Police Abuse

Militarized Police Events Are Now Routine

And illustrate the pressing need for civilian oversight.

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Cops never know what they are walking into, because even situations that seem calm and predictable can burst into mayhem in a moment. So nobody should ever begrudge law enforcement officers the safety precautions they take.

All the same, you have to wonder about the show of force that turned out on Convair Lane in Henrico early Monday morning. There had been some sort of dispute, and shots fired. But nobody had been hurt and the public was never in danger, according to Henrico police Lt. Lauren Hummel. Two juveniles were taken into custody.

Which makes you wonder why—even allowing for an abundance of caution—the situation required not one, but two Lenco armored personnel carriers. Or why the incident apparently called for a sniper in a ghillie suit. No doubt there are times and places when a camouflaged sniper can come in pretty handy, even for a civilian police force. But a Henrico suburb not far from Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens?

The Lenco armored-vehicle company boasts that its BearCat "may be used as a S.W.A.T. or Military Counter Attack and Rescue Vehicle and is often used in hostile Urban Environments or as a Patrol/Reaction Vehicle on a Military Base." It comes with armor plating, bulletproof glass, gun ports, and other features, such as chemical and radiation sensors, depending on the model.

That makes it a useful vehicle to have on hand if, say, a police officer gets shot approaching a building. If he's bleeding out in the street and the shooter is still active, you don't want to two plainclothes detectives with a stretcher trying to get him to safety. Armored personnel carriers also can prove useful during riots and other forms of urban unrest.

But at what cost?

"The scene harkened to familiar images of the Iraq war: men in black helmets and body armor sitting on top of armored personnel carriers, rifles at the ready, surveying the civilian population," reported USA Today in 2014. "Except this was in Middle America and the civilian population was made up of people demonstrating with their hands up to protest the police shooting of an unarmed black teen."

The response to protests in Ferguson, Mo., reignited a long-running debate over the militarization of the police. Libertarians had been warning about the trend for years, as police departments around the country snapped up surplus Pentagon materiel or bought paramilitary equivalents from the private sector—and then began adopting military tactics such as dynamic, no-knock raids. More than 80,000 SWAT-style raids take place each year, even though their sole purpose, four times out of five, is simply to serve a warrant.

The federal government encouraged much of this, first through the prosecution of the war on drugs, and then through what is known as the 1033 program, that gave away more than $5 billion worth of military equipment, from helicopters to grenade launchers, to local law-enforcement agencies. Some agencies—including Henrico—have used Homeland Security grants for the equipment.

Much of which is flatly not needed. Caroline County, Virginia, for instance has its own armored personnel carrier—for a locality with 30,000 residents and an average of less than one murder per year. A 2014 report in the Richmond Times-Dispatch found that more than 100 Virginia localities have received federal materiel, including M-16s, grenade launchers, and more. Some of them—again, including Henrico—were highly reluctant to disclose that information.

All of the concern back in 2014 has now faded away. But the paramilitary trend in policing has not.

This might make more sense if the police were facing increasing threats. But figures from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund show that the most dangerous year for police officers in the U.S. was 1974, when 280 were killed. The numbers have shown a long decline since then; the 2016 total was 143.

That's still 143 too many (though far fewer than the 963 people whom police killed that year). But if militarized weapons and tactics are responsible for saving officers' lives, the public ought to have some proof of causation, not mere correlation.

And if—as seems increasingly apparent—militarized police are here to stay, then other measures might be in order. As Claire Guthrie Gastanaga of the Virginia ACLU has argued, the more militarized a force is, the greater the need for civilian oversight. (Notice how you never hear demands for civilian oversight of reference librarians.)

Granted: When someone is breaking down your door in the middle of the night, you don't call the ACLU—you call the police. But what do you do when the cops are the ones breaking down the door?

This column originally appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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  1. “g”

    What a subtitle.

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  2. Cops never know what they are walking into, because even situations that seem calm and predictable can burst into mayhem in a moment.

    Unlike the rest of us, who have detailed foreknowledge of what’s behind that door or around this corner.

    1. The unpredictability the “rest of us” tend to face is less drug crazed, armed, or otherwise lethal. Unless, I don’t know, you are some kind of vigilante in hockey pads.

      1. Or unless the cops are patrolling an America in an alternate dimension than the one in which we live.

  3. The more militarized a police force, the more necessary robust civilian oversight becomes

    If by “civilian oversight” you mean “the second amendment” I agree 100%.

    1. Good luck getting the Supreme Court to accept an argument that 2A covers anti-tank weapons.

      1. Drive an MRAP into a hostile area… and by ‘hostile’ I mean fucking hos-tile. You don’t need anti-tank weapons.

        Sure, as long as the SWAT team uses MRAPs against a drunk homeless guy who broke into the Big 5, they’ll be fine.

        1. the man was stealing guns so caution is warranted in this case but there are plenty of other like the unlicensed barber who was confronted by SWAT

      2. Anti-tank weapons are not prohibited nor are machine guns under current law.

        FYI: The police don’t have anything that cannot be penetrated by a .50 cal rifle.

        1. Also tanks can be stopped by anti-tank ditches or other obstacles.

          Even if the Supreme Court were to limit weapons, they would be wrong and Americans should act accordingly.

          1. FIRE!

            Ancient, cheap, dependable.

            It always gets the job done. (if it doesn’t, you just haven’t use enough.)

            1. “I love the smell of Napalm in the morning”

            2. I saw a documentary with some rare footage of the Tiananmen square massacre, and the citizens were doing alright with Molotovs. Not great, but I was impressed at their tenaciousness considering that they’re a completely unarmed population. It was still wholesale slaughter, but I think the control-freaks in governments all over the world tinkled a little in their undies.

              But obviously, trying to say that the 2A is the “final vote” for citizens is a crazy paranoid thing. You know? 2A’s for militias. And militias are only used for revolutions and wars and stuff.

      3. Drop pits and .50 BMG are pretty easily available.

        Drop enough 7.62 and you’ll start penetrating too.

        1. People in enclosed, metal containers don’t do well when the whole thing is on fire.

          1. a few tires and a little gas and you can control an entire neighborhood. dam sounds like Somalia, America ahas become its won shithole

          2. We call you Diane “Molotov’ Reynolds.

          3. This.

            I came here to say this.

    2. Certainly doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) only 2nd amendment protections. Once this country is willing to accept that the police and military shouldn’t be free to do whatever they want, and that there should be review boards and consequences for violation of proper procedures, this is when civilian oversight becomes important.

  4. But what do you do when the cops are the ones breaking down the door?

    You accept your death, and accept your name will be dragged through the mud after in order to justify your murder.

  5. “Or why the incident apparently called for a sniper in a ghillie suit. ”

    Even if a camouflaged sniper was called for, a ghillie suit is entirely the wrong type of camouflage for a suburban/urban environment.

    1. There’s plenty of shrubbery in an urban environment. Don’t second guess the SWAT team!

    2. But it looks really cool and allows the pig wearing it to pretend he’s a real soldier, and that’s what’s important.

    3. I find all camo worn by police to be silly if anything they should be wearing suits to blend in. My opinion police should be required to wear blue for when the police are dressed and fitted like the army then whats the difference between them and a standing army.

      1. Clearly, army-style “camo” outfits, when worn by police, are not meant to camouflage them, but on the contrary, to make them stand out, and to make them look intimidating because of their resemblance to soldiers. It’s an interesting evolution of the meaning and purpose of that design, so that it now serves exactly the opposite purpose from its original one. But I think you’re right, make them stay in blue, so that they remember who and what they are.

        1. And wear a very large hat with the badge right over the forehead, like in “Fargo”.

  6. if militarized weapons and tactics are responsible for saving officers’ lives, the public ought to have some proof of causation, not mere correlation.
    Good luck with that.

  7. “what is known as the 1033 program, that gave away more than $5 billion worth of military equipment”

    Not quite, the equipment in the 1033 program is technically on loan to the local department, it is still legally owned by the DOD. The Pentagon can reclaim the equipment at any point if it wants to.

    The real purpose of the 1033 program is to scam local governments in to covering the cost of storing and maintaining in operating condition equipment that the Pentagon has no current use for, but thinks it might have a use for in the future.

    1. Those bureaucrats know what it is for. When citizens get sick of tyranny and want to water the Tree of Liberty.

    2. Uhm, those departments are not *maintaining* anything. A good chunk of that expensive stuff they take posession of gets left in the back of the garage the first time something breaks and the CoP or Sheriff see the repair estimate. The rest of it gets put there after the initial ‘ride around and show everyone’ phase once the bill for the first oil-change comes in.

      If the USG ever tries to reclaim it, they’ll be taking back broken shit covered in dust.

      1. I mean, its a good idea – and I’m sure some sneaky bureaucrat has pitched it behind closed doors as a sneaky way to justify the deal.

        But that ain’t what’s happening in real life.

      2. Nobody ever discusses how much military hardware costs to fix.

  8. OT: Nothing in the AM links about Ursula Le Guin dying? Here is my homage:

    “The individual cannot bargain with the State. The State recognizes no coinage but power: and it issues the coins itself.”

    “We’ve been saying, more and more often, you must work with the others, you must accept the rule of the majority. But any rule is tyranny. The duty of the individual is to accept no rule, to be the initiator of his own acts, to be responsible. Only if he does so will the society live, and change, and adapt, and survive. ”

    “With the myth of the State out of the way, the real mutuality and reciprocity of society and individual became clear. Sacrifice might be demanded of the individual, but never compromise: for though only the society could give security and stability, only the individual, the person, had the power of moral choice?the power of change, the essential function of life. The Odonian society was conceived as a permanent revolution, and revolution begins in the thinking mind.”

    1. “What is an anarchist? One who, choosing, accepts the responsibility of choice.”

      “What she had begun to learn was the weight of liberty. Freedom is a heavy load, a great and strange burden for the spirit to undertake. It is not easy. It is not a gift given, but a choice made, and the choice may be a hard one. The road goes upward towards the light; but the laden traveler may never reach the end of it.”

      “It may be in our sexuality that we are most easily enslaved, both men and women. It may be there, even as free men and women, that we find freedom hardest to keep. The politics of the flesh are the roots of power.”

      And here is a chapter from her translation of the Tao Te Ching:

      “Being full of power
      is like being a baby.
      Scorpions don’t sting,
      tigers don’t attack,
      eagles don’t strike.
      Soft bones, weak muscles,
      but a firm grasp.
      Ignorant of the intercourse
      of man and woman,
      yet the baby penis is erect.
      True and perfect energy!
      All day long screaming and crying,
      but never getting hoarse.
      True and perfect harmony!
      To know harmony
      is to know what’s eternal.
      To know what’s eternal
      is enlightenment.
      Increase of life is full of portent:
      the strong heart exhausts the vital breath.
      The full-grown is on the edge of age.
      Not the Way.
      What’s not the Way soon dies.”

      1. I need to read some LeGuin. Never got around to it for some reason.

        1. I read “The Left Hand of Darkness”. Thought there were many silly things about it, but the book has never left me. She was a wonderful writer.

  9. Cops never know what they are walking into, because even situations that seem calm and predictable can burst into mayhem in a moment. So nobody should ever begrudge law enforcement officers the safety precautions they take.

    Yes we can begrudge law enforcement’s tactics! Everyone is not a murdering criminal bent on ambushing them.

    Law enforcement moves to the escalation of force first rather than trying to de-escalate the situation first and then moving to more force, if needed. Its a skill and most police don’t have it.

    All other police bullying tactics are built upon the Us vs. Them mentality.

    1. Agreed, and I’ll go one step further. If you’re a police officer and you make the claim that you’re putting your life on the line, then you should be erring on the side of caution and not erring on the side of self preservation. In other words, you better be absolutely sure that the guy you’re facing is trying to kill you before you take him out. If there’s doubt, then you don’t shoot, and you “put your life on the line.”

  10. Put this near the top of list of things that ought to scare the crap out of people, but that most of them are clamoring in favor of.

    1. Most people don’t understand what happens in the military either unless they serve.

      Militarization of police is okay for most Americans because they are scared. Until they are exposed to police brutality or excessive use of force.

  11. No doubt there are times and places when a camouflaged sniper can come in pretty handy, even for a civilian police force.

    Name 5. I’ll wait.

    *barf*

    1. 1. There’s a long line at the Dunkin’ Donuts

      1. 2. A riot breaks out in the Garden section of your local Lowe’s

        1. Wolverines!

    2. So nobody should ever begrudge law enforcement officers the safety precautions they take.

      And then the article goes on to begrudge the safety protections those officers take.

      No doubt there are times and places when a camouflaged sniper can come in pretty handy,

      Well, to start with, the sniper *needs to be camouflaged*.

      A dude wearing a forest green ghillie suit on the top of an office building is not camouflaged even though he’s wearing camouflage.

      1. No doubt there are times and places when a camouflaged sniper can come in pretty handy,

        I’m trying really hard, but I can’t think of a time or place a camouflaged civilian sniper would be appropriate.

    3. Shooting at dogs, children and women holding babies in the doorway from the woods.

      Can we count that as 3?

    4. French police sniper accidentally shoots waiter during Hollande speech. Official says two people injured by marksman when he tripped and discharged weapon during presidential address at opening of high-speed railway line

      Is that 5 total?

  12. If someone is breaking down my door I’ll take care of them first, then put away my guns, then call the police, then strip naked and go lay down outside so hopefully they won’t shoot me.

    1. then strip naked and go lay down outside so hopefully they won’t shoot me.

      Instead they’ll beat you within an inch of your life and arrest you for indecent exposure. Especially if your dick is bigger than theirs.

    2. That sounds like the actions of someone who is high on bath salts. You should expect to be shot dead before you can eat someone’s face.

  13. They do this shit for 2 reasons:

    1. Because FYTW
    2. To send a message. Nothing pacifies a civilian population like an over the top show of force.

    what do you do when the cops are the ones breaking down the door?

    Lie face down on the floor with your hands on your head and hope they don’t plug your ass anyway? Oh, and forget about your dog(s) or any other pets in the house surviving. They’re goners.

    1. Oh, they won’t shoot as long as you cooperate and follow all orders, or so I’m told. How you do that with two or three different cops simultaneously yelling contradictory orders, I have no idea.

    2. Nothing pacifies a civilian population like an over the top show of force.

      Nothing gives them boners like an over the top show of force. It’s not about scaring people. It’s about inspiring people. Every political leader in history has used this tactic to keep their citizenry on board. Most americans have a religious-like reverence for the police and military.

  14. American copping, at every level from county to federal, is completely out of control.

    You will trust an American cop at your peril, ESPECIALLY if you’ve done nothing wrong.

  15. I wondered about all the platitudes and the kid gloves. Until I reached the end of the article…

    This column originally appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

  16. Police know what they signed up for, and if they don’t know at any given time “what they’re waling into,” that’s an indictment, not a defense, for them to walk into every situation with weapons drawn. Either we pay police to protect us, or we pay them to endanger us while protecting themselves. Either they’re our employees or our masters. There’s no middle ground here.

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