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McNamara on Militarization

Hoover Institution fellow and former police chief (in San Jose and Kansas City) Joseph McNamara writes in today's Wall Street Journal (link should be good for a few days):

Simply put, the police culture in our country has changed. An emphasis on "officer safety" and paramilitary training pervades today's policing, in contrast to the older culture, which held that cops didn't shoot until they were about to be shot or stabbed. Police in large cities formerly carried revolvers holding six .38-caliber rounds. Nowadays, police carry semi-automatic pistols with 16 high-caliber rounds, shotguns and military assault rifles, weapons once relegated to SWAT teams facing extraordinary circumstances. Concern about such firepower in densely populated areas hitting innocent citizens has given way to an attitude that the police are fighting a war against drugs and crime and must be heavily armed.

Yes, police work is dangerous, and the police see a lot of violence. On the other hand, 51 officers were slain in the line of duty last year, out of some 700,000 to 800,000 American cops. That is far fewer than the police fatalities occurring when I patrolled New York's highest crime precincts, when the total number of cops in the country was half that of today. Each of these police deaths and numerous other police injuries is a tragedy and we owe support to those who protect us. On the other hand, this isn't Iraq. The need to give our officers what they require to protect themselves and us has to be balanced against the fact that the fundamental duty of the police is to protect human life and that law officers are only justified in taking a life as a last resort.

McNamara is also a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.


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  • ||

    Yes, police work is dangerous, and the police see a lot of violence. On the other hand, 51 officers were slain in the line of duty last year, out of some 700,000 to 800,000 American cops. That is far fewer than the police fatalities occurring when I patrolled New York's highest crime precincts, when the total number of cops in the country was half that of today.

    Obviously the escalation of violence and firepower by the police, and the increased willingness to risk civilian lives, is working to reduce officer deaths.

    And what could be more important than officer safety?

  • Guy Montag||

    Police in large cities formerly carried revolvers holding six .38-caliber rounds. Nowadays, police carry semi-automatic pistols with 16 high-caliber rounds

    Um, these "high caliber rounds" are usually 9 mm, .35 cal. and smaller than .38

    I prefer .45, but I am not a cop and can use what I feel like using.

  • ||

    Thanks, Guy. You said it more eloquently than I would have. Note, however, that the "elite" police units (e.g., LAPD SWAT) also use .45-caliber 1911s. For officer safety, I assume.

  • ||

    Police officers are permitted to carry +P ammo, hollow-point bullets and armor piercing rounds. Yes, 9mm and .35 are smaller than a .38, but they pack a hell of a whallop. And in NJ, State Troopers are permitted to carry a back-up pistol of their choice up to .40 cal. And they carry Benelli 12 ga semiautomatic shotguns in their patrol cars at all times. I consider that pretty heavily armed for routine patrols.

  • ||

    Um, these "high caliber rounds" are usually 9 mm, .35 cal. and smaller than .38

    Actually the 9mm and .38 Special round are practically identical with a bullet diameter of 0.354" & 0.356" respectively. The 38 caliber thingy goes way back in gun marketing days.

    It's the same as that big-boned child of the 38 Special the 357 magnum. It's just that the marketing boys at S&W didn't think that "three-fifty-six magnum" would sound as cool.

  • ||

    In my lengthy post in the fascism thread, I argued that the U.S. had practiced fascism lite throughout the 20th century - primarily because when the central management of some aspect of the economy began to breakdown, the government officials are unwilling to use mass-murder or brutal repression to prop the system up.

    The most dramatic example of this was Truman's decision to not send the national Guard to sweep through farms in the midwest to confiscate livestock to combat shortages in meat due to federal price-controls.

    I don't think he was horrified at using U.S. troops against the citizenry (I base this on a blood-curdling letter he wrote in WW I to his wife calling for the extermination of the German race in that left me chilled), so much as was aware that the farmers would not submit without a fight, and that the troops would likely rebel rather than obey orders.

    Today, I think with a small amount of political indoctrination one could field soldiers and police officers to brutally repress and slaughter their countrymen.

    I am worried that the next time price-controls are tried and cause shortages the governors and president will have a credible option to to use force rather than end the bad policy.

    And they will exercise it.

  • Guy Montag||

    MadBiker,

    I have a Benelli Nova Pump (12ga, 18.4" barrel, no choke, ghost ring slug sights) that I *was* using for skeet.

    Sadly, the folks at the Bull Run Shooting Center banned all barrels shorter than 23" partly because of cops playing 'Rambo'with their 14" guns.

    Tried lieing about the length to the nosey people, but it didn't work too well.

    Now I use the Saiga-12 with 19" barrel (threaded for external chokes) and nobody looked twice at the barrel. Go figure.

  • ||

    Guy,

    Cops are the worst at any shooting range I've used. Playing "Rambo" is right. I have a lot of respect for awesome firepower, but I have no need to showboat it around in front of everyone else. I would not say they were always dangerous about it, but definitely cocky.

    And how in the world did you shoot skeet with an 18.4" barrel? I am comfortable with 26 or 28, and I shoot skeet as practice for bird hunting. You must have great aim and a strong shoulder to shoot a 19" barrel with a choke tube of any sort and knock claybirds out of the sky.

  • Guy Montag||

    MadBiker,

    Since skeet is such a close game it is pretty easy, but I prefer the pump, although slower than the semi, because it never has stovepipes.

    Anyway, the awsome spread you get on 7.5 shot you pretty much have to be awful to shoot below 20.

    I use the Saiga for trap with the full choke, wobble and skeet with no choke or medium.

    Needless to say, those household firearms are not for shooting at ~4" clay flying faster than people move, the games are just practice in case of having to use them for their intended purpose.

    Need to order another barrel for the Benelli anyway, since it is worthless for trap and would like to get to use it on the range without hassles.

  • ||

    The 9mm and .40 craze shows how cavilier police are about public safety. Both are very hot rounds that penitrate really well. Gee, I am probably going to use the weapon in a public place with lots of bistanders, let me get a really high velocity round that is bound to go through the buy I am shooting and hit the old lady standing behind him, yeah that is a good idea.

  • ||

    tarran,

    wrong thread.

  • ||

    "Cops are the worst at any shooting range I've used."

    I'm inclined to disagree. I have seen cops at a Lincoln, Nebraska shooting range shoot like fuckin' Annie Oaklie. It was absolutely amazing!

  • ||

    Now I get it. Libertarians are just Democrats with a hard on for firepower.

  • ||

    I did not mean worst in terms of their prowess at hitting targets. I meant mostly in terms of their attitude.

  • George Demetriou (NYPD)||

    Mr. Diallo had committed no crime and was attempting to enter his own hallway when one of the undercover officers yelled, "Gun!" The four officers were acquitted in a trial held outside the city, based upon their defense that they reasonably believed their lives were in danger.

    It was Amadou Diallo who set the stage for tragedy.

  • ||

    In my city, the police (and City Hall, and the local DA's office) responded to the increase in drug- and violent-crime of the early 1990s by developing an innovative strategy of community policing. They demilitarized their policing, taking cops out of cars and encouraging them to develop interpersonal relationships in their beats.

    There is no way this could have happened in Lowell, Masschusetts. If the police had gotten that bad tip, there would have been some cop who would have said, "No way, the owner of that house is a 92-year-old lady, very nice. Never been any trouble there. Who's this C.I., again?"

    It was this strategy that Clinton supported with the COPS and Weed and Seed programs at Justice, which Bush killed in order to boost "Homeland Security" grants for armored vehicles and such.

  • ||

    Oh, and in the decade following the implementation of community policing, Lowell experienced the largest drop in crime of any city in America, while experiencing a dramatic improvement in relations between the police and the public, particularly in the minority communities.

  • ||

    Horses Joe,

    Take cops out of cars and put them on horses. I am serious. They would get to know the community and you would be amazed the sense of authority someone gets when they are on a horse. But, Lowell was exactly right to de-militarize the cops and put them in the neighborhoods rather than in SWAT teams.

  • ||

    Seeing as this thread has been hijacked by the Rod & Gun club, this post may be wasted.

    However, McNamara's point that the firepower has escalated without real consideration of the safety issues is important. It seems that there has been a wilful attempt to confuse power with effectiveness. Whatever 'criminals' you are pursuing, brainpower counts more than firepower.

    The drug war has certainly been a major factor in this, but I'm sure other 'reasons' would have been found to justify seeking more powerfully weaponry.

  • ||

    John,

    Lowell has had horse cops since the mid-1800s.

    They used to use them as strike-breakers, but we don't hold that against them. Today, they just look pretty for the tourists.

    And while I'm not exactly Annie Oakley, even I know that a .38 caliber rifle round is heavier and faster than a .38 caliber pistol round.

  • ||

    McNamara's op-ed in the WSJ says absolutely nothing. What is his point? He cites one statistic: that 50 cops are slain each year and that this is much less on a % basis than when he was a cop. Is he implying that we should target a level of cop slayings that he experienced on the force?!? He doesn't make any sense. Statistics that illuminate the number of innocents shot by police are relevant to this debate and he mentions none. Lame.

  • ||

    John

    I agree with your point on horses. I had a friend in the Mounted Patrol in my city & that is exactly what she argued. In crowd control, a mounted officer was worth 20 on the ground.

    One other factor that should be mentioned: A lot of people like horses, so the police get an extra 'approachability' factor as the horse is perceived as non-threatening.

  • ||

    Aresen, sorry, my question to Guy Montag was not meant to jack this thread. I pointed out the types of firepower carried by local and state PD in NJ to underline McNamara's point.

    The types of shotguns carried by our state troopers define deadly force - short barrels, high-powered heavy loads and repetitive firing without pause constitute one lethal weapon, one I would not want aimed at me under any circumstances.

  • ||

    Take cops out of cars and put them on horses.

    And don't forget: raise taxes to pay for the additional costs

  • ||

    MadBiker

    No problem. For some reason, whenever I get together with my libertarian friends, the subject turns to guns. :)

  • ||

    I thought this was a thread concerning the former Sec Def at first. ;)

  • ||

    """Take cops out of cars and put them on horses."""

    Are you aware the PD does not clean up behind their horses? The streets would REEK!!!

  • ||

    tt,

    I apologize for not making my point clearer. The militarization of police makes totalitarianism much more likely in the U.S.

    It's only possible to engage in brutal repression when you have police and soldiers who see the citizenry as aliens or 'them' and not as their countrymen.

  • ||

    Are you aware the PD does not clean up behind their horses? The streets would REEK!!!

    Yeah but it would be worth it, who doesn't love horses?

  • ||

    The Lowell PD does clean up behind its horses.

  • ||

    Yeah but it would be worth it, who doesn't love horses?

    I love horses, medium well, with a baked potato..

  • Guy Montag||

    John,

    I love horses and want a few more in my hybrid.

  • Radley Balko||

    Joe,

    Except that Clinton also started the "troops to cops" program, which gave federal grants to local PDs to hire ex-soldiers as police officers. While I don't doubt that some ex-soldiers are capable of becoming fine police officers, the program itself betrays a "hey, they both carry guns!" lack of understanding of the important differences between the two.

    And while I certainly support community policing efforts, federal grants have a tendency to get used for purposes beyond what's intended. Case in point, those community policing grants Clinton started are now routinely used to start and expand -- you guessed it -- SWAT teams.

    I guess my point is that his record on this issue is pretty mixed.

  • William Adama||

    There's a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.

  • ||

    Each of these police deaths and numerous other police injuries is a tragedy

    Each and every one? LOL!

    Maybe some are real tragedies and I'm sure all are tragedies for their loved ones but in general I would say many if not most police deaths are net positives for the public, especially the bastards who kick peoples doors down with guns drawn under false pretenses to nab nonviolent "offenders". I certainly wouldn't have shed any tears for the pigs in the recent case if that little old lady had had truer aim.

  • ||

    Obsession over the gear carried by cops is the wrong path to take.

    FWIW, the vast majority of cops don't practice except when required for firearms qualifications maybe a couple of times a year.

    These guys are the last ones who should be issued any firearm.

    On the other hand, I've met a few cops that shoot competitively who do some pretty amazing things. But they shoot on a rather continual basis, and are definately in the minority.

  • ||

    In other words, software, not hardware should be the focus of the discussion.

    How competent is a given cop with a firearm?
    How willing is he to use it?

    How have training and doctrine played into the above two questions?

  • ||

    Mr. Balko,

    I have a great deal of respect for your opinions on these issues, but I think you're barking up the wrong tree about the "troops to cops" programs. People in the military receive extensive training about the difference between the two. Many of the best Lowell cops are in the National Guard, and it doesn't seem to have interfered with their ability to recognize the difference between a citizen and an enemy soldier one bit.

    "Case in point, those community policing grants Clinton started are now routinely used to start and expand -- you guessed it -- SWAT teams."

    I rather doubt that, because the COPS program was zeroed out in 2001 or 2002, IIRC. There are other Dept. of Justice programs that were created or expanded under Bush, not Clinton, which have replaced them, but the intent was to do just that - to replace the community policing strategy with a policy of militarization.

  • ||

    mediageek,

    "Obsession over the gear carried by cops is the wrong path to take."

    Fair enough. The LPD carry shotguns and AR-15s (semis) in their cars.

    But as I said, the move towards more military equipment has eclipsed, even replaced, the principles of community policing.

  • ||

    "But as I said, the move towards more military equipment has eclipsed, even replaced, the principles of community policing."

    Not sure what you mean by community policing, but I agree with your point.

    There is a heavy push among PD's to adopt gear under the dual guises of "officer safety" and "preventing the next *insert name of high-profile, low probability crime event here*."

    On top of it all, the federal government has a number of programs where they sell surplus military gear to PD's.

  • Radley Balko||

    Joe --

    My bad. There are like community policing grants continued under Bush. But you're right, the specific COPS program has been phased out.

    But there are several instances of COPS grants in the 1990s being used to start tactical teams. The Madison Times reported in 2000 that this was going on in Wisconsin, and the alternative paper in Portland reported a similar story there in the late 90s. Peter Kraska's research also found a pretty high percentage (the exact number escapes me) of police chiefs who in a survey said they had no problem using COPS grants to build out a paramilitary police unit.

  • ||


    Gee, I am probably going to use the weapon in a public place with lots of bistanders, let me get a really high velocity round that is bound to go through the buy I am shooting and hit the old lady standing behind him, yeah that is a good idea.


    (sarcasm) It's a great idea if the guy you shot at will be charged with her murder while you get off scott free (/sarcasm)

  • ||

    "Many of the best Lowell cops are in the National Guard, and it doesn't seem to have interfered with their ability to recognize the difference between a citizen and an enemy soldier one bit."

    Joe, the problem is that many police are unable to recognize the difference.

    A glaring example of this was the warlike mentality of imported police officers in New Orleans (I cite this because I think everyone is pretty familiar with the situation there): the house to house searches, the theft of privately owned weapons, the assaults on the citizenry.

    About once every two years, I find myself interacting with law-enforcement for mundane reasons (flat tires, a few car accidents where I was not at fault and the like). I have noticed a growing hostility starting around 1995. With the exception of the older grey-haired officers, I have noticed that they tend to try to "control the situation" by aggressively dominating the space they are in, and react very badly to perceived resistance to their authority. Since they are usually arriving on scenes where most people are out of their "comfort zones", there is invariably one person who triggers an escalation by their lack of enthusiastic compliance.

    Sir Robert Peel's rules have fallen by the wayside.



    SIR ROBERT PEEL'S NINE PRINCIPLES

    The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.

    The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.

    Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.

    The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.

    Police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.

    Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient.

    Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

    Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.

    The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.

  • Steve in Clearwater||

    The McNamara essay in the Wall Street Journal can also be seen at our website where the link will be available for time immemorial.


    US: OPED: 50 Shots

    URL: http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v06/n1626/a01.html

  • ||

    Steve in Clearwater

    "for time immemorial"

    You mean "until the end of time". "Time immemorial" originated in the Common-Law courts and referred to a practice or situation which had existed longer than anyone could remember (hence 'immemorial').

    Apologies for the rant, but malapropisms are one of my hot buttons.

  • ||

    tarran,

    "Joe, the problem is that many police are unable to recognize the difference."

    I agree, 100%. My point is that the inability to recognize the difference is the result of bad policy and training on the domestic side, not the presence of Guardsmen and former military.

    And good on you for bringing up Peel! We would be a safer, more civilized country is we had more "Bobby's Boys," and fewer "Law Enforcement Officers."

    Radley, thanks for the response. Good info.

  • ||

    tarran | November 29, 2006, 6:28pm | #

    Thankyou for the Bobby Peel citation. It is really important for people to understand the distinction between civilian policing and military action.

  • ||

    I agree with mediageek above that the focus on militarization in the hardware sense is wrongheaded. I am much more concerned that there exists a no-knock warrant than I am that the guys issuing such a warrant might have rifles. Inside a house, you put yourself in more dangerous spots trying to turn a corner or manipulate a suspect while holding a rifle than you do while holding a sidearm anyway.

    It is the strategies and institutions surrounding the deployment of police that are of concern. I find myself again wondering how much of a problem there would be if it weren't for meth lab raids and other idiotic drug war jackbootery.

    I agree with joe about community policing as differentiated from 'broken windows'. I like horse cops, too.

  • ||

    Sorry, Joe, I mistook your point, despite the fact that you stated it several times in fairly clear language.

    I guess you can lead a horse to water...

  • ||

    ...but somebody's got to clean up the sidewalk afterwards.

  • ||

    I believe the police and their masters no longer view us as citizens. All non-police fall into the "indiginous personnel" catgory. This conveniently allows "free-fire" zones, cover-ups, the use of flimsy warrants, etc.

    If you review the statistics available for your area, you will probably find that for all the money spent on police, they really don't produce much

  • ||

    Liberty, democracy, all those things we supposedly value, cannot long survive in a war zone. McNamara is pointing out that the "war on" approach -- war on terror, war on drugs, whatever -- is truly a war on the American way of life, because it turns our neighborhoods into war zones, in which our traditional way of life cannot be sustained.

    Bottom line: if the things upon which you "crack down" really aren't the sources of your problems, matters only tend to get worse. The spiral of our country into militarized fascism is the telltale indicator that our leaders are profoundly misguided -- or misguiding US.

  • ||

    There is an emailer over at instapundit that made the right point; arming police with high capacity magazines just encourages the "spray and pray" mentality. It is the same reason the military went to a three round burst on the M16 A2 versus the fully automatic setting on the first M 16. If you make it easy for people to cack off rounds, they will just cack them off and not pay attention to where they go. When you using your weapon in a public area against the people who are supposed to be protecting, that is a real problem.

  • ||

    As to mounted patrols, I understand that more and more departments are adopting strategically placed bags so that while the problem of, shall we say waste, might not be completely eliminated it is controlled.

    Many, many years ago I built an access road to the stables for one of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Mounted units. They were the best bunch of cops you could ever have wanted to meet. Anyway, apparently even though horses are quiet tough there is a certain part of the hoof that is quite tender (actually I already knew that, having grown up with horses).

    Anyway the guys at the post let it be known that certain kinds of debris could hurt a horse quite badly. From then on everyone on the site made sure every piece of trash was picked up every day before the patrol returned. It seems that even a gang of italian asphalt workers can have a soft spot for horses.

  • thoreau||

    I agree that the user matters more than the hardware, but as others have said, isn't it kind of a bad idea to let cops carry ammo that's likely to leave an exit wound?

  • ||

    The problem from a terminal ballistics point of view is that you need a certain amount of penetration in order for the round to be effective. Imagine shooting at a big, muscular and fat guy. A shot that hits him should have enough energy to do serious damage even if it passes through his arm first, or if he's wearing very heavy clothing; anything that won't may not take him down fast enough. But anything that does have that kind of power is likely to overpenetrate if you don't hit him squarely center-of-mass. I think the problem is really one of methodology and training, not equipment. You have to assume that any round might overpenetrate, or might just miss.

    Although I will say - I don't think there's necessarily a problem with cops routinely having access to rifles and shotguns. Remember the North Hollywood shootout? The cops had to run and borrow rifles from a gun store because the bank robbers had body armor. I know I wasn't the only one thinking "WTF? Didn't it used to be common for there to be a rifle or scattergun in the trunk of the cruiser?"

  • ||

    Before I forget: I think one reason a lot of cops come across as jerks is because they're taught to "maintain control of the situation". That's a fine goal, but too many of them seem to confuse that with "being an abusive jackass". Interestingly enough, a cousin of mine just flunked one of the police-trainee exams, a mock confrontation...apparently he was being too nice.

  • ||

    I don't think there's necessarily a problem with cops routinely having access to rifles and shotguns. Remember the North Hollywood shootout?

    The police in that case had shotguns, but only had buckshot shells. Buckshot cannot normally penetrate ballistic armor except at point-blank range. On the other hand, shotgun slugs can usually penetrate soft ballistic armor at short to medium ranges, but LA police weren't allowed to carry slugs at the time (I believe this rule has since been rescinded).

  • Robert Goodman||

    There are slugs that fit shotguns? Are those for shooting pachyderms, or are they anti-aircraft weapons?

  • Guy Montag||

    Robert,

    Yes, there is a slug for every bore I believe. They are frequently used for wild boar, deer, etc. IIRC, some places in VA (and other areas) require slugs rather than shot for deer, but I am a little fuzzy on why (I don't deer hunt).

    The Benelli Nova Pump I mentioned earlier is built for rifled slugs. You can also get "slug barrels" that are rifled for another type of slug.

    I fired 5 super-magnum 12 ga. slugs (3.5") from mine right after I bought it. Never shooting that stuff again, really packs a punch to the sholder. Will be using standard or magnum at the most.

    Advice for boar hunting was "load as many slugs as will fit in your gun, skip the buckshot, wear something that you can run fast in." Looking forward to my first trip.

  • ||

    Cops should have access to effective ammo, period. There is a role for the rifle, especially in rural counties.

    I would draw the line at automatic fire. Cops don't need the ability to spray and pray at the flip of a switch.

  • ||

    I think that police officers should have the same equipment available to them that is available to your average citizen, and nothing more.

    That goes for federal, state, and city.

    They probably should use hollowpoints. If they are to use deadly force, a hollowpoint would be the most effective.

  • Guy Montag||

    kwais,

    Certain Constitutional Scholars and I believe that the citizens should be able to keep and bear any weapon issued to a common Infantry soldier.

    not really against the cops having similar, but it seems a bit much to me.

  • ||

    A bit late for this thread, but check out this 1987 ad featuring Joseph McNamara at http://www.publicmediacenter.org/assets/assets.php?c=8&p=12


    "Cop-killer bullets, mail-order handguns, machine guns...
    has the N.R.A. gone off the deep end?"
    -Joseph McNamara
    Police Chief
    San Jose, California

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