If you’ve been a TTAG reader for any length of time, you’ve read our coverage of the ever-escalating militarization of civilian police forces in these here U-nited States. Whether it’s locals tooling up by buying remaindered (and sometimes new) army equipment, shutting down a major American city or forcing their way into homes sans permission (or warrant), Officer Krupke pounding the beat rounding up juvies ain’t what he used to be. Routine calls that used to be handled by dispatching a uniform or two in a cruiser now seem to require deployment of a platoon, frequently with air support. But it’s all good if you talk to people like Chief Joel Shults. In fact, the flash-bangs and full-auto shows of force aren’t evidence of creeping militarization, they’re all that are keeping us from full-on martial law . . .
Chief Shults runs the campus presence that keeps the 3700 students at Adams State University (“Great Stories Begin Here”) in Alamosa, Colorado safe. Shall we see if we can guess which side of the Centennial State’s recent disarmament push he came down on? Nevermind — that’s neither here nor there. What is here is the chief’s contention that all this talk of police militarization is really just misinformation coming from a bunch of pinko commie outside agitators bent on riling up the citizenry over nuthin’ much.
While accusing police departments of instilling fear in the public by overuse of SWAT teams, commentators talk about military surplus helicopters, armored vehicles, and machine guns as though cops should have none of it. The public naturally imagines that those helicopters are still armed with wartime weapons and that the armored vehicles are bristling with machine guns.
Not only is the weaponry impression mistaken, but according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only about one-fourth of the law enforcement aircraft in service is military surplus. The majority is purchased from civilian markets in normal government commerce.
Further, only about a third of law enforcement helicopters are used for insertion of personnel in SWAT missions. Of 18,000 police agencies in the United States, only about 200 of them have an aviation unit.
Don’t you feel better knowing that there are 200 little air wings operating around the fruited plain, 50 of which can deploy
Do we look intimidating and/or militaristic when wearing heavy vests or carrying ballistic shields? Perhaps, but protective equipment looks militaristic because, as engineers, architects, and designers will tell you: form follows function.
Why would a police officer be suspect for wearing a Kevlar helmet into a situation where he or she wants to prevent a head injury? The same can be said for any other piece of protective clothing.
Of course some SWAT members like the balaclava because it looks cool, but it has a practical protective function against hazards beyond the hazard of retaliation (otherwise a plain old Lone Ranger mask would do just fine).
Obtaining and using protective gear and equipment prevents death and injury to police officers and citizens. Isn’t it reasonable that we have more guns and bullets than the criminals who confront us?
Well, when you put it that way…. Of course some might counter that when you have a hammer, everything tends to look exactly like a nail. And deploying a half dozen or more wanna-be special ops doods in full regalia for every task from serving a warrant to code enforcement is inherently dangerous (never mind needlessly expensive). But we couldn’t possibly comment.
So as far as Chief Shults is concerned, you’ll just have to get over your phobia of balaclava-clad operators in your neighborhood because the alternative is actually much worse.
(I)n 1878, to cement the longstanding concern, Congress passed the Posse Comitatus Act explicitly prohibiting the Army from conducting domestic law enforcement operations. Libertarians would be wiser to watch for erosion of this law than worry about police departments being militaristic.
As counterintuitive as it appears at first glance, I contend that if local law enforcement cannot obtain and use low-level, military-grade assets for high-risk operations, we will open the door to federal military force as our first response to major threats.
Our current, locally based police service must have the tools needed to be effective to prevent the true militarization by politicians catering to public fear. To preserve the civilian/military split, it is necessary that civilian law enforcement agencies not fail in their mission to suppress and respond to crime.
If we fail, the public cry for help from the federal government may lead to a weakening of Posse Comitatus and an encroachment from which we might not recover.
Are we clear? Sure, the no-knock wrong-house raids and ventilated canines can be inconvenient, but they way Chief Shults seed it, they’re better than calling in the National Guard or the Army. Allegedly. Or as some people used to tell (unarmed) rape victims, just lie back and enjoy it, honey and maybe he’ll go away.