Tag Archives: police militarization

The Myth of Police Militarization

Recent events in the media have highlighted the concept of police militarization in our country.  The concept is promulgated by an appetite for viewers and readers. Unfortunately, the media’s appetite for followers doesn’t mean that they are reporting accurately or truthfully. What’s worse is the sheer number of viewers who lack critical thinking skills and have simply fallen for the bullshit. Not only have they fallen for it, they continue to propagate it on social media sites believing that they appear “well informed” to the rest of the world.  I’m not talking about the average, tin-foil hat wearing bunker dweller who is still waiting for the government to microchip us, put us all in FEMA camps, and take away our guns. I’m referring to normally level headed, fact checking, and intelligent people. Overnight the media created thousands of instant law enforcement specialists and even though none of them have a shred of actual experience or knowledge about the topic they’re raging about, they still feel like their opinion is fact.

It’s kind of like seeing a whole bunch of people on Facebook saying, “I’m not a cop, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night”

Yea, instant experts based on CNN Ivy League curriculum.

The news said it and since many people believe THEIR news source is better than the other guys’ news source, it must be true. Fact is, it’s all bullshit and I think I can safely say that the mainstream media has successfully lowered the IQ of the entire nation at least several points.

The following video clip is an example of the total bullshit I’m referring too.

So the phrase of the week for American mainstream “media” is “Police Militarization”. It’s on everyone’s lips and in written articles, Tweets, and Facebook posts everywhere.

What does the term “militarization” even mean?  The word doesn’t exist in the dictionary, the closet definition is the word “militarize”.

According to Merriam-Webster to “militarize” is to give a military quality or character to something.

Now, you would think that people watching these sensationalized “news” reports would stop for just a second and look at the bigger picture.  Militarization is all around us.

wmmilitarize2I recently went into my local Wal-Mart and while passing by the sporting goods department found that a person doesn’t need to actually be in the military or on the police force to be “militarized”. Hell, everything they need is right there in the sporting goods section of the local Wally World.  For the average felon looking to militarize himself, he doesn’t have to even visit the local gun shop and raise suspicions. Wal-Mart has it all.  Such as black tactical vests, t-shirts with built in holsters under each arm, black tactical outfits including tops and bottoms, black knee and elbow pads, tactical belts and vests. Not to mention every conversion for an AR15 (Civilian version of the M16 rifle) which includes expandable stocks, laser sights, rifle scopes, and tactical single point slings which is primarily used by the military.wmmilitarize1

My Wal-Mart is in a rural area so the manager has chosen to carry a huge line of SOG tactical gear.  SOG was named in honor of “a covert US special Ops unit that fought in Vietnam”.  The company now produces, for a civilian market, knives, tactical tools, and tactical wear allowing anyone interested in militarizing the ability to do so with ease.

Wal –Mart also carries an extensive line of Black Hawk tactical products in much the same manner as SOG. Black Hawk offers mostly accessories for tactical weapons and wear.

For those of you with limited knowledge about hunting, black is NOT a color you hunt in. That’s why camouflage has become so popular.

Can’t make it to a local Wal-Mart? No problem. You can purchase all of the above and then some by visiting their website.  Instant militarization.

demilitarizeThere isn’t enough space on this blog for me to address the countless video games that involve tactical and militarized play that influence the military mindset among millions of people.  Pop in a copy of Grand Theft Auto and you can even pretend to shoot police officers. Nice, eh?  Of course, the endless number of action-adventure movies and TV shows that portray civilians using tactical and militarized methods wouldn’t by any chance influence our perception of a country that is steeped in “militarization”.

gun2The other thing that might affect how police do their job is the fringe group of action movie bad-ass wannabees, who were unable to make the cut for the military or police force, but feel that strutting around with their tactical vests and clothes, and AR’s slung over their shoulders while patrolling the local supermarket and terrorizing the locals is somehow a good thing. Never mind the fact that most people can no longer tell the “good guys” from the bad guys.

According to the FBI, in 2012 alone, there were over 52,900 officers assaulted while performing their duties of which over 27% suffered injuries. Where are the news reports about that? There have been very few if any.

Instead, the media chooses to exploit one incident to focus on a non-existent issue which is “Police Militarization”. They Purposely leave out the details of why our police may appear to resemble the military.

Police agencies do resemble the military in that they wear a uniform, have a rank structure, and utilize weapons. In the media’s quest to sensationalize the issue, they have basically taken two plus two and arrived at six.  They have made the everyday act of policing by American law enforcement look like it involves military equipment, military tactics, and a military attitude. They have made the police look like an occupying force rather than a civilian agency created to protect and serve.

Civilian police wear a uniform that requires a badge, a name plate, and a sidearm. The badge worn on the police uniform requires an oath of office, and the officers that wear it are regulated by local, state, and federal laws.  The military wear a uniform and normally requires the carrying of a long gun or machine gun with the soldier taking an oath to the nation to defend it.  The military are required to follow a code of conduct and Articles of the Geneva Convention. The military is trained for combat and trained in combat tactics to kill the enemy.  Civilian police are trained to interact with the American public, to enforce laws, and to utilize force only when necessary. Civilian police are held to a much higher standard in that every action they take is guided by state or federal laws. In fact, their actions are accountable in both criminal and civil court as they can be personally sued as well as criminally prosecuted.

In their quest to purposely misinform and sensationalize the issue, the main stream media have capitalized on the military surplus program. The American military budget is the largest in the world and as a result of two wars over the past 11 years has a huge surplus.  American police traditionally have had limited budgets especially over the past six years during the recession. There is no police administrator, who in their right mind, would not take advantage of the free or loaned equipment made available.

Obviously some of that equipment has specialized uses. Armored vehicles cannot be used for patrol, but are certainly needed in barricaded or high risk situations where officer and/or civilian safety is an issue. The media has capitalized on everything negative about this equipment and its possible uses. For instance, media reports focused on civilian police use of M16 assault rifles obtained by some departments. These rifles can only be used in specific, high-risk situations such as an active shooter incident or when faced with suspects who are carrying similar weapons.  Officers do not answer routine calls for service with these weapons slung over their shoulders like a soldier. Police have always had shotguns in their patrol cars and these rifles are regarded the same as the shot gun, a special purpose weapon.

With the exception of the extremely rare cases of civil unrest which includes violent looters armed with firearms and other lethal weapons, warrants being served by S.W.A.T. teams on suspects known to be extremely dangerous, and more recently, heavily armed militia who threatened to open fire on federal agents, I’ve yet to see police officers “militarized” in their daily duties.

I’ve witnessed dozens of interactions between police and civilians and never, in any case, have I seen police officers issuing traffic tickets, arresting shop lifters, or responding to various calls equipped like soldiers or executing their duties in tanks, armored Humvees, or anything like it. They arrive in typical patrol cars dressed in the required department uniform, armed with department issue sidearm and other typical police equipment.  The only time I’ve ever seen specialized equipment being used by the police has been in extreme situations that called for it.

Each year in America there are millions of calls to 911 for police assistance. The majority of which do not require use of force of any kind or specialized equipment.  In 2012, Knoxville, Tennessee (population 180,000) answered approximately 330,000 calls for police assistance. Unless the call involved a hostage or barricade situation or a situation where someone was shooting at or had the potential of shooting at officers and civilians, police arrive and address the situation as part of the normal duties expected for their job.

With a social-political influence and steady stream of media reports daily bombarding people with sensationalized, barely half-true information, it’s no wonder the majority of people are totally clueless about the reasons why some police departments obtain surplus military equipment to perform some of their duties.

I’ll close this article with an excellent explanation for why police departments utilize military equipment which was given by Knoxville, Tennessee Police Chief David Rausch.

 

“Militarization” of the Police?

By Chief David Rausch

 

rauschchiefWell before the events in Ferguson, Missouri there have been comments from a number of individuals based on an article referencing the “militarization” of the police. 

What I have read and heard described is the use of specialized “military” equipment by police.  The acquisition of this military equipment and its use on American citizens in our Cities, Counties, and States seems to be what is being questioned.  Recently, images of the deployment of equipment in Ferguson, Missouri and the description of tactics have been described as a “military” deployment and “military” tactics. 

Let me begin by saying that I am not commenting on the situation in Ferguson.  I am not on the ground there, whether as a community member or law enforcement.  Rest assured that the law enforcement community will study this unfortunate situation and it will be used in case studies and training for years to come.

Let me also state that we value our relationship with our community and we work hard to foster that relationship.  At KPD we have a community liaison officer program where an officer is assigned to all community watch organizations on their beat.  These officers meet with these groups regularly and work with the groups to address crime, traffic and disorder issues in the neighborhoods. 

We have an excellent relationship with the civilian review board (PARC – Police Advisory and Review Commission) that is in place to assure that our citizens have options for reporting when they have concerns about the actions of our officers.  We work with PARC in community outreach.  We are very proactive at developing and fostering relationships in our community with official and unofficial leaders. 

All of our Command Staff and many of our officers are actively involved in service organizations in our community by serving on boards of directors and volunteering their time, treasure and talent.  We have an excellent working relationship with the clergy of all faiths in our community.  We conduct Citizen Police Academies to open our doors to the community to see who we are and what we do in Knoxville. 

I want to try to help our residents understand from a law enforcement perspective why certain “military” equipment is obtained by local law enforcement and its value to the safety of our community.

I have been a police officer for over 21 years in Knoxville, Tennessee.  I spent 10 years on the KPD Special Operation Squad (SWAT).  Prior to this, I served 4 years in the U.S. Army in the Military Police Corps working as an MP for 2 years and in Military Corrections for 2 years.  I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and a Master’s Degree in Justice Administration.  I provide this to hopefully show that I have a base of knowledge on the subject.

Military surplus programs have provided law enforcement surplus equipment for a number of years.  When I first joined the KPD SWAT team we had an armored vehicle from the US Air Force that we had obtained with assistance from the FBI and we shared it with them.  This was the only armored vehicle in the region at that time.  It was a vital piece of equipment that had been used prior to my arrival in the department at an active shooter situation in a nearby County.   The team had to use the vehicle in a rescue and rounds were shot at the officers and hit the vehicle, but not the officers. 

I have also been in this vehicle when our team responded to the incident in Loudon County where Deputy Jason Scott was shot and killed.  I was in the vehicle when we attempted to make contact with the shooter and he fired rounds at us.  Fortunately the rounds did not strike the vehicle as we were not completely confident of the level of ballistic support compared to the suspect’s firepower.  I was grateful for this surplus item from the military and I know my family appreciated that I was protected by it.

We have Kevlar vests that officers wear that are bullet resistant.  This technology was created for our military and we now use it for police officers and others in emergency services.  Officer Derrick White from KPD is with us today because of this technology as he was shot in the middle of his chest by a suspect recently.  That round would have taken his life.  His family is grateful for this “military” technology that we are using.

More recently, KPD has obtained other needed equipment from the military.  We have rifles that we have deployed to specially trained officers on patrol to use in response to situations that may call for that level of need.  Incidents like mass shootings, as we have experienced in Knoxville at a church, a school, and a mall are all certainly situations where these were needed.  Before our obtaining these rifles we were limited in our ability to respond with an equal or greater level of force to what we were facing. 

We have a HUMMV that is “up armored” for use in tactical rescue situations and serving “high risk” warrants where firearms are known or expected and the individual is known to carry and use them.  This has replaced the armored vehicle that I mentioned previously.  We obtained several “off road” motorcycles for our Search and Rescue Team to use in the challenging terrain we have in East Tennessee in cases involving a missing or abducted person.  We have GP Medium tents that can be used for shelter in emergencies.  We have storage containers that we obtained to secure items at our range facility.  These are all items that we obtained without having to use local resources or funds.

We also have equipment that some are calling “military” that we have obtained through the Homeland Security program with grants.  We have robots that are primarily used for recovering explosive devices, but have also been used in tactical situations to gather intelligence and information for decision making.  We have a large fully armored vehicle that can be used in a Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical environment that keeps those inside of it safe with fresh air to breathe.  These items were purchased with specific known threats in mind for our region.

You may ask why I have divulged all the equipment that we have.  Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of our having it?  None of this equipment is a secret and we have displayed this equipment at community fairs and events to educate our community on our capability to respond to the threats and to keep us all safe.  These are items provided by our community for our community.

One note on the surplus program.  All of the equipment obtained are items that every taxpayer has already purchased.  If the military were not to provide them to our local communities to meet our needs, they would either be destroyed or provided to military units in other countries that may end up being taken over by a rogue faction (like ISIS) to use to protect that force or against our forces and our allies.  Additionally and importantly, most of this equipment is not used daily in law enforcement operations.  It is on hand for when it is needed for those special situations. 

I have heard questions about the wearing of camouflage, ballistic helmets and tactical vests by officers in an urban environment.  The comments being that this is another sign of “militarization”.  The comment has been that these uniforms are not needed in an urban setting.  Again, these are not uniforms worn by the rank and file, but by specialty units.  Units like SWAT, Bomb Squads, Riot Squads, and Search and Rescue wear tactical equipment and uniforms that are practical for the mission they are specially trained to address. 

In Knoxville, our SWAT team wears OD Green uniforms, Bomb Squad and Riot Squad wear Black uniforms, and our Search and Rescue team wear Beige uniforms.  Each of these uniforms has specific designs for the missions that they perform.  We call them practical and tactical as they are made to withstand the rigors of the missions.  Helmets, tactical vests, and other protective gear are worn to reduce the possibility of injury to the officer.

I wish we were in a society where none of this equipment was necessary, but unfortunately that is not the case.  I believe that our community wants our police officers to be safe, to be able to serve every available day that they can during their career, to keep the peace and provide safety and security.  I know that the families of our officers expect me as the Chief to provide every piece of equipment that I can obtain to keep their loved one safe. 

To do this successfully, we have to have the equipment that I have described.  While it is from the military, it is not being used against our residents in an aggressive or oppressive manner and most of it is only used in the most serious and volatile situations to protect our community and our officers.

The use of “tear gas” and other “less lethal” options is a police tactic, not a military tactic, to control crowds during civil unrest and disorder.  When I was in the military they did not teach me to use “tear gas” or other “less lethal” methods preparing for war.  They taught me to throw grenades and shoot the enemy.  In basic training we were not taught to discern between “good guys” and “bad guys” as anyone that would be in front of us would be the enemy and we understood that they wanted to kill us.  We were taught to kill the enemy. 

That is not the way I was taught in the Police Academy.  I was taught that we must never use deadly force on anyone that is not an imminent threat to our lives or the lives of others.  We were taught that you must control every round that you fire and understand that every round that you fire is intended to stop the threat and you are accountable for every round. 

We were taught that we work with and for our community to keep it safe from those who choose to violate the laws and who are seeking to create victims. We were taught to foster partnerships and collaborate with residents to enhance our ability to maintain the peace and create a safe community.  In other words, we are one with our community and together we will prevent, solve, and control crime.

When it comes to the deployment of equipment by the police, the rule that we always apply is that you only deploy what you are authorized and willing to use for the safety of all involved.  Please keep in mind the reasons for a tactical response.  Protests where rocks and bottles are thrown, bombs are thrown, and bullets are fired at law enforcement and first responders require a special response.  These actions are not peaceful, they are criminal and they are violent. 

They require a different response than an officer in their everyday uniform as they are not everyday actions.  They require officers with specialized training to address these threats and specialized equipment to protect the residents, the officers, and the community. 

The response is not a “military” action, but a tactical one.  The officers use the lowest level of force to enforce the laws and attempt to regain control and peace for the community.  They do this with much restraint and use of less lethal options which includes “tear gas”.  Remember that these actions are a law enforcement RESPONSE to the actions of those who are causing problems.

Another fact that is important in this debate is that the military in the last two wars has sought out training in law enforcement tactics as they have been put into situations similar to what law enforcement faces by having to police both Afghanistan and Iraq. 

My intent in this narrative is to hopefully explain the “why” police departments have “military” equipment and to express how we are not using “military” tactics.  We only have equipment that allows us to address the changing threats that we face in our communities to keep our residents and our officers safe.  This equipment is saving additional taxpayer dollars and improving the safety of our communities.  This equipment is not changing the mindset or the tactics of daily policing.  It is providing law enforcement needed protection for those special situations that call for special equipment. 

Law enforcement professionals understand that we must work with our communities to be effective and successful.  We are not an occupying force and our neighbors are not our enemies.  I am concerned that “militarization” commentary will hamper the ability of law enforcement to obtain needed equipment from the surplus program. 

I hope that our members of Congress and our President will not let the “buzz word” play into their decisions on this program and that they will ask those of us in law enforcement what we have and how we use it.  If they will do this, they will also learn the value of the program for the safety of all of us.

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All information in this article is copyrighted.  No part of this article may be reprinted or published without permission from the author. All permissions to use must be obtained in writing by emailing southernblueberry@gmail.com    ** Permission to use the letter by Chief Rausch can be obtained by contacting the Knoxville Police Department at 1-865-215-7000.