Retired Police Major: Police Militarization Endangers Public Safety

This week, the Trump administration revoked President Obama’s Executive Order 13688, which limited the scope of a federal program that allows state and local police departments to obtain military equipment free of charge – and without oversight or training in how to use it. After spending 34 years as a police officer, I’m convinced that the 1033 Program has been one of the single greatest contributors to the public losing trust in law enforcement.

Scrapping Executive Order 13688 means police departments will again have unfettered access to high caliber guns, grenade launchers, and armored vehicles, among other forms of military equipment. During a time when criminal justice and police reform have bipartisan support, this decision shows a clear misunderstanding both of what Americans want and, more perilously, of what’s truly effective at improving public safety.

Scenes from Ferguson, Missouri, helped create better awareness of the 1033 Program throughout the country. The public demanded to know why police who were sent to keep the peace during a protest were indistinguishable from soldiers at war. This is not the peace officer I was trained to be when I joined the force.

Beyond causing terror in individuals and families whose homes are raided with police armed with military weapons, the use of such equipment for regular police work damages police-community relations. Militarization has eroded public trust in police, the effectiveness of law enforcement overall, and ultimately, public safety.  

Officers need to engage in crime prevention and crime fighting activities that work. They do not need to participate in programs that waste resources and create dangerous situations for both law enforcement and the public. In the SWAT raids studied by the ACLU for its 2013 report, War Comes Home, 79 percent of SWAT deployments were issued to execute search warrants, mostly for drugs. Somewhere between 36 and 65 percent of those drug searches resulted in no discovery of illegal contraband. Even if everything goes smoothly and nobody gets injured or killed during a raid, it’s still an enormous waste of time and extremely dangerous for both officers and civilians.

An all-too-common SWAT scenario is one where SWAT’s involvement escalates a nonviolent situation into a deadly one. Imagine that you are awoken at dawn by the sound of men shouting and battering down your door. You can’t hear what the voices are saying, but you realize your home is being invaded. Your instinct tells you to grab your lawfully owned gun and face the intruders. You race downstairs and make it to the front door only to find the intruders are police – and they think you have drugs. The police are scared of an armed man running toward them, and you’re barely awake. You’re confused. And then shots are fired. Nobody remembers who pulled the trigger first. 

With each of these incidents, public trust in the police erodes. Research shows people who don’t trust police are less likely to report a crime, and I can tell you from experience it makes them much less likely to cooperate in investigations. Without the community to help us, police work — the hard work of solving rapes and homicides and kidnappings — becomes nearly impossible.  This means our “crime reduction” strategy of deploying SWAT teams is paradoxically creating an environment in which it’s harder for police to solve crimes and protect people.

My philosophy is instead guided by the Nine Principles of Policing set forth by Sir Robert Peel and his commissioners nearly 200 years ago, which have set the standard ever since. The very first principle is “to prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force….” I support replacing the 1033 Program with one in which officers must demonstrate competence, be trained in proper equipment usage, and may only use military equipment for hostage, active shooter, and barricade scenarios.  I believe this because I became a police officer to protect people. When people fear the police more than they fear crime itself, the legitimacy of the career I loved so much becomes meaningless.

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Anonymous

Supporting community-policing and constitutional-policing does NOT mean we are anti-police.

"Community-Policing" means instead of giving police departments taxpayer-owned tanks and grenade launchers that police departments should receive additional taxpayer money to hire more beat-officers that actually walk through neighborhoods to get to know the residents. Since that may require a group of 4 or more officers walking together in some neighborhoods, that may more than double the amount of money that department receives for salaries and benefits. Ferguson likely wouldn't have never happened if the police knew the residents. As for the tanks and grenade launchers, we the taxpayers purchased that equipment and it should go back to the military or we could help a foreign ally needing military equipment.

"Constitutional-Policing" is essentially that old saying "the ends don't justify means" or following constitutional due process. There are also alternative and safer ways to search, they could search while the suspect is not home or arrest someone in an area with little risk of harm or death. As for drug searches, most hardware stores sell rubber-balloon devices to prevent anyone from flushing drugs down the drain. There are better and safer ways to prevent evidence from being destroyed.

Anonymous

Community-policing is "vigilante" violence in the name of community justice.

Constitutional-policing is "fascist" violence in the name of social justice.

The common thread between both is the forcing of ones beliefs and laws upon another group of people. No matter the level at which you perpetrate violence in the name of "justice" it is all still the same.

Death is death and murder is murder, no matter the cause both are permanent. Police should killed when immediate danger of personal death. Otherwise they commit murder, like when they kill unarmed people during house raids then say they thought the person was reaching for a gun. Whatev. It's your conscience, problem is you will get worse and want to kill more "criminals" in the name of justice.

GO SWAT!

I love Skinheds

Stuff fruit into the tail pipe of police vehicles. Pour salt water into the gas tanks. Paint the vehicles with messages of love and peace. They hate positive messages more than being called a "pig". If you work at a drive through, snot in, piss in, or rub their food on the floor before serving.

Never ever do anything violent, resist peacefully.

Anonymous

In order for a society to function the members of that society have to give up some autonomy and follow some rules and observe some basic courtesies. If you don't want to do that you are free to leave. There is still some back woods around.

Anonymous

Rank & file police officers are sometimes in a no-win situation, they follow orders from their police chief, superiors and mayor.

Newspapers, like The Washington Post, have reported that "police unions" are generally beneficial to officers, but have been a major proponent of unconstitutional policing - sometimes obstructing even the police chief or mayor trying to reform their own departments.

One solution is that Congress, state legislatures and town councils could restrict all police funding so the vast majority is used to hire more officers. Another solution is for mayors and governors to improve early childhood education, job training, transportation infrastructure and good jobs in high crime neighborhoods. If someone is sitting in prison, they aren't paying taxes to improve their city or neighborhood.

Anonymous

Doesn't this violate the spirit of Posse Comitatus laws?

Anonymous

No. Posse Commitatus restricts military personnel from engaging in civilian law enforcement. Equipment is just equipment.

Erika McGinty

Yes, it certainly does violate the spirit of Posse Comitatus. It also may well violate the law because the military equipment was purchased with funding for the military and intended for military use, not civilian. It's a misuse of funds.

Anonymous

President urges officers to commit acts of brutality, officers laugh and cheer wildly. Beginning to think problem isn't a few bad apples.
12:42 PM - Jul 28, 2017

I am for 24 on Camera publicly.
I am against police brutality and murder.
I am against the killing of cops.
These are NOT contradictory.

The justice system has issued a blank check for cops to murder citizens with little or no reason to do so. Police lie and cover up for bad cops. Courts defer to cops as if they were unquestionable and unanswerable to the people. No American is safe in their home, property, out in public or even in church. African Americans are less safe than most.

We need citizen elected unpaid Police Oversight Boards with members standing for election every year with three year term limits. Police Oversight Boards must have full autonomy from police and political interference. The Police Oversight Board would hold the administrative power to suspend or fire cops based on the findings from their investigations into shootings, beatings, or any other police activity concerning allegations of misconduct: professionally inappropriate, administratively forbidden, or judicially illegal. To be clear this is not a criminal investigation at this point, it is an administrative one. ANY death of a citizen at the hands of a police officer should require that the police officer demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that the citizen was immediately a danger to life. If the cop wants to keep his job he needs to clear the board’s reasonable doubts about his conduct while on duty.

Every police officer should be required to have and maintain a personal and professional liability policy at a minimum of $10 million dollars. Thus the citizens would not be on the hook for poor performance judgments. If an officer has a substantial judgment against them the insurance company will not issue further coverage and the cop will need to find another line of work.

I am recommending that we the people who employ the individual police make the policeman on the beat subject to elected persons from the political entity rather than just to their own closed group of fellow officers. Police Oversight Boards must have full autonomy from police and political interference. Police Oversight Boards must have subpoena authority (attainable via the appropriate court of record) and the power to refer to special prosecutors. If the board says we think that the officers action was illegal they would refer it to an outside investigation of a special prosecutor at which point you would have an external criminal investigation and potentially prosecution if the outside prosecutor from outside the jurisdiction (at least 100 miles away) also finds cause.

Tysto

America has a huge police problem worsened by a huge justice system problem.

Over and over, cops are sent to protests dressed for a riot and provoke or even initiate violence. Videos of bad arrests and shootings show cops who escalate situations and initiate violence because they don't have the skills or emotional character to deal with any result other than immediate, submissive compliance.

But cops are almost never really punished for unjustified violence. The rest of the system, from captains to prosecutors, looks the other way when cops make violent and/or wrongful arrests, mistreat suspects, and kill people they assume all too quickly are "threatening". That gives cops a belief that they can do anything they want with no real repercussions. And that leads to more bad policing.

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