Travis Gettys posted the following piece last week on the website, “Signs of the Times.” It is a topic that I have been concerned about for some time — the growing militarization of our nation’s police.
Gettys interviews Thomas Nolan, professor of criminology at Merrimack College, who formerly worked with the Department of Homeland Security and was a police officer in Boston.
Nolan becomes yet another voice who has come to the conclusion that the focus of police work has shifted greatly toward an increasing and troubling militarization since that fateful day on September 11, 2001. (See more HERE and HERE and Radley Balko’s book on the subject.
I wrote this about police militarization in my recent book, Arrested Development (2012):
Five years ago, when I started writing this book, there wasn’t much progress going on in policing. It seemed that police were once again in a rut left by that fateful day on September 11, 2001. That day changed just about everything in policing. It changed our nation’s police for the worst as they lost their essential role to protect their citizens and their rights. Rather, they became caught up in “homeland security,” outfitted themselves in robot-like body armor, and procured the latest chemical agents and military equipment.
These technological advancements were not only to have been used to control violent people who resist arrest but also those who were not. Often they are used to punish those who are merely voicing what they think was wrong about our government and its policies—a right guaranteed by our Constitution. What many of us see is a slow but steady shift of our nation’s police toward militarization. In 2011, it was most evident in how many police departments responded to the Occupy Wall Street Movement.
It is about time that we begin to hear not just from those of us who have served in the police and have continued an interest in their development. It is now time for current police leaders to acknowledge what has gone wrong and to put their plan into action to fix this growing problem.
This is what former officer Pat Nolan had to say to Travis Gettys last week:
“‘I remember it being drilled into me as a police officer, as a sergeant and then as a lieutenant: partnership, problem-solving, and prevention – the three Ps,’ Nolan said Wednesday during a panel sponsored by the American Constitution Society.
He said police were heavily trained to form alliances to help them to better serve and protect communities, and he said those relationships clearly don’t exist in Ferguson, Missouri…
“‘In the early 2000s, particularly after 9/11, we saw a paradigm shift from community policing and problem-oriented principles to the war on terror, and we became Homeland Security police,’ said Nolan, who has worked in the federal agency’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. He said this shift toward ‘homeland security’ had quickly destroyed the relationships police had worked nearly two decades to build.
“‘I think what has happened as a direct result of that, is that those relationships that we forged, and worked so hard to attain and to maintain in the late 1980s and early 1990s, began to erode because the police were seen, particularly in communities of color, as an army of occupation,’ Nolan said. ‘If you dress police officers up as soldiers and you put them in military vehicles and you give them military weapons, they adopt a warrior mentality,’ he continued. ‘We fight wars against enemies, and the enemies are the people who live in our cities – particularly in communities of color….’
“The 27-year police veteran said officers make him feel unsafe when he walks around his own diverse neighborhood in Boston. I see the police conducting themselves in a highly militaristic fashion on routine patrol activities – and I know that’s what they’re doing because I come from that world,’ Nolan said. ‘What I experience and what people on the street experience is a palpable, tangible sense of fear, and that is that we are unsafe if police need semiautomatic rifles to protect us and to keep us safe…'”
To read the full article and video transcript CLICK HERE.
I stumbled on this blog from something a friend of mine posted on Hillsboro, OR police beginning training in mindfulness. I’m glad I did. Thank you for this perspective.
As a woman of color who comes from a poor background, I have always had mistrust of the ‘system’ and anyone who is connected with it for the palpable fear which it produces in me. Fear that there are people out there with the government-sanctioned power to destroy my life, not to bring more peacefulness to it.
I survived a sexual assault almost five years ago and was dismissed by the system at every turn, which made me even more reticent to ask for any assistance of any kind from authorities. After that experience, I was forced to rebuild myself largely on my own and find community elsewhere. I found it in energy work and mindfulness practice – at the time of assault, I was teaching yoga in my teacher’s absence. Mindfulness and body-based practices saved my life, saved my heart. I am happy to see a turning of the tide and hopeful that someday, my own child will not have to endure the fear and trauma that I did, nor be dismissed by those assigned to ‘help’.
Thanks for sharing this. Being a person of color in America is still difficult — Ferguson picked the scab. My argument is that we need to continue to push for an educated, diverse police who are committed to the fundamental values of our society — equality, fairness, justice and work together to make the Bill of Rights a reality for everyone. My assistant for many years on the police department was a young woman who went on to finish law school with she was a cop, attained the rank of captain, served after retirement in the state attorney general’s office, and now teach mindfulness as a Buddhist dharma teacher under Ticht Nat Hahn. Check her out at http://www.mindfulnessandjustice.org/
Thank you, I will check her out. I adore Thich Nhat Hahn’s philosphy. His ‘True Love’ book made a deep impression on me.
I’ve never met Tom Nolan, but I’ve had several email exchanges with him. He’s a pleasant enough fellow, but essentially Radley Balko with a doctorate. He may have been a cop at one time, but he’s now far outside mainstream thinking in both academic and policing circles. He argued against providing his former Boston PD colleagues with patrol rifles, and was the primary consultant on the ACLU police militarization report. I view him with some professional skepticism, as he actually holds more extreme positions on these issues than some ACLU staff attorneys with whom I’m acquainted.
But, of course, Ashley, we will generously listen to one another even if we may disagree… and perhaps in our listening to others, we ourselves, can learn something. The most important thing is that we approach the matter of improving police on this blog with understanding and compassion. We all know (even us retired guys) that it’s NOT easy out there — but the overall work police do in our society is vitally necessary! Happy Thanksgiving Day to all!
I attended the police academy post 9/11. They essentially trained me that everyone was out to kill cops. Things need to change from day one and I’m also talking the mind set of those who want to go into law enforcement. Thank you for this post and the link to mindfulnessandjustice.org. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
Suzie, that’s a dangerous attitude for police. Think about how that kind of attitude impacts every police encounter. Have you been watching Ferguson?
I’m not sure if your question about Ferguson is a ARE YOU STUPID WOMAN or a LESSONS WE CAN LEARN FROM FERGUSON comment but, yes, it is a dangerous attitude. I’m not agreeing, I’m stating how I was trained. I was quite fortunate with my age (45) when I went to the academy. My life perspectives were defined. It’s finding the middle ground (and there is one) because the fact is, policing is a dangerous job. I should also rephrase my “Everyone is out to kill cops” to “Be prepared for anyone to try and kill you” but maybe it doesn’t make a difference. Having come close to death/murder three times in eight years, not everyone tried to kill me (obviously) but, by the grace of God and training, I survived. Six of those years and all three incidents happened as a detective.
You probably had thousands of interactions with people and how many were life-threatening? I learned years ago being a white officer in a predominately black community with a lot of crime and social problems that anyone who wanted to kill me certainly could. There was little I could do about being snipered! But I refused to let fear lead the way I was going to act as a police officer. Sure, I was careful, I wasn’t stupid. But I knew early on that 90% of the job was how you interacted with and treated people — what I sowed, I reaped.