Militarization or Modernization?

NOTE:  This was originally published July 24, 2013 at The Bang Switch (no longer around).  I revived it due to the recent/ongoing clamoring about how law enforcement is “militarized.”


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Warrior Cops on the Rise?

I read an opinion piece on the Wall Street Journal’s website yesterday where the author examined one instance of a raid on a suspected marijuana grow in which the resident was shot and one of the SWAT officers was killed during a gun battle that ensued after the SWAT team breached the door and were clearing the home.  The resident, portrayed in this article as an innocent military vet attacked by the cops, fired 31 rounds from his Beretta pistol (at least 1 reload), at uniformed cops who had been in the home for several minutes, and had cleared all but one room of his home where the man lay in wait with his gun.  The man was found to have 16 marijuana plants growing in his basement, which was the basis for the warrant the cops were serving.  The author uses this instance to suggest that the cops were somehow at fault in this situation, and that the “militarization of the police” was somehow a factor.

Granted, all that I know of that particular case is from research I have done on the internet, but even the über-liberal Huffpo article about this incident does not make it sound as fluffy, cuddly and innocently one sided as the WSJ article does.  I fail to see how the incident singled out by the author demonstrates anything but the opposite of what he is trying to convey.  The armed, pot growing, mentally unstable man inside the home shot 6 uniformed cops and killed another.  How is that the fault of the “militarizing” of the cops?  Quite the contrary, had they been more militarized, they might have gotten out without nearly as many injuries.

If you, the reader, are going to argue that pot should not be illegal, please just stop now.  That is completely irrelevant to this discussion, because the fact of the matter is, at the time and place that incident occurred, it was illegal, and the man in the home damn well knew that.  As did his ex-girlfriend (likely a pissed off ex-girlfriend) who provided the information about the grow to the cops and upon whose statements their warrant was based.

Countering Points
After recounting his version of that case from Ogden, UT, the author points to the fact that law enforcement is receiving “military-style equipment”  to bolster his claim that cops are becoming more militarized.  The military for the last 100 years or so, has been giving surplus equipment to law enforcement.  Way back in the day, many agencies were the recipients of full-auto Tommy guns which they used when conducting raids.  In a comment that took me back to the most recent presidential debates, the author makes a completely erroneous comment about cops using bayonets.  Really, bayonets?  Let’s just leave those silly, uneducated comments to the gun grabber in chief shall we?

A static display showing the gear worn and carried by the two dirtbags in the North Hollywood Robbery and subsequent shootout.
A static display showing the gear worn and carried by the two dirtbags in the North Hollywood Robbery and subsequent shootout.

In the same sentence as his bayonets comment, he complains that cops are using M-16 rifles.  The rifle issue to me comes across as a somewhat schizophrenic argument.  On one hand, the public demands that we be able to deal with the crazed armed gunmen, but in the next sentence, we are being derided for carrying a weapon that will better allow us to do just that.  The incident that drove the push for patrol rifles for many departments around the country was the North Hollywood Shootout in 1997.  After that incident, departments rightfully saw the need for rifles to be available to regular patrol cops instead of only to dedicated tactical teams (SWAT).  Many departments did not have the budget to run out and buy rifles, so they relied on freebies from the feds, just as they have been doing for over 100 years.  The feds had stockpiles of Vietnam era M-16’s laying around which they freely gave to just about any agency that asked.  My department and the adjacent local PD (nearly the same size patrol force as my department) both quickly took advantage of this program.

Now, before you start freaking out about tons of regular patrol cops running around with full-auto M-16’s, let me explain that both of these agencies went to the trouble to convert all the patrol rifles to semi-auto only.  While not every agency may have done this, I think you would find a majority of them did.  Police administrators look to the lowest common denominator when making many of their administrative decisions, and weigh the pros and cons.  While having rifles available to patrol cops is prudent, I think you would find most administrators think giving them all full-auto rifles would not be.

The argument for the cops having access to a rifle is no different than the argument for Joe public having a rifle, except that statistically speaking a cop is more likely to need to employ their rifle at some point in time as compared to the average gun owner.

Armored Personnel Carrier vs. a Law Enforcement Armored Vehicle
Armored Personnel Carrier vs. a Law Enforcement Armored Vehicle

The author then cites a 22 year old study about homicides in an effort to demonstrate that drug dealers and growers are not heavily armed.  This tactic is often employed by the gun grabbers, so readers here should be quite familiar with it.  While the two crimes (drug dealing and homicide) do have some correlation, you cannot logically apply murder statistics to show that drug dealers only have low powered handguns.  It just doesn’t work that way.   AND, even if it did work that way, he is apparently suggesting that we should just knowingly send in the cops under-gunned because statistically speaking, there is a low chance the drug dealers will have big guns?  Sorry, but Homie don’t play that.  I have the same attitude at work that I have at home:  It is better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.  That is the same reason you and I carry concealed weapons is it not?  Always hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst?  Why should cops serving warrants (as in his examples) be any different?The “armored personnel carriers” is another hyped up, glorified argument.  It is not like local SWAT teams are driving Strykers or Bradleys, or even MRAPs around (that is the DHS).  That said, most SWAT teams do have some sort of armored vehicle, many use a Bearcat.  These armored vehicles fill a vital role in being able to approach barricaded, armed subjects without being shot.  My department has one, and it has taken quite a few rounds over the years, a few of which would have likely been fatal head wounds had the officers been in an unarmored vehicle.

Finally, he addresses something that he deems a new concept, he says it as “Whatever I need to do to get home safe”.  While that concept is not new, the author’s choice of words is.  That concept goes back a very, very long time, except it is more often said as “My number one job is to go home safe every night”.  I may be arguing semantics, but word selection is very important, and his choice of words is misleading.

Where I Concur
The author does make two points that I am very willing to concede, and that is that far too many agencies feel a need to have their own SWAT team.  I definitely think that every jurisdiction should, at the minimum, have one team available, even if it is a joint team consisting of members from the various local agencies.  SWAT teams perform a vital role that cannot be filled by most average patrol cops.  That said, why on earth do Fish & Wildlife Service, NASA or the Department of the Interior need SWAT teams?  I can think of a federal agency present in just about every area of the country who has some of the finest SWAT teams out there, who would easily be able to assist those other federal agencies if needed – the FBI.

The other valid point is that SWAT teams are used now more than they used to be, perhaps over used.  There have been times in my career where our SWAT team jumped on something that could have easily been handled by a couple seasoned patrol cops.  The attitude of some (definitely not all) SWAT team personnel, the “you’re either SWAT or you’re not” attitude, seems to emanate from them and from their leaders.  It is as if they think us regular patrol cops are just a bunch of morons who cannot handle a simple event.  That said, it is prudent to err on the side of caution, and if you have a tactical team that is ready and available when you are going to be serving a high-risk search or arrest warrant, would you not choose to use them?  I know I would.

On a side note, much of the argument made by the author seems to revolve around drug cases, specifically marijuana cases.  The first case examined was a raid on a marijuana grow where the author completely ignores the illegal actions that prompted the police response.  Other examples he used to bolster his argument were of marijuana eradication efforts beginning in the 1980’s, which leads me to believe there may be some ulterior motive for him writing this, but maybe that is just the suspicious cop in me seeing that.

The Bigger Picture
I would like to address the bigger picture for a bit though, as attempting to dissect the author’s points individually is not necessarily productive.  The bigger picture, at least what I take away from this article, is that cops are trying to be more and more like the military, both in appearance/gear and in the way that we interact with the general public.  Bear in mind, I work for a larger agency in a very suburban area, so not all my comments will necessarily ring true for a smaller or rural agency.

Gear and Uniforms
One of the issues seems to be the general appearance of the cops, right down to their uniforms (BDU style uniforms).  Just like the military, so has the patrol cop’s standard load out changed though out the years.  With the evolution of police gear, and the introduction of more and more options for less-lethal weapons, the demands (driven by the public) for what we carry with us have continued to grow.  Long gone are the days of a cop carrying a pistol, some spare ammo, a baton and handcuffs (1 set).  Oh how my lower back wishes that was all I had to carry.

General Public Disconnect
Cops are expected to carry not only their duty gun, ammo and handcuffs (most likely 2 sets), but now we have a portable radio, pepper spray, a Taser, a flashlight (or two), a baton, a cell phone, leather gloves, germicidal hand wipes, rubber gloves.  Some officers carry a spare rifle magazine, a first aid kit, a CPR pocket mask, a backup gun.  My recent article about the Hawthorne, CA police shooting the dog had people suggesting we carry tranquilizer guns.  Every time a new less-lethal device comes out, the public demands we carry it.  That 1940’s era mostly empty gun belt quickly ran out of room.  Cargo pockets on the BDU style pants are not there for looks, they are there to help carry some of the gear that the public demands we carry.  It may not look pretty, but given the physical space requirements, they are a necessity.

Belts

The bigger problem that I see, that the author does not specifically address, is that there is a general disconnect between the public and the cops who work in their community.  Historically speaking, when you look at policing at the beginning of the 20th century, the local cops knew their beats, they knew their people, they knew their crooks, and for good reason, their beat was very small.  In cities, the cops were on foot.  They had a small area of responsibility and they got to know the people in their area.  The cops could tell when something was amiss, and they could count on the people to back them if the chips were down.  That cop was a part of that community, and it was a good relationship for both the cop and the citizen.

Sadly, that era has gone the way of the dodo.  Except for some very rare examples such as the NYPD, where a foot beat still makes some sense, that type of policing will never be seen again.  As technology has improved, so has an officer’s ability to cover a larger area.  To the administrators and the bean counters, if by providing a car, you can have 1 cop cover the area that was covered by 10 or more cops, it is a no-brainer.  With the advent of radios, that area grew.  With the advent of computers and computer aided dispatch, that area again grew.  Officers, who 100 hundred years ago, would have covered an area consisting of a few square blocks, are now covering an area hundreds of times that size.  The district I routinely work in is 44 square miles of suburban city.  Generally speaking, on swing shift (statistically speaking, the busiest shift), that area is staffed by 5-8 cops, but some days as few as 3.

My point in discussing that evolution of the patrol cop’s beat is not meant as a pity party.  I bring it up to point out the very real problem that evolution has created.   There is a massive disconnect between the cops working an area and the people who live there.  No one can reasonably be expected to know even a fraction of the people living in their beat.  A person would be lucky to notice small changes in a neighborhood that they drive through  only on rare occasions, and only when they are heading to a specific location to deal with a call for service.  We (patrol cops) typically only get to know the criminals in our beats, and we get to know the neighborhoods the criminals live in, because that is where we spend our time.  Since we don’t have daily, positive contact with the public, we begin to be seen as just some guy who shows up when needed, and we begin to see the public as some person who just calls us when their world has gone to shit.  The advent of newer, better technology, which makes some aspects of our jobs more efficient, has eroded the once good relationship that the cops used to have with the public, and that hurts all of us.

Let’s Play A Little What-If
That eroded relationship with the public affects not only how cops do their job (less direct knowledge of people and area), but also how the public views the way we handle our job (no direct knowledge of the cop’s personality or attitude).  Using the author’s primary case example, let us imagine that had occurred 100 years ago.  It is highly likely that the local beat cop would have been the first person that the pissed off ex-girlfriend would have contacted.  Her claims of “he is a huge drug dealer” would have a much better chance of being filtered down to reality (he is crowing a few plants for personal use) because the beat cop would be familiar with the area and likely would at least have some hint if there was a huge drug dealer living in his beat.  That beat cop, if he even thought it was necessary, might call one or two beat partners to join him in contacting the resident of the home.  The contact at the home would likely have played out entirely different if the cops responding had the intimate knowledge of the area that cops used to have.

Times change, things evolve, including police work and gear.  As technology has evolved over the years, so has the way cops operate, and not always for the best.  Our ability to cover larger areas has removed us from the personal contact cops used to have with the people in their beat.  With that loss of contact, society seems quicker to blame bad outcomes on the cops, whether or not the blame is deserved.

More ‘Militarization’ Buzzword Usage

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“We MUST stop this ‘Militarization’ of the police!”

Not really, but that is what I hear so many people on the left, including the two current Democrat presidential hopefuls, as well as a few people who share a more libertarian view, constantly screaming.  Honestly, it really makes me wonder if they have the slightest clue what they are talking about.

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Guess what though, that tourniquet that was applied by the officer, the tourniquet that saved the motorist’s life, THAT is a piece of gear that was developed for the military, a piece of military gear that most cops carry every day.  I suppose we should not carry it because it is military gear?

This ‘militarization’ is not limited to law enforcement either.  Over the last 25 years, there have been HUGE advancements in emergency trauma medical care.  Those advancements were pioneered by the military, many coming out of combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. I suppose we should stop the militarization of our hospitals too?

The sooner people get over the appearance issues the better.  There are many things that started out as military gear or tactics that help law enforcement do our job better, safer, and more effectively, thus keeping the public safer, including many things that have been routinely used to save their lives.  This is not a new concept either.  Law enforcement has been doing this for hundreds of years.

Just because we adopt gear or tactics that were used or developed by the military does not in fact make us a military.
-Matt

Transference and Broad Leaps

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This morning, more than one person sent us a link to this horrible opinion piece in the Washington Post, and even though I am not really in the mindset to deal with this right now, I don’t want to ignore it since it appears to be on more than one person’s mind.

Let me start by saying the author of this throws out one example (and a bad one) and then jumps the Grand Canyon to come to his conclusion, that cops are militarized and bad.

The author of this starts by telling his tale of woe, in which he came home drunk on a Saturday night, apparently failed to close his front apartment door all the way, an apartment that he was only using temporarily, and was awoken the following morning by cops pointing guns at him.  And this folks, is his example of militarization of the cops?  You mean cops investigating a potential felony in progress pointed handguns at him?

Their tactics were similar to the ones I used to clear rooms during the height of guerilla warfare in Iraq.

Really?  Me thinks thou doth exaggerate a bit…

Mr. Horton’s example is absolutely chock full of mistakes, his mistakes, not the cops’.  Horton came home so drunk, he forgot to shut and lock his front door.  He was in this apartment on a temporary basis, yet neither he nor the apartment manager thought to let the neighboring apartments know the previously vacant apartment was going to be used temporarily by Mr. Horton.  A concerned neighbor, seeing the open apartment door, of an apartment they thought was vacant, called the cops.  The cops arrive and “barged into the apartment”, in other words they pushed open the unlocked, open door and then they began”barking their presence”, in other words, they announced that they were the cops, like case law and common sense says we should.  When they got no verbal response, they began searching the apartment and located Mr. Horton groggily awakening from his drunken stupor of the night before.  The cops detained him, and in his own words, quickly sorted out the situation and left.

This quote is interesting and I find it somewhat humorous based on his naivete.

“But the Fairfax County officers in my apartment were aiming their weapons at a target whose rap sheet consisted only of parking tickets and an overdue library book.”

I mean really, don’t you know, all us cops have the magical super power of looking at someone we have never met and instantly being able to discern their past criminal history.  You know, because he only pointed his weapon at stone cold terrorists while in Afghanistan…   Clearly, the irony of his comment here escapes him.

Additionally, Mr. Horton fails to consider the fact that even if cops were to approach this situation as if it were only a mere “squatter,” even mere squatters can present deadly threats as is evidenced by the bodycam video from only a few months ago in Colorado.

If that officer has assumed that the situation was benign, as Mr. Horton seems to be suggesting we should, that officer likely would be dead.

Of course, in Mr. Horton’s mind, all of this was the cops fault.  Why accept any blame for his own errors when you can simply blame the cops?  Right?  I mean, that is the point to which society has come now.  No personal responsibility, it is always someone else’s fault, and if the cops are involved, it was clearly the cops’ fault.

Here is where Mr. Horton is wrong, just in looking at his personal example:
– He came home so drunk, he forgot to close and lock his apartment door.
– He was staying in this apartment temporarily, but neither he nor the apartment manager advised the neighbors.
– The neighbors did the right thing by calling the cops when they saw the open door .
– The cops were investigating a possible burglary in progress, not just some simple trespassing.
– Mr. Horton says the cops should have stopped to investigate the situation and should have contacted the apartment manger first, at 9am, on a Sunday morning.  Clearly Mr. Horton is under the illusion that doing that, at 9am, on a Sunday morning, is a simple task.
– Mr. Horton seems to have forgotten how any men and what type of weapons he used when conducting raids in Afghanistan.
– Horton has also clearly never attempted to apprehend a burglar in the act of committing a burglary if he thinks the burglar will just wait for us in the apartment while we do all sorts of investigation in places that are not the actual, potential crime scene.

So, tell me where the cops were wrong?  How do you jump from that crappy example all the way to “cops are militarized” and then blame them for:

… this troubling approach to law enforcement nationwide, in militarized police responses to nonviolent protesters and in fatal police shootings of unarmed citizens.

This author is a freaking tool!  He lays out a really crappy example, where he screwed up big time, then blames the cops for investigating his screw ups, then, out of nowhere he says the cops are militarized (without ever attempting to define what that even means – in his example, I guess pointing handguns and having good muzzle & trigger discipline constitutes militarized), then blames them for killing “unarmed citizens,” yet the link he provides shows countless shootings of armed felons, not unarmed citizens.

This author is an idiot.  His example of “militarized police activity” is better suited as a “don’t be a drunk idiot” public service message.

Mr. Horton, thank you for your military service, but in terms of police work, you don’t know shit from shinola.  Cop work is not the same thing.  Your expertise as a soldier provides you exactly zero  expertise in police work.  Perhaps you should stop drinking so much, learn a little bit about cop work, case law, and common sense, and if at that time, you think you still have a better way, I invite you to suit up and lead by example.  Until then, perhaps you should start acknowledging your own mistakes instead of transferring the blame to others.
-Matt