The terrorist attack on a homosexual nightclub in Orlando has some people gloating that this validates militarizing our police forces. This is a poor argument and is it unfortunate to see people be willing to give local government this kind of power, and it is scary that people who really ought to know better do not foresee the danger this represents to our liberty.
When I ran for city council last year, I raised concerns about the Bloomington Police Department requesting a Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected (MRAP) military vehicle straight from the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan for local policing. This was not because we are facing an armed insurrection, but because police want to bring overwhelming force to their enforcement of drug laws. Paramilitary SWAT teams are even being used for regulatory inspections!
Let’s get this straw man out of the way, right away. People are not objecting to police having protective equipment like helmets and bulletproof vests. Protective equipment is a long way from military grade weapons that are more appropriate for a foreign battlefield than for domestic policing.
Most people do not even object to the existence of SWAT teams. The problem with SWAT is it is vastly overused, including for regulatory inspections. There have been too many tragedies because cowboy law enforcement decided to conduct a middle-of-the-night paramilitary raid instead of simply serving an arrest warrant. In the case of a baby who was severely burned because a flash bang grenade exploded in his face, the perp the cops were looking for not only did not live in the home, he was arrested later without incident at a different location.
We all know what happened in Waco, when the federal government used military force, including tanks, on American soil against American citizens. That is truly frightening and should have been a wake-up call about use of force, whether by the federal government or by local law enforcement. Unfortunately, we were in the middle of a national hysteria about crime that led to some terrible policies in the 1990’s.
Our nation has always been wary of militarizing the police, and rightly so. Congress passed posse comitatus for a reason. We shouldn’t be making an end run around that by turning law enforcement into soldiers. Cops are not soldiers and should not be soldiers. The job of a police officer who is arresting citizens and is charged with protecting even suspected criminals’ civil rights is very different from the job of a soldier, who is to kill people and break things in a war.
Finally, we should dispense with another straw man. Opposing the militarization of police is not bashing cops. That is a smear designed to distract from the debate. One can disagree with bad policy and urge reforms in the way police pursue criminals without bashing police. This “war on cops” meme is intentionally designed to stifle dissent, because defenders of a bad policy knew they were losing the argument on the merits of that policy. We should reject these ad hominem attacks.