America doesn’t need thousands of SWAT teams, whose existence guarantees their deployment, whose deployment guarantees wrongful injury and death. We don’t need to equip every major and minor police force across the length and breadth of the county with machine guns, full body armor, “flash bang” grenades and up-armored personnel carriers. This longstanding policy of police militarization isn’t just ineffective and unnecessary it’s dangerous to liberty. We, The People, don’t want to live in a police state. Police militarization enables and yes, creates that police state. The argument for militarized police is simple, emotional and wrong, wrong, wrong . . .
Supposedly, cops need massive firepower to protect themselves from criminals, who have massive firepower. The fact that no American policeman has been machine-gunned to death in decades, the fact that cops have killed citizens with machine guns, doesn’t get a look in. Nor have the po-po faced a coordinated attack from a squadron of bad guys firing assault rifles. Simply put, America’s police are not out-gunned.
Sure, there was the infamous North Hollywood shootout. And yes, there is a legitimate, limited role for a small number of SWAT teams in urban areas. But militarizing the entire U.S. police force to “prepare” for the black swan prospect of heavily-armed bad guys is like equipping every skyscraper in America with anti-aircraft missiles in case terrorists decide to repeat the horror of 9/11. Only worse [see: above].
Supporters of heavily-armed police say this lack of bad guy ballistic overkill proves that the trend is good. Cops need to out-gun the bad guys. All the time. Every time. Cops are, after all, the first responders.
Wrong. We’re the first responders, just as the customers, bank tellers and passersby at the North Hollywood Bank of America were the first responders in that attack. But more importantly, more generally, the “extreme” danger to the police posed by bad guys with guns—which justifies the SWAT-mania—is a fiction. The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund’s mid-year stats on the subject tell the tale:
Traffic-related incidents were the leading cause of officer deaths, with 18 officers killed in the first half of 2013, matching the number of officers killed in the same period in 2012. Firearms-related fatalities were the second leading cause of death among our nation’s law enforcement officers in the first half of 2013, dropping 11 percent with 17 fatalities compared to 19 in the same period last year. Ambush attacks were the leading circumstance of fatal shootings, with seven officer fatalities . . .
Firearms-related fatalities peaked in 1973, with 84 officers shot and killed. Since then, the average has decreased from 62 in the 1970s, to 29 in the 2000s.
The sub-head puts the numbers into perspective: “Firearms-related fatalities decrease to a 57-year low and traffic-related fatalities hit a 34-year low.” For even more perspective, America is currently home to over 800,000 police officers.
Bottom line: it’s OK to take away the military-style toys and de-commission hundreds if not thousands of SWAT teams. Of course, supporters would claim that the SWAT teams keep police fatalities low. And considering the ongoing threat of terrorism (no longer crazed drug thugs) it’s better to have militarized police rather than not. But that’s not true.