The militarization of law enforcement.
In comments on the previous blog entry, Greg mentioned "the increasing militarization of law enforcement in this country."
I think that it's a concern worth having, but I also think that, by and large, our concerns are about issues more theoretical than practical.
We all shake our heads at the pictures of NYPD cops in full tactical gear (BDUs, tac vests, M4s, helmets) standing out front of their city administration buildings, and at cops going full-on dynamic entry on what should be a simple warrant service. We grimace upon learning that yet another federal agency has a SWAT team.
How about letting the U.S. Marshal's Service do the SWAT gig, and let the other agencies work with them for the most part? Oh, I can see having a Special Response Team within the Secret Service, perhaps. But the rest? They need to farm it out if for no other reason than economy. We don't require the silly redundancy. But more importantly, when you have a SWAT team, you tend to feel like you need to use it. The already unnecessary Department Of Education doesn't need to be looking at their jobs and saying, "How could we put our SWAT team to work solving this issue?"
But the fact is, those stories and pictures are in the news because they actually are news. The norm is not news. Sure, we definitely need to keep a weather eye on those guys and prevent them from becoming the norm, but day in, day out, the vast, vast majority of us never tac out, almost never pull the black rifle out of the trunk except for routine administrative purposes, and have never put on a helmet.
That said, giving a patrol officer some gear to deal with exigent circumstances as the first responder is NOT militarizing the police departments. Sure I've got a tac vest in the back of the car. I've put it on once in the past year, while setting up a perimeter around a mentally-ill armed man's house, and we took that guy into custody by knocking on the door and talking him into stepping outside. Yes, I've got a short AR in the patrol car. It's a damned sight better way to deal with an active shooter than trying to get lucky with my pistol. Just because the military also use an AR-pattern carbine doesn't mean that having one in my patrol car is making me militarized. It's just an overlap in gear. I promise you that Marshal Dillon would have had one if he could have. I'll further point out that his Winchester lever rifle (which model? M.1892?) was pretty much the assault rifle of that era. (Yes, I am aware that I'm speaking of a fictional law enforcement officer, but I promise you that most people critical of militarization of law enforcement would probably like to see Matt Dillon. Well, that or Andy Taylor, but if you can't see the foolishness of that fictional rarely-armed Sheriff employing an inept family member deputy, then I can't help you.)
When you see that your local cop pulls a shotgun from his cruiser to answer a robbery call, you may notice that it's likely to have a black synthetic stock on it, these days. That's not a militarization issue-- it's a practical one. These days, you pay extra for wood over synthetic, and frankly, the synthetic is more durable, usually is lighter, is is less susceptible to water or oil soaking into it, and doesn't look bad when it's been scratched by daily patrol tours. When he pulls a carbine out of the car, consider that a single round of .223 into the bad guy is a LOT better than throwing stray rounds of pistol around a neighborhood (believe it or not, the .223 won't over-penetrate as badly as a duty pistol round will.) or a load of .36 caliber buckshot pellets that start off at 1300 feet per second. And make no mistake, if a cop has to fire on a bad guy, I WANT him using a long gun. A properly-used long gun will end a fight far faster than a pistol. If it's time to shoot a threat, I want that threat shot well. I want the least number of shots taken. If a gun fight looks likely, I want that police officer picking up a long gun.
That's not to say that I believe in the "show 'em you mean business, so they won't mess with you" school of law enforcement, because I don't. If a cop is on routine patrol, I want that rifle or shotgun secured. I don't like balaclavas, even on raids. I don't like cops wearing leather gloves when they're out on patrol unless it's cold or they're about to perform a pat-down. (This goes double --no, triple-- for fingerless gloves.) While I'm fine with cargo pants, I find fatigue type uniforms to be distasteful. I hate drop thigh pistol holster rigs. If a cop is wearing a tactical vest, he'd better be doing something tactical, like serving a warrant. (I almost wrote "high risk warrant," but a lot of people don't want to go to jail even for a misdemeanor, so I'll put up with being somewhat tactical on any arrest, so long as we're not kicking in doors on no-knock warrants.)
The last time that I put on a tac vest and grabbed the carbine on a call, we were responding to a call of a heavily-armed mentally ill person who needed to be taken into custody and who had proven he was dangerous. We talked him out, and cuffed him, and got him some help, as police officers, not as a tactical unit. But we were damned happy to have the long guns, and the extra ammo, and the extra protection that the tactical vests provided, as we first responders from different rural agencies performed that role, that night. Then we put the gear back up, and went back on patrol.
Because we're not soldiers; we're patrolmen.