More on Militarization

downloadOne of my sons recently sent me a quote from the television series, “Battlestar Galactica” that reminded me that truth comes from  varied places — even fiction! The quote is from Commander 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.” Battlestar Galatica, 2004.

Why is that? And why does the increasing militarization of our nation’s police since 9/11 tend to threaten our democracy?

This is how I see it:

If we standby and permit our nation’s police to look and act like soldiers, they will soon think you and I are the enemy and not people with whom they should work for, serve, and collaborate.

I am not against police tactical groups, but rather the  daily para-military look and actions of police.

Symbols matter. Police are not soldiers.

For more, take a peek at my book.

15 Comments

  1. A moderately fair point here. I would suggest, however, that the bigger discussion is whether cops are becoming soldiers. That is, is law enforcement becoming the military (or militaristic)?

    I would suggest that it is far more likely that the military is becoming more law enforcement in mission than the other way around.

    I would also ask what is LE to do given the armament and tactics used by many of the criminals?

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    1. Thanks for commenting. Are cops becoming more military-like since 9/11? I think so. And in my lengthy experience I see a growing trend toward this. The danger is that tactics and hardware will replace the necessary and important work police need to do with the community (community policing). Not to emphasize this as policing’s primary mission puts more distance between police and those whom they are sworn to “serve.” I think we have seen the military in Iraq and Afghanistan trying to use “community policing” techniques in responding to what they call “asymetrical warfare.” It’s a bit of the old Vietnam era strategy of working to win the “hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese. In this context, winning hearts and minds is not so bad. The problem remains with police over-reliance on firepower, technology, and tactics rather than working with the community they serve. This can lead to big trouble. Also, I am not proposing that police have no tactical response to bad guys with big guns, but rather they realize its danger and keep the important balance between the two.

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      1. And yet winning the hearts and minds in Vietnam, and in the Sandbox didn’t work real well. Doesn’t work real well in policing either. The job of the cops is to return people to the railroad tracks of life. If they can’t or won’t go, then to hook and book.

        This can be done with or without the support of the community. Indeed, in the communities most in need of the police the lack of support is pretty high. Why? Because cops arrest people. They arrest their sons, their daughters, their husbands and their wives. The community does not like this, thus they withhold their support.

        How might this change? Quit arresting bad guys. Does anyone really want this?

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  2. Even if you put the police back into uniforms that looks like civilians clothing , we have still have a problem with the police (including the FBI) with regards to their dismantlting or reforming the intelligence apparatus system which was set up to spy and destroy unions, labor activists, civil rights, progressive, left wing, socialist, communists, and minorities groups since the 1920s which continues to this day on behalf of politicans, corporations, and rich people.

    Police intelligence should be to protect ordinary good people and organizations and not be used to protect evil people and organizations.

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  3. Chief Couper,

    Thanks for covering the very important topic of police militarization.

    I just found your blog, though I am familiar with your background and your former department. Indeed I was involved in the hiring process for MPD a couple of times.I still think the department is ahead of most, but I have come to believe that policing is simply broken everywhere in the US.

    Recently, I entered my mid thirties and have given up on a career in policing, a field I considered on and off for a decade. I gained experience in healthcare security after completing my B.A. in criminal justice. More recently, I completed EMT training and I will probably be making a transition to EMS now. I remain a first responder at heart. Medicine changes constantly and I hope that EMS–unlike policing–will realize that when tradition is counterproductive (or dangerous), then change must trump tradition.

    “You have what we are looking for on paper,” a kind training officer from MPD told me after a disappointing finish at the physical agility test years back (DQ’d on the damn run!). And so I did. I don’t say this out of arrogance, as I tested with a lot of well qualified candidates.

    But in the end, I could not suspend my ability to think critically about the role of the police and laws that police are asked to enforce which are impeding progress (drug laws are an obvious example, I believe). And that would have made me a a liability in today’s policing environment.

    How many other candidates like me–who really had the desire to serve and protect–are opting out because of the belligerence, militarism and know-nothingism of the law enforcement culture today. It was a sad choice to have to make, but I found it necessary. Maybe others can find a way to police without compromising their principles (and I salute them), but I just had to walk away. All things must pass.

    Sorry about the long post, Chief. I’m still getting this stuff off of my chest, so I get a bit long winded. I’m book-marking your blog and I look forward to reading more. I’d be very interested in sharing ideas with you about improving policing. Even though I don’t think the field is for me anymore, I would still like take steps to make things better for private citizens and cops alike.

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    1. A great post. Thanks! And thus the point of my book — the four obstacles impeding police improvement no doubt tended to trip you up (anti-intellectualism, violence, corruption and discourtesy). Each one must be removed if we in America are going to get the police our democracy deserves. I would say that you are the kind of officer we were seeking — it is so important that we have thinking and questioning officers. Without that, police are simply robots — automatons! Good luck to you and thanks again for commenting.

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  4. Dear Dave:

    It is a sad that guys like you have to forsake a career because our culture doesn’t value intellectualism. You would have made an oustanding police chief. Good luck to you.

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    1. Thanks to both Chief Couper and Gunther for the encouragement! I appreciate it very much.

      The way I see it, I could still be a good police officer. I believe I have the right attitude, good intentions and a solid skill set. But at what cost?

      As my views on policing became more radical (by our society’s standard, not mine), I still thought I could encourage change from the inside and do things my own way on the street. I have no problem going against the tide when necessary, but I have no intention of being a martyr either. If I’m shunned by fellow officers or intimidated by management why bother?

      It got to the point a couple years back where I was still considering Madison, as well as my hometown (my eligibility expired last year) and maybe a couple university departments. I reasoned that I just wouldn’t join a drug squad or SWAT, I wouldn’t do “consent searches” (read: intimidation searches) and I’d always remember I’m a public servant and not “the boss.” Then I became more and more convinced that such deviations would make me a target for harassment or a quick termination. So that’s where I’m at today.

      As I conceded previously, maybe I’m wrong. Current MPD staff or maybe even Chief Couper might say that a department like MPD could accommodate an anti-prohibition civil libertarian like myself. But I’m not so sure.

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      1. Back in my day we could (remember, I was one) — I hope it is still the case today. A professional police department zealously guards a person’s civil rights and protects those who are deemed “weak” in our society.

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  5. Dave,
    EMS will be the better for your entry into the profession. At some level I agree with you (i.e., I’m not completely sure that PT ought to be the single defining exit point). That said, if you can’t do the job (and you admit you perhaps couldn’t) then perhaps the job isn’t for you.

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  6. If only more departments placed these attributes higher on their list of priorities, I’d probably be speaking w/ you as Officer Dave right now.

    Based on my research, I can say–without a hint of the cynicism that led me to back away from policing–that MPD is far more serious about these roles. It’s one of the reasons I still keep up with MPD-related news twelve years after I sent them my first app.

    For now, I’ll keep my mind open. Of late, I’ve become an amateur Buddhist practitioner. It has helped me quite a bit (I’ve even read about Capt. Cheri Maples’ experience and I found it really inspiring). The reality of impermanence is something I’m coming to grips with. So is the counterproductive nature of harboring ill will.
    And if I move past the ill will I’ve been feeling for the field of law enforcement, maybe I’ll be able to see things more clearly.

    So perhaps I’ll just leave the LEO question unanswered for now. Since MPD doesn’t have an age limit like IL agencies (36 by state statute), I could always start fresh and apply again IF it seemed like the right thing to do.

    Thanks for going against the stream, Chief.

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  7. “This can be done with or without the support of the community. Indeed, in the communities most in need of the police the lack of support is pretty high. Why? Because cops arrest people. They arrest their sons, their daughters, their husbands and their wives. The community does not like this, thus they withhold their support.
    How might this change? Quit arresting bad guys. Does anyone really want this?”

    Overall, when you look at the history of fighting white collar, corporate crime in this country, few rich people ever get arrested and sent to prison for a long, long, long time. Look at the West Virginia coal mine explosion a few years ago. The president violate all kinds of safety, environmental, and work laws for years and just paid a fine and finally retire from his company because he could no longer count on his corrupt friends in the Bush, Jr., Administration to protect him anymore. Look at Halliburton and its role in the Gulf Oil explosion. No high ranking official will ever get prison time for the deaths of the oil workers, destroying the environment, and destroying thousands of peoples’ businesses.

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