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.”