For some time now I’ve become concerned about the militarization of our police forces. The recent activities in Ferguson, MO are just the most recent example.
How did a police force, built and designed to protect the public, become an organization of military-trained members equipped with assault weapons and the latest in military hardware?
We can start in the 1990′s and the war on drugs. Local police forces often found themselves out-gunned by drug running gangs, not only along our borders but in our inner cities. The federal government began providing local police with military style weapons.
In 1997, two bank robbers in North Hollywood, CA out gunned local police as they shot and seriously wounded 11 police officers and seven civilians.
These events brought forth the idea that police departments around the country needed to be better armed and better trained to respond to such situations. It also brought about the creation of Special Weapons Assault Teams – - better known as SWAT teams, for the purpose of taking on well-armed bad guys. Federal money was available for training and equipping such teams.
Soon, every policing agency in the country had SWAT teams including here in Thurston County. They are called out every time there’s a report of a gun, when a police officer is threatened, or when a group of college students get carried away with a night on the town.
This was the beginning of the militarization of our local police departments.
Then came 9-11 and the war of terror ramped up every police agency in the country. Military equipment and vehicles were available for any law enforcement agency which wanted them. This equipment included tanks, helicopters and armored vehicles, as well as automatic weapons and night vision equipment.
Even the uniforms that police wear echo intimidation and are indicative of a military style of thinking.
Instead of being part of a community police department, police are now members of a military -style organization in looks and bearing.
We can probably never go back to the time when our local police lived in our community, walked the streets, ate in our local restaurants and seemed to be one of us.
But, we can expect our police departments to be cognizant of the fact that they are here to protect us – - not intimidate us.
Looking and acting like a military unit is intimidating to local citizens. I doubt the bad guys care very much.