Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit and professor of law, has been watching police militarization for years. In his latest USA Today column, he outlines three reforms that he says would make cops more accountable:
First, we should abolish police unions. All public-employee unions are suspect, given that they're basically organizations to take more money from taxpayers while minimizing accountability, but this is even more troubling where the employees in question carry guns.
Second, we should equip all patrol officers with body cameras that record everything that they do. This actually benefits both officers and the citizenry: When San Bernardino adopted them, it found significant drops both in complaints against the police and in police use of force. In fact, though calls for body cameras initially came from police-reform proponents, now many police support them too.
Third, we need to revisit the idea of "qualified immunity." Right now, police officers enjoy immunity from lawsuits so long as they act in "good faith," and courts stretch the notion of good faith pretty far. This change from the common law—where police weren't immune to lawsuits—was not the product of legislation and debate, but of judicial activism: There's nothing about it in the Constitution; judges just thought it was a good idea.
Reynolds is no bleeding heart but the reforms he sketches are good ideas, I think. And there's this:
I sometimes think the turning point [toward increased use of SWAT teams and other paramilitary trappings] was marked by the old cop show Hill Street Blues.Each episode opened with a daily briefing before the officers went out on patrol. In the early seasons, Sergeant Phil Esterhaus concluded every briefing with "Let's be careful out there." In the later episodes, his replacement, Sergeant Stan Jablonski, replaced that with "Let's do it to them before they do it to us." The latter attitude is appropriate for a war zone, but not for a civilized society.