Reader BgreeneA3 writes:
I keep hearing the term “police militarization” thrown around here. To that I ask, when have the police NOT been militarized? Police, sheriff or any law enforcement type organization are in fact “para-military” and always have been. They all have an organized rank structure, like the military. They wear uniforms, like the military. They have a set use of force policy (rules of engagement) like the military, etc., etc., etc., . . .
As for police uniforms looking more military or “tactical” again, look to the military. The standard military dress uniform looks like police uniforms from the early 1900’s. In the 50’s and 60’s the wool top coats were pretty much dropped but it’s a military uniform. The military has evolved from the uniforms worn in WW1 and WW2 into a more useful uniform for field work. So have police uniforms.
I can tell you from experience, when you end up fighting an intoxicated person, climb into a wrecked car to render aid, cut someone out of their seatbelt or chase someone through the weeds and briars in a “classic uniform” (dress pants, polished shoes, garrison cap, tie, shiny brass with all the bling like a whistle chain ect.) your uniform will be pretty much ruined. They just do not stand up to those activities very well. Hence the more military “BDU” style. They are tougher and cheaper to purchase so they save the dept and taxpayers money. As military uniforms have evolved, so have those of the police.
As for firepower, back in the 1900’s the 1903a3 Springfield was all an infantryman needed (along with, maybe, a revolver). The police carried a .38 revolver and either a lever action rifle or a shotgun. The military took to semiauto pistols and rifles a short time later with the M1 and 1911. Evidently a bolt gun wasn’t all an infantry man needed.
Then, when the 20’s roared, the gangsters started using military weapons like the Thompson and BAR and driving cars that were “up armored” so the police had to “tool up” with Thompsons and .38 super automatic 1911’s themselves (along with other semi auto rifles of the day). Why? Because lead ,38 spl. rounds and buckshot weren’t effective on the up-armored, up-gunned criminals, making the police inneffective in protecting the people of their bailiwick.
Fast forward to 1997…the North Hollywood bank robbery. Two robbers in full body armor with AK-variant rifles (and others in the trunk of the get away car) were able to hold the whole police force at bay because 9mm, 12 gauge slugs and buckshot are ineffective against body armor. That resulted in the push for patrol rifles, because being out-armored and out-gunned makes the police ineffective. So where do you get patrol rifles for your officers when there is no budget for it? Military surplus.
What do the police get with these military rifles when compared to a 12 gauge? Penetration of soft armor, greater accuracy and the ability to carry more ammo. Not to mention less recoil for those who can’t handle a shotgun. Pretty much the same reasons everybody else is going to an AR-style rifle for home protection. Oh yes, I’m willing to bet that darn near all of these “scary military rifle” were converted to semi auto
About those armored cars and MRAPS; police have been using armored cars for as long as there have been armored cars. I saw a 1930’s armored car at a museum in South Bend used by the Indianapolis “Flying Squad,” a 1930’s SWAT team if you will. Armored cars, Bearcat APCs et al. aren’t new things to police work. And whats wrong with a mobile piece of cover when dealing with a barricaded person? The armored car works better as cover that the big oak tree that might not be there.
Lets go back to the budget issues. Armored cars are expensive. If you could save your taxpayers money by getting one for free from uncle Sam, why would you not? Why would a medium sized department want or need their own MRAP, or SWAT team? Why can’t they just call in the state police or the closest big city’s SWATties? Because of time. There are more than a few places that it would take several hours to days for a regional or state team to respond.
Time is your savings and when you need something like an armored car, that time saved equals lives. The lives of the cops responding to the potential hostage situation and the surrounding community. Seriously, why would they take an MRAP or Bearcat to a search warrant raid? Why would that tell everybody that the police are coming so they can leave or hide the evidence/drugs/wanted person? Stealth works better for these situations, that’s why they use unmarked vans.
Yes, the police are militarized. They always have been. Yes, they are using military gear. They always have. To a point, the police need to be militarized to perform their mission. Their mission is to investigate crimes, take criminals into custody, respond to in-progress calls for help, keep the peace and provide security for the people of their jurisdiction. And they can’t do those things without the tools they need.