Militarizing Minds

“The police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile last year, belongs not only to the small percentage of officers who have killed civilians but also to the much larger group of officers who have attended [Lt. Col. Dave] Grossman’s seminars.”

NOTE: Another article about police militarization, not about the equipment, but about the mindset; the “attitude” of which I have written before and, in the meantime, Grossman’s training continues to be questioned.


Militarizing the Minds of Police Officers

By Jelani Cobb, June 29, 2017

“Three years ago, amid the protests erupting in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama ordered a review of a federal program allowing military equipment to be transferred from the armed forces to state and local police departments. For many, the images of local police dressed in camouflage and travelling in armored vehicles became a metaphor for the ways in which the lines had blurred between civilian law enforcement and the military—a phenomenon that the journalist Radley Balko has referred to as the ‘rise of the warrior cop.’ The review resulted in an executive order that curtailed the transfer of some types of military equipment. A new short film by Craig Atkinson, ‘Conditioned Response,’ which includes unreleased footage shot while filming his documentary ‘Do Not Resist,’ from 2016, suggests that the armored vehicles rolling through Ferguson were only the most visible indicators of this militarization. Another, more subtle—and perhaps more intractable—form of it is affecting the psychology of the officers themselves.

“For the past two decades, David Grossman, a former Army Ranger and self-described product of a law-enforcement family, has been conducting police-training seminars on the use of deadly force. Policing is a complex job that at times requires split-second decision-making. More often, though, it requires a reservoir of knowledge about social interaction and human behavior, and the ability to read situations that may become violent. Officers are granted a great degree of latitude in their work, partly because interacting with the public requires more nuance than any rigorous set of codes could possibly hope to encompass. Grossman’s ‘Bulletproof Warrior’ philosophy, however, dispenses with these gray areas. Here the war on crime is not metaphorical; police are a kind of domestic militia tasked with subduing a potentially lethal enemy. Danger is ambient, ever present, and unpredictable. (Grossman did not respond to a request for an interview.)

“Grossman’s seminar exists at the opposite pole of the current drive for criminal-justice reform. While progressives emphasize police training to de-escalate conflict, Grossman’s seminar pushes officers to become more comfortable with the use of deadly force. As Grossman informs one group of attendees, “only a killer can hunt a killer.” Killing is a central theme of Grossman’s seminars but is only a fractional portion of law enforcement’s responsibilities. The vast majority of police in this country never use deadly force in the course of their careers.

“Jeronimo Yanez, the police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile, in Minnesota, last year, belongs not only to the small percentage of officers who have killed civilians but also to the much larger group of officers who have attended Grossman’s seminars. He reacted quickly, interpreted an otherwise calm moment as the paramount danger, and fired seven times into a vehicle with a four-year-old girl in the back seat. A jury determined that Yanez had not committed any crime, but, at the very least, no reasonable person would understand his handling of the situation as good policing.

“Last year, sixty-three police officers were killed by assailants who used weapons—but a thousand people were killed by police, and a hundred and seventy of those people were unarmed. If there is, indeed, a war, it’s an asymmetrical one.”


Jelani Cobb is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of “The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress.”Read more »

19 Comments

  1. The author of this article may be well-informed, but he is missing a very important point: self-preservation. Yanez instructed Castile NOT to reach into his pocket FOUR times, a point made clear in the video shown in the Twin Cities area immediately after the verdict acquitting him. This was NOT a routine traffic stop. The driver was carrying both an illegal substance and a firearm. He was driving buzzed. He was driving a vehicle which was compromised. Officer Yanez assessed the situation, gave the driver opportunity to desist in the the reaching for his weapon (presumably) and fired when the driver, known to have a sidearm in his immediate possession. It was a clearly self-defense, but the driver’s family will go to its grave defending Castile’s actions even though he was clearly in the wrong as defined by society. I do not believe race played a part in this tragic event. If a person fails to follow the instructions of a uniformed police officer, they can expect to be dealt with severely. Castile heard Officer Yanez, but he did not listen to him. Perhaps if he would have, he would be alive today.

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      1. Not sure about the “moral” part. If you are in Yanez’s shoes, and you risk being shot at point blank range, you might also choose the option Yanez did. The police are in a very precarious position just about everywhere they are acting as the stewards of public safety. The prevalence of drugs combined with the prevalence of firearms makes their job an unenviable one, to say the least. I think anyone who puts on the blue has a higher moral standing in the first place and is therefore entitled to be given extra leeway when being judged by the public. Having taught schools in the inner city of Milwaukee for 15 years, I have a sense of what officer Yanez was up against. So often those who seek to commit acts of violence against others, Castile in this case, carrying his gun in his car, believe they are above the law. The amount of respect for the prevailing social order is often diminished in cities, whether it be by minorities or not. So I’m afraid I can’t accept your statement about what Yanez did being “not a moral action,” I believe he was forced into doing something regrettable by the man who was already committing criminal acts. Could he have “shot to disarm” rather than shoot to kill? Yes, but at further risk to his own safety. I still believe he was in the right to do what he did in the way he did it, legally and morally. If the police are not allowed expanded moral latitude, I fear we may not have their protections for long.

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  2. Hi Dave
    I’m glad you reported this, I found some material previously about David Grossman refuting claims about the problems with veterans acting out violently and misrepresenting statistics and wrote about it in a previous article.

    I don’t know if you remember but on one of your previous articles I pointed out one or two of my own articles about Philip Zimbardo and Stanley Milgram and how I thought their works was actually done to develop boot camp indoctrination methods. If I remember correctly you responded by saying you were familiar with these experiments but didn’t indicate whether or not you read or agreed with my articles.

    David Grossman sounds like he’s using the strict authoritarian indoctrination methods there were developed with the help of these experiments.

    Part of the reason I checked back with you today is because I’m writing another follow up article, to be posted next week, about police problems with domestic violence and excessive handling of peaceful protests when politicians don’t address legitimate concerns, that is almost certainly a result of aggressive training and am citing your “bullying and Hazing article in the Police academy” again and would be curious to know if you had any feed back on the previous ones, not that I would say you agree with it unless I knew, aside from comments you wrote yourself.

    If you are interested, and have time to read it, my previous article about Zimbardo is here:

    http://zacherydtaylor.blogspot.com/2015/03/philip-zimbardo-lucifer-effect-stanford.html

    And my article that mentioned David Grossman’s work, which I find questionable is here:

    http://zacherydtaylor.blogspot.com/2014/08/teach-soldier-to-kill-and-he-just-might.html

    I don’t mean to be disrespectful to either police or veterans; however there are a lot of violent incidents from both of them and denial of this and the causes of this violence won’t help stop it. Also as I have said before the ones that recognize this problem, including both police and veterans are the ones doing the most to solve it.

    Thanks

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    1. I most certainly do agree with the work of Zimbardo and Milgram regarding authority and its abuse. It appears to me that authoritarianism has deep roots in human society and must be consciously monitored; something of which those of us who work or have worked within the CJ system must always beware of. Thanks for the references and keep up your good work!

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      1. I wish it were so simple. It appears as if their work was supported or financed by the Office of Naval Research and although it could be used to warn people about blind obedience to authority, and is to a small number of people in the academic world; it also appears they used it in the military for the opposite reasons, to indoctrinate recruits and teach them to believe what they’re told and obey without question.

        This research has also been used to do other things including develop union busting tactics in the corporate world etc. Philip Zimbardo was president of the APA in 2002 when they began revising their ethics guidelines.

        I went into some of this in my most recent article, which as I said cites yours. I suspect that the boot camp indoctrination tactics you criticized was actually developed partially with research by Milgram and Zimbardo

        Her’s my latest article if your interested:

        http://zacherydtaylor.blogspot.com/2017/07/does-training-cause-police-domestic.html

        Sad to say there is far more domestic violence in police families according to several studies; and I suspect that the same training practices you criticized contribute to this as well.

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      2. We all have a lot to work on. I might suggested that perhaps both Milgram and Zimbardo took their lead from Marine Corps boot camp and the prison/jail control tactics of their day. I continue to strongly argue against hazing and bullying in police academies. I will predict they tend to turn out cops that learn to practice those ways in dealing with citizens. Just a hypothesis that I would love to empirically test!

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      3. These boot camp indoctrination tactics were developed and redeveloped numerous times going back through the English, French, Spanish, Roman and presumably Egyptian empires; however what was different starting in the modern era is that they had psychologists like Irving Janis who taught Milgram and Zimbardo recording it and in a better position to understand it if they wanted to.

        The best way that I know of to reverse this is to inform more of the public about it and elect officials that will hold police accountable instead of training them in this manner. If they weren’t trained in an authoritarian manner they would be less aggressive with less need of accountability; and equally more important if parents social workers and teachers had more resources to educate kids they wouldn’t be in trouble.

        Reducing job security for some of the police but there would be other jobs.

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  3. Well, Mr. Hamann, cops would not worried about getting shot, if the USA had stronger guns laws and too many cops I know have an arsenal of guns in their homes and fight to protect their 2nd Amendments rights while at the same time work for the government while being anti-government.

    ” The amount of respect for the prevailing social order is often diminished in cities, whether it be by minorities or not.”

    Yeah and what about the lack of respect by wealthy people and corporations for the last 37 years? The amount of respect is also diminishing in the rural areas when you look at people like George Bundy. You got cops who think that they are above the law whether they carry guns or not.

    “I think anyone who puts on the blue has a higher moral standing in the first place and is therefore entitled to be given extra leeway when being judged by the public.”

    If cops had a higher standing, then police corruption and brutality would be non-existence. Regarding extra leeway, and cops being allowed expanded moral latitude, sorry, but that is a cop out excuse considering the fact that many cops have no morals when they came into the jobs or lost their morals after spending years on the jobs.

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    1. Gunther, you stated,

      Well, Mr. Hamann, cops would not [be] worried about getting shot, if the USA had stronger guns laws.

      Where are you getting the data to back this up? I don’t believe you are correct in this assumption, and that’s all it is, an assumption.

      I am NOT pro-gun. I am not an advocate of the NRA. I am all for reducing gun violence. I believe strong actions need to be taken by the government to make it more difficult for people to buy guns and ammunition.

      But the reality is what’s on the streets right now, and the police are forced to deal with the insanity on a moment by moment basis. In the end, despite the fact that there are corrupt cops everywhere, we all need to acknowledge the cop on the street and admit publicly that THEY are the ones who deserve extra legal protections to help them do their job effectively on a daily basis.

      I hope and pray one day this country will wake up and see that more guns beget more guns and that this monster will need to be tamed one day. I doubt it will happen in my lifetime but the inevitable conclusion is that we do have too many guns on the streets today and internet access to ammunition makes it easier for people from all walks of life to use firearms recklessly. In the end we are all human beings with natural fears that we must all learn to deal with. It just so happens that the society we live in has been being groomed by politicians and the NRA to believe guns are the best way for people to deal with their fears, and their work has been successful and the cops on the street are paying the price for this.

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  4. No it is not an assumption. The ALEC and the NRA work to tried to weaken or eliminate gun laws in all 50 states and when their plan was revealed the, common folks got ticked off big time. The people in society need extra legal protection against the police especially when they tell the cops that unless the cops have reasonable suspicion, the cops can’t search their homes, their cars and on the person and invoking their 5th Amendment rights not to answer a cop’s question or even filing a legitimate complaint against a cop.

    Cops paying the price? It more like the ordinary citizen that is paying the price getting beaten or killed by the cops. If you want to look at number of cops killed in the line of duty, look at Columbia, Mexico and Italy. The organized crime syndicates in those countries have killed more cops in a single year during 80s and 90s than the total number of American cops per year. The number of American police officers even during the height of the drug wars seems to remain around 200 and never even reach 300. In addition, you had far more district attorneys and judges in Mexico, Italy, and Columbia killed compare to the few numbers in the USA by organized crime. Furhtermore, half the number of police deaths is due to cops recklessly driving too fast and end up killing themselves and injuring or killing innocent civilians. Your assumption of cops paying the price is an assumption.

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  5. Unfortunately, Mr. Taylor, obedience to authority is part of the military training and discipline. Otherwise, the military would say that without obedience to authority, you would have no discipline and you can’t have people decide what is a lawful order or not in a military setting. The trouble is that the military does a terrible job on not informing recruits when they should disobey an order and the military justice system is rigged against people who do disobey an illegal order or even questions orders.

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    1. Gunther excuse me I didn’t notice your comment before.

      Your right according to their way of thinking; however the alleged reason for these Obedience to authority experiments was to prevent that, or at least that is what Milgram said. However the problem they claim they’re trying to solve is based on the assumption that our leaders are reasonably sincere, which they don’t have a history of being.

      Tehy’re abusing the troops sending them to war based on lies arresting those that disobey illegal orders and those that obey when they need someone to blame, like Abu Ghraib. damned if you do damned if you don’t once many of them join.

      Some of this research is also used by people affiliated with ALEC in the commercial and political world for indoctrination as well.

      Also as far as gun control is concerned my impression is that although reasonable control helps it isn’t nearly as important as other contributing factors like early child abuse that often precedes boot camp indoctrination, or abandoned inner cities. However when you have these problems and add guns it’s a disaster.

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  6. Mr. Taylor:

    The Ameican military has no intention of trying to learn and let alone implement the lessons of Milgram’s experiments even though they had 56 years to do so when they occurred in 1961. The American military is going to have to take a shocking baptism of fire to learn the lesson that the German military had to go in World War II. In addition, the military system of justice is rigged against the junior enlisted/officer which kind of like our American civil/criminal justice system where it is rigged against poor people, minorities, customers, and workers. Both systems are all about winning convictions and justice is not part of the system so yes, you lose either way whether you follow orders or not.

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  7. Your quote: “Grossman’s seminar exists at the opposite pole of the current drive for criminal-justice reform. While progressives emphasize police training to de-escalate conflict, Grossman’s seminar pushes officers to become more comfortable with the use of deadly force. As Grossman informs one group of attendees, “only a killer can hunt a killer.” Killing is a central theme of Grossman’s seminars but is only a fractional portion of law enforcement’s responsibilities. The vast majority of police in this country never use deadly force in the course of their careers.

    While it is true that most officers will never use deadly force in their career, they must be willing and able to do so. If they are not, you end up with the situation we just had in Florida where the SRO stands outside, afraid to act, while kids are being killed.
    Grossman’s seminars are meant to prepare an officer mentally to engage a deadly threat. This deputy was not prepared. This will only get worse as we move toward hiring servants instead of warriors as you and many other liberals continue to push for. In addition we are hiring people to check boxes regardless of their ability to act in a deadly situation. You and others who are pushing this mindset have to bare some of the responsibility for the outcomes when the wolf comes calling and the only ones around are sheep.

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    1. Okay, Cap, settle down. You will find in my writings that I believe police need to create a balance between the “warrior-guardian” dichotomy. You and I know that police primarily act as guardians but most be prepared to become a warrior. My argument is that the warrior mindset should not be dominate in a democratic society. For many years, as a practicing martial artist, my model was that of the samurai warrior — servant, loyal, compassionate, poet, artist, protector of those most vulnerable and a ferocious fighter when called upon. He operated under a code of “Bushido.” See the eight virtues of a samurai at https://www.artofmanliness.com/2008/09/14/the-bushido-code-the-eight-virtues-of-the-samurai/. Check out this, too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8BOOGRMX_ng . I also wrote about this on this blogsite at: https://improvingpolice.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/samurai-cops/. I would also not that this concept applies to women cops as much as men!]

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  8. Captain, if all these warrant police killings are examples of warriors, then I would say they are not warriors at all but just plain killers and/or people who are too paranoid. Furthermore, you have many cops acting as wolves instead of acting like guard dogs protecting the sheep. Finally, too many people are getting killed or injured when they do call the cops for assistance.

    The cop was not prepared? After 30 years with all the shootings in Florida during the cocaine/drug wars, and drive-by shootingd along with ordinary citizens shooting each other, you think that the deputy should have been prepared by his department to deal with gunfire.

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