Our militarized police

One of the recurring questions in this blog is why American police officers are armed with guns. See Why aren’t there a lot more police shootings in the U.S.? and Should we have unarmed police? (2014), for example.

“Police Militarization Gave Us Uvalde” (Atlantic) is an interesting article asking related questions. The author has experience both in the military and in the police.

… with the sanction of the courts, departments have reworked their tactics to define American communities as battle spaces, and citizens in them as potential enemies. We have for years told American police officers to regard every civilian encounter as potentially deadly, and that they must always be prepared to win that death match. This is not an exaggeration; there is extensive academic literature on the “danger imperative” as a cornerstone of police training. An entire industry of grifting ex-cops have made themselves rich training police departments in fear and loathing of civilians, quite literally telling officers that they must always have a plan to kill everyone they encounter.

Less than one-quarter of officers ever discharge their weapons a single time in their careers. Ambush killings of police have fallen by 90 percent over the past several decades. Labor statistics suggest that fatality rates for police (for all causes, not just in the line of duty) are far less than those in logging, commercial fishing, and trash collecting. This is not to say that police don’t face real dangers—they do, but the large majority of policing is routine, and the large majority of encounters with civilians are completely innocuous.

The goal of the military is to overwhelm enemies, regardless of whether any particular individual on the other side “deserves” to be overwhelmed. It seems clear that police should not approach fellow citizens, rights-bearers, with the same attitude. Yet a profession’s tools and tactics will not-so-subtly define its attitude and culture. When you repeatedly drill officers that everyone is out to kill them, some will shoot first and ask questions later—and not just the weaker or undertrained officers at the margin, either.

But in our ill-conceived attempt to refashion police into a cadet branch of the military, we have somehow managed to get the worst of both worlds. We have trained a generation of officers that being casually brutal in everyday encounters is acceptable, but these same officers show a disturbing tendency to fall back on jargon about “battlespace management” and “encounter tempo” to explain a slow reaction in the rare circumstance that really does require a rapid, all-out response.

Food for thought and in the spirit of the engraved words below, “Good government demands the intelligent interest of every citizen.”

15 thoughts on “Our militarized police

  1. Good photo of the County Administration building. They’re quite organized and easy to work with actually.

  2. Lefties at Atlantic keep on doing damage. Police is scared of doing anything because it is being persecuted. Looks like as soon as they made sure that their children were not affected they waited for those who worked because they loved what they were doing (ie worked not for the money). Cover a$$ – natural reaction of everyone who can be punished if he/she does something.
    Of course, if it were not part of some kind of conspiracy, that could be but not too likely.

    • “Police is scared of doing anything because it is being persecuted.”

      Cry me a river. After they prosecuted millions of citizens for victimless crimes and for violations of idiotic “regulations” by unelected bureaucrats, there’s zero sympathy for the uniformed thugs.

      Police is not scared. They just don’t care, they are simply thugs for hire.

  3. The article says nothing, but is just an expression of the author’s distaste for the martial puffery of the police. Okay, fine.

    Of course, the cops aren’t the Marines. If you are in the Marines, your 23 year old Lieutenant can order you into certain death, and not one cop signed up for that–not even the SWAT team. The police realize that if a guy with a backpack-full of .223 cartridges positions himself properly, he can take out the whole lot of them. It’s a difficult choice for a guy waiting on his pension. So you send in the Border Patrol…

    We might wind up like Mexico, and there the Army routinely deals with bad situations.

  4. Police are not “citizen protection”, they are “law enforcement”. They exist to pacify the proles so as reduce trouble to the masters, not to protect proles from criminals. (SCOTUS said so, repeatedly.)

    Make no mistake – cops are not your friends. If you happen to defend yourself successfully from a criminal attacking you by shooting the criminal – the cops and the courts WILL make your life hell for the next few years. They don’t care if you are a criminal or a victim, you made more work for them, so they will be out to punish you.

    Do not idolize cops as some sort of “heroes” – they are just hired thugs for the owners of this country. They only care for their wages and pensions. Uvalde just made it very very clear.

  5. The Atlantic author takes 1700+ words and, after reading it several times, I still don’t see the connection he’s trying to make. The article reads like he took this event, looked at some pictures on Facebook, came up with his own emotional response to them, and then attempted to fit Uvalde into his professional area of expertise.

    I don’t know. I’ve heard a lot of conflicting reports about what exactly transpired in Uvalde. And the more I read, the murkier it seems to get. I haven’t read the New York Times articles he cites; now I’ll have to do that.

    He doesn’t want more “police militarization.” That’s a defensible and even an admirable position to take, but I don’t know whether it had anything to do with why Ramos was able to stand outside the school for something like 12 minutes shooting a gun and was never seriously engaged – even BEFORE he went in through the propped-open door that shouldn’t have been propped open.

    In other words, that Atlantic article takes 1700 words and really does more to confuse than explain. I’ll read the NYT reports and see if there’s any other good analysis that might either support or detract from this guy’s position. I’m always skeptical of ex-LEOs who turn into law professors, especially when they take the tone this guy does in his disparagement of his former colleagues.

    More research needed….

    It seems pretty simple to me, though: the cops just completely failed. They knew he was coming, they knew who he was, he crashed his truck into a culvert, he had a juvenile arrest record, and these guys didn’t want to pull the trigger until after they had finished their Boston Cream or Jelly.

    • One thing to remember is that these events and the interpretation of “what happened” and “who or what is to blame” often hinges on a SINGLE FACT. And if that fact gets obscured or buried or missed, or forgotten, the entire story is completely altered. So I guess for people who don’t have the time to really dig in here, the Atlantic author makes a “persuasive” case. I’ll try to take the time to read some more…

    • Finally, one reason the Atlantic article reads like a big distraction to me is that he really doesn’t talk at all about what I think is the central issue: whether and how to include juvenile arrest records in the background check system and what that means in terms of how gun dealers sell weapons, and how states report that information, and also what individuals – who are presumed innocent until proven guilty under our system of justice, and are also treated differently by the juvenile and adult systems – can do to discover and/or appeal any disqualifications they might be subject to under the new “consensus” package that Cornyn is trying to hammer out.

      That’s not a simple topic. Here’s what the NRA-ILA says as of *yesterday*.

      https://www.nraila.org/articles/20220620/juvenile-records-for-background-checks-an-issue-that-should-provoke-caution-skepticism

      My sense is that we should first figure out this really important problem before we start turning Uvalde into a textbook case for efforts to “demilitarize the police.”

    • One more thing: I don’t wholly dismiss his efforts here. I’m sure there are some “swaggering” SWAT-wannabees to be found in the police forces across the fruited plain. But I see them as separate problems and we should at least try to make things better, one problem at a time.

      I remember a year and a half I spent living in a Boston suburb when I was a child – you really never saw the police. People didn’t reflexively lock the doors on their homes. The idea of installing home security systems seemed paranoid and esoteric. The culture has changed a great deal. The big problem with these types of horrific mass shooting events – where the actors are essentially suicide cases who want to copy others and take a lot of innocents out with them – is that we’re being confronted with problems our laws weren’t meant to deal with. Well, something has to change. And I think gun retailers and manufacturers have to step up and take some heed of the fact that their marketing efforts are attracting people who commit these horrible crimes.

      Commingling juvenile records into adult NICS databases and making people into “prohibited persons” is problematic, as I think the NRA-ILA’s article covers pretty well.

      I don’t have all the answers, but we’ve got the patterns to look at.

    • “actors are essentially suicide cases who want to copy others and take a lot of innocents out with them”

      I believe Isaac Asimov had a proposal on how to deal with the copy-cat terrorism: Never publish names and photos of suicide terrorists. Just call them “Idiot #1”, “Idiot #2”, etc. This takes all the glory out of the act.

    • @averros:

      Asimov? Who is he? He didn’t foresee the Internet as we know it. And if you’re referring to his science fiction legacy for his Laws of Robotics and so forth, I can tell you right now that absolutely nobody cares about them, where money is concerned especially. That’s just all fairytale happytalk from a Dead White Male that nobody even reads anymore!

      No, Mr. Averros, I’m sad to tell you: Isaac Asimov has nothing to do with how things really work. If you want to write science fiction that gets read by law professors at Duke University, maybe. But his real influence is ZERO.

      Electoral reality and money is all there really is, I think. Your rights and so forth are just figments of your imagination, written on sheets of paper and stored in the Smithsonian, sometimes the Library of Congress, and debated by eager bushy-tailed undergraduates. They are all subject to change according to the Zeitgeist.

  6. Other than taking guns away from the general citizenship, what “something” to do would have prevented Uvalde?

    The only thing I can think of would have been some sort of male mentoring program for young Ramos as a substitute fathering.

  7. I always say: if you really want gun control, start with the police.
    Police officers usually lose their shit when they hear this.

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