. Anyone who still claims Michael Brown is a martyr to police brutality is an ignorant jackass (not saying you are).

    They’re being taught that they should not risk injury to themselves at all costs and the doctrine favors this approach in even the most ludicrous circumstances. They’re taught to fear the people they’re supposed to be serving and protecting.

    Have you been through the Academy? As a family member to several LEO’s, I can say with certainty that they were not taught either of those things by the academy. That isn’t to say some officers don’t naturally fear for their lives because they feel like a target is on their back, or because of other mental issues that should be flushed out before they ever get a badge, but to blame it on the training…I’m not with you there. Considering the statistics of just how few people are actually shot by police, if what you say was in their training process, there would be many, many more police shootings.

    As far as the militarization of Police…my feelings have shifted since Obama’s policy was implemented. At the time I was against it. Now I’ve taken a different approach. I am for any technology that will help protect a LEO from harm, but not any technology that will make a LEO more deadly.

    I would also support a national effort for body-cams on every LEO while on duty. Not only to protect the LEO, but the public as well.

  4. Anyone who still claims Michael Brown is a martyr to police brutality is an ignorant jackass (not saying you are).

    You’re right. I didn’t join in on the initial rush to judgement over the Brown shooting. A lot of people got upset with me when I suggested that we should wait for the facts to come out instead of crucifying Officer Wilson. But I did agree with my sister who sagely observed that it was “the wrong case to ask the right questions about”.

    Please don’t interpret anything I say as being evidence of me being anti-police. I’m not. I’m very supportive of law enforcement, but I do follow trends in the profession and I’m willing to call out practices that I think are harmful or counterproductive. Most cops I meet are exemplary men and women but their actions are influenced by their training, doctrine, agency culture, and other factors that I believe conflict with their proper role in society.

    And you know what? That’s the fault of the civilian leadership in this country who would rather dump social problems on the police rather than solve them by more appropriate means. Instead of debating the merits of giving cops M4 rifles so they can handle gangbangers in the ghetto, we should be addressing why people turn to crime in the first place, right?

    It isn’t that “cops are bad”, it’s just that our society doesn’t want to deal with these issues except to increase the violent capabilities of the police. I don’t scapegoat the police for this. They’re in a bad spot. But I do think BLM was onto something when they complained that high-crime communities were being targeted by a more aggressive style of policing when that isn’t a long term solution to their problems and may even be worsening things.

    BLM has never been able to articulate it properly, mostly because your average BLM activist really is a racist, cop-hating fuck.

    Still, I see this mentality with cops even in decent communities. Great example I can think of right off the top of my head happened a couple of years ago. First, I live in a nice suburb of KC. It has a somewhat diverse demographic, but is predominately white and mostly middle class. We do have some Section 8 apartments and housing sprinkled here and there with all of the problems that brings, but violent crime is pretty rare. I think we’ve only had one murder in 10 years.

    Our police department is very professional. I have nothing bad to say about the quality of their training or tactics or anything but there was this one thing that bothered me.

    One night, one of our neighbors got drunk and was sitting in his car blasting music. He drove around the block a couple of times and then went right back to sitting in his car. This guy was a complete asshole. Everybody in the neighborhood hated him. I could go and on about him, but this isn’t about him.

    Anyway, he ended up accidentally crashing into his own garage (which he rented) and causing some damage. My wife called the police, they showed up, got him out of the car, performed a FST, and arrested him for DUI. There were several witnesses, but only my wife and I agreed to provide statements and testify if needed because, quite frankly, we wanted the dirtbag to get evicted.

    So we invite the officer into our house while we sit at the table and fill out the statements. He was an Army vet, very polite, very professional. Nice to my dog. No complaints. While I wrote, I made small talk with him, asked how long he’d been with the department and all that. I asked him if he lived in our town and he promptly buttoned up.

    “No, sir! I would never live in the same city where I’m a police officer. Too much trouble.” He was pretty adamant about it.

    I was surprised by that. Both by what he said and his demeanor about it. We finished up our statements and the police went on their way with our neighbor in custody. He was ultimately convicted and eventually abandoned the rental property, if you were wondering. So, mission accomplished.

    Right. So what bothered me about the interaction with the officer was that it was clear to me that he was afraid of the community he patrols. Couldn’t even live among us as a bunch of middle class white Republicans. This isn’t East St Louis, ffs. What gets me is that I know this isn’t just him. It’s a common sentiment among police officers in this area, particularly in KC proper. I was just amazed to see that it was a thing in my town.

    This is a mentality that has developed among police officers. They’re not “of” the communities that they serve. They see themselves as apart from it and that it’s a semi-hostile area that they are just securing. You can call me crazy or say I’m reading too much into this, but I strongly believe that this mentality is widespread and contributes to how police officers behave. It’s fostered by their training and culture. It’s also wrong and damaging.

    Somehow, cops have gotten it into their heads that they ought to be policing our hometowns the way soldiers do in Helmand Province. It isn’t working there and it sure as hell isn’t right over here either.

    For my own qualifications and firsthand professional experiences with law enforcement, I won’t recount those here. Either shoot me an email or meet up with me next time you’re in the KC area and I’ll buy you lunch and tell you all about it.

    What I will say here is that I never attended Academy as a cadet, but I have worked within jobs throughout my career that touched the criminal justice field closely. I have received formal training at an accredited law enforcement academy and the US Army Military Police School and from qualified POST instructors in defensive tactics, firearms, use of force, interviewing, interrogation, legal issues, counter-terrorism, and so on. I’ve even been a certified instructor in some of these disciplines. I frequently attend law enforcement seminars on topics that are interesting to me. I interact with police officers, federal law enforcement, and DHS on a semi-regular basis. I’m also active with my local terrorism fusion center and receive firsthand intelligence from law enforcement sources (no, I will share any of it so don’t ask).

    I have been involved in critical incidents in a professional capacity. I’ve been shot at and nearly used deadly force on two occasions (mercifully, the suspects responded to my verbal instructions and backed down both times). I’ve had things thrown at me and intervened in more fights than I can count in some truly shitty neighborhoods.

    Yeah, I know. Everybody is a tough guy on the Internet. But I’m not throwing this out there to impress anybody. Judge Dredd pro se has met me and can verify that I am not a badass in person. I’m saying this because I want to emphasize that I fully understand what our cops are up against out there. I do respect them and care about them and I think I would get along quite well with your LEO family members. They’d probably call me “an all around good guy”. You know, somebody who isn’t a member of the law enforcement community, but is a friend to it.

    I don’t want any cop ever to get hurt or killed for lack of equipment, training, or support. However, I want to make sure what they receive is appropriate for their role. This military-style of aggressive policing that is currently in vogue is not appropriate and they shouldn’t be equipped in that way.

    Body cameras are appropriate and do serve a proper purpose. The benefits actually favor the cops and encourage a community approach.

  5. I asked him if he lived in our town and he promptly buttoned up.

    “No, sir! I would never live in the same city where I’m a police officer. Too much trouble.” He was pretty adamant about it.

    I was surprised by that. Both by what he said and his demeanor about it.

    Right. So what bothered me about the interaction with the officer was that it was clear to me that he was afraid of the community he patrols. Couldn’t even live among us as a bunch of middle class white Republicans.

    I wasn’t there (obviously), but is it possible that you’re reading something into that interaction that wasn’t there?

    You said that he said, “No, sir! I would never live in the same city where I’m a police officer. Too much trouble.” Is that word for word what he said? Did you ask him to elaborate, or did he at all? Because if it is word for word, he didn’t say he would never live there specifically, or that he thought it was a bad neighborhood, just that he wouldn’t be a police officer in the same city/place he lived.

    Speaking from second-hand experience, there might be very good reasons for that. My brother-in-law has been a LEO in Vegas for almost 20 years. Several years ago as a regular beat cop, he got so burned out by almost every call he went on being a domestic violence call that he transitioned to traffic duty. He just couldn’t handle anymore day in and day out of going into these homes to see women beaten, or kids mistreated, or whatever the situations were. It was dragging him down mentally and spiritually. If he patrolled in his own neighborhood, and he still had those types of calls…that could cause some very awkward or downright dangerous situations for him and his family.

    It’s possible that this officer you spoke with had this sort of thing in mind when he made that statement. Again, I wasn’t there, but it seems possible as described.

    PS: Nowhere in my previous comment was I implying that I thought you were “anti-police”. If it came across that way, it was unintentional.

  6. Yeah, it’s possible that I got it wrong. We’re all victims of our own perceptions and no, I didn’t ask any follow-up questions.

    I’ll just say that I personally would have greater trust for a police officer who chooses to live within the community he protects. I don’t think a residency requirement is necessary, but it is something I would incentivize.

    The fact that this officer absolutely refused took me aback because it did undermine my trust in him and that is really saying something because our interaction was extremely positive up to that point. If I did indeed misread it, that would be unfortunate, but I don’t think I did.

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