There is a disturbing trend among law enforcement agencies, both local (municipal departments, state police agencies and sheriff’s offices) and federal. This trend is what some are calling “militarization,” and it has become a controversial topic. The controversy is being generated by several issues within the concept of militarization. I am not deluded enough to believe that law enforcement people see this issue the same way that the average tax payer does. But, as a tax payer and former law enforcement officer, I feel that these issues need to be raised and discussed. I am firmly in the camp that the militarization is a bad idea. It is a bad idea because it is expensive, it is furthering the disconnect between citizens and officers, and it is causing police officers and federal agents to act more like an occupying army than an entity charged with assisting citizens.
We as a country have a record debt that continues to spiral out of control. This debt is so large as to be almost comical. We now speak of millions of dollars as mere pocket change and billions as discretionary income. The debt has been caused by both republicans and democrats. The problem is that no one is willing to cut spending, and this includes law enforcement agencies. Just as an example; my local police department has changed the paint schemes on their cars at least three times in the last ten years. Most of the money used for these changes comes from grants from the federal government. Where does grant money come from? Tax payers. So, while our debt continues to accumulate, we continue to spend. The question is, what are law enforcement agencies spending this money on? Part of the answer can be seen on the nightly news.
How many times in the last few years have we witnessed situations where a SWAT team is called in and they appear in their MRAP or other armored vehicles, with the members dressed in Multi-Cam uniforms complete with Kevlar helmets and baklavas and armed to the teeth with the latest in military firepower? That is where a big chunk of tax payer money is going. Now, does that mean that the officers should be armed only with pistols? Absolutely not! But, do they really need multi-cam? Do they really need M-4s? Let us discuss the latest craze—MRAPs. I cannot for the life of me figure out why a police department or federal agency needs a mine and rocket-resistant armored vehicle. When was the last time a police agency came under a rocket attack? Is someone expecting I-15 in Utah to be mined? They must, because the Utah Highway Patrol just purchased an MRAP! But it does not stop there; they also received four grenade launchers and over 1200 rifles. Remember, all of this is being paid for by you and me, and if the feds are going to sell their surplus, why can’t citizens participate? Why can’t we buy surplus military rifles at the same prices that cops can? Not to mention that they were able to purchase this MRAP (which had less than 1,000 miles on it) for $8300. Brand new, they cost $300,000. Great use of tax payer money — somewhere along the line, we lost $291,700. It’s no wonder we have such a monstrous deficit!
Here is the real scary part: We paid for this equipment with our taxes to protect our soldiers overseas, but now this equipment is being repurchased with our local taxes to be used against us. Do not kid yourself, this equipment is not for our protection, but for the protection of LEOs enforcing laws, whether constitutional or not.
When I was growing up, police officers wore uniforms that were distinctly police looking. They were armed with pistols, shotguns and some had rifles, like the Mini-14. These officers were participating in a program called Community Oriented Policing. Officers were encouraged to get to know the citizens in their communities as well as the business owners. The purpose of this was to foster an attitude of cooperation between police and citizens. I know this because this is what I was taught in the police academy and what we practiced in the streets. This no longer exists. Now, most interactions between police and citizens are adversarial, at best. There is now a real chasm between citizens and law enforcement officials, and the chasm is growing exponentially. Distrust of law enforcement is at an all-time high, and rightfully so. Here are just a couple of examples:
December 20, 2012–Ogden, Utah police served a warrant at 2:30 a.m. by breaking down the door and storming the house in full SWAT mode. The residents were handcuffed and arrested.
Unfortunately, the police were at the wrong address.
October 4, 2012 in Salt Lake City, Utah–SLCPD served a no-knock search warrant on a home that they suspected had drugs and weapons, but it only had an elderly widow. This widow, “had the event of a lifetime…” according to Chief Chris Burbank commenting on the “mistake.” That’s right; the cops were at the wrong house.
If the above cited examples do not make your blood boil, try this one:
Lebanon, Tennessee–A man and his wife were watching television when the police broke their door down, serving a search warrant. The home owner, John Adams, confused and frightened by the police action, grabbed his shotgun and shot at the illegal intruders. The intruders, officers Kyle Shedran and Greg Day shot and killed Adams. Guess what? They were at the wrong house. According to Chief Billy Weeks, “we did the best surveillance we could do, and a mistake was made. It’s a very severe mistake–a costly mistake. It makes us look at our own policies and procedures to make sure this never occurs again, however, the two policemen were not at fault.”
They were not at fault. What comfort this sweet sentiment gives! This is why the chasm is growing and growing rapidly. If it is not the fault of the officers, then where does the fault lie?
Have you ever paid close attention to the Miranda Rights? These are the rights read to each suspect upon arrest or before questioning. Let me point out a line that is often overlooked, “… Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” (Emphasis mine) Do see anywhere that it says that anything you say will be used to free you or exonerate you? No, anything you say will be used against you. This is exactly why I never answer any questions that a law enforcement officer asks me. They will lie to you (perfectly legal Frazier v. Cupp) to get you talk. This is another reason that regular citizens distrust the police; they will lie to get you to speak, but if you lie in return, I guarantee you will be charged with lying to a police official.
The founding fathers of these United States feared a standing army because of the years of British rule that they had suffered under. This is one of the reasons for the Second Amendment. Can we not make the comparison that our law enforcement agencies, both local and federal, are now acting like a standing army? Have you ever heard the old adage— If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it is a duck? Well—If it looks like a soldier, dresses like a soldier, and is armed like a soldier—it is a soldier. Are supposed to believe that the police driving MRAPs and armed with grenade launchers are here for our protection? In today’s world, our right to bear arms is being limited while law enforcement’s is expanding. Where in the constitution does it grant law enforcement greater rights in bearing arms than it does to the people?
Why is it necessary for every government agency to have a Paramilitary force? Is it really necessary for the Department of Education to have armed agents? Are they really that worried about student loans? These Paramilitary forces are all armed exactly the same way that our military forces are armed. They have automatic weapons, grenade launchers, armored vehicles, etc. The Internal Revenue Service, a glorified collection agency, has a Paramilitary force as well. Why is this entire expense necessary? Why are we the tax payers allowing this misuse of our money to go unchecked?
It is time that we demand answers and accountability. The militarization of police is a bad idea and will only produce bad results. As long as law enforcement units can call the killing of an innocent civilian a mistake and not the fault of the officers, then we will have a major and deadly disconnect.