The New York TImes asks the question, “Have American Police Become Militarized?”

American law and tradition have tried to draw a clear line between police and military forces. To cast the roles of the two too closely, those in and out of law enforcement say, is to mistake the mission of each. Soldiers, after all, go to war to destroy, and kill the enemy. The police, who are supposed to maintain the peace, “are the citizens, and the citizens are the police,” according to Chief Walter A. McNeil of Quincy, Fla., the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, citing the words of Sir Robert Peel, the father of modern-day policing.

Radley Balko, a journalist who has studied the issue, told a House subcommittee on crime in 2007 that one criminologist found a 1,500 percent increase in the use of SWAT (special weapons and tactics) teams in the United States in roughly the last two decades.

The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 generally bars the military from law enforcement activities within the United States. But today, some local and city police forces have rendered the law rather moot. They have tanks — yes, tanks, often from military surplus, for use in hostage situations or drug raids — not to mention the sort of equipment and training one would need to deter a Mumbai-style guerrilla assault.

More disturbing than riot gear or heavy-duty weapons slung across the backs of American police officers is a “militaristic mind-set” creeping into officers’ approach to their jobs, said Timothy Lynch, director of the criminal justice project at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. “It is in the way they search and raid homes and the way they deal with the public,” he said.

The more the police fail to defuse confrontations but instead help create them — be it with their equipment, tactics or demeanor — the more ties with community members are burned, he said. The effect is a loss of civility, and an erosion of constitutional rights, rather than a building of good will.

“What is most worrisome to us is that the line that has traditionally separated the military from civilian policing is fading away,” Mr. Lynch said. “We see it as one of the most disturbing trends in the criminal justice area — the militarization of police tactics.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/04/sunday-review/have-american-police-become-militarized.html?_r=3

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