Militarization of police costly in time, money and lives

Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013

There is an epidemic spreading across America today. It has lead to senseless killings and fear mongering in ways that would keep George Orwell up at night cowering beneath his bed sheets.

There is a proliferation of military-grade weaponry and tactics seeping throughout state and local police forces and SWAT teams – all in the name of security in the post 9/11 world. In an effort to combat “terrorism,” the police are arming themselves with weapons more at home in a war zone – bazookas, armored vehicles and even attack helicopters are finding their way into police arsenals.

These heavily militarized SWAT teams are conducting raids on simple drug offenders, minor criminals and others accused of petty offenses.

When things go wrong, they are often tragic.

Take José Guerena, a former U.S. Marine, whose body was riddled with 60 bullets after a SWAT team tried to serve him with a search warrant for narcotics. He was only checking to see who was outside his house after his wife noticed a man pointing a gun at her through a window. Guerena grabbed his AR-15, but never even fired a shot before being neutralized, or slaughtered, which is really the proper term. Not only were no narcotics found, but also Guerena did not even have a criminal record.

Tragedies like this should not happen. Often, no one is accountable, and the expected lawsuits often settle out of court for larges sums of money – the officers and administrators reluctant to take responsibility for any wrongdoing. Not only is this kind of outcome cowardly, but costly to taxpayers as well, as they foot the bill for the polices’ mistakes.

What is happing is there is less of a distinction between a soldier and a police officer. While soldiers are often tasked with killing an enemy, police officers are supposed keepers of the peace. When those lines blur and roles become unconventional, mistakes and tragedies occur.

This malicious sharing of roles is best stated by Arthur Rizer and Joseph Hartman in The Atlantic, “When police officers are dressed like soldiers, armed like soldiers, and trained as soldiers, it’s not surprising that they are beginning to act like soldiers. And remember: a soldier’s main objective is to kill the enemy.”

If police officers are going to be dressed, armed and trained as soldiers, then they must come to the realization that their job no longer guarantees their safety home every night.

I propose a new rule that will protect the citizens from the trigger-happiness of SWAT teams and police officers across the country – an officer of the law cannot engage a civilian (enemy) with deadly force until fired upon by the civilian (enemy). While this may risk the lives of polices officers attempting to enforce the law, it protects the citizens to the highest degree, the ultimate role of the police officer.

Tragedies like 13-year-old Andy Lopez, who was shot seven times and killed for carrying an AK-47-looking pellet gun down the road, can be avoided.

Originally published in The Eastern Echo.

Image courtesy of JPL Designs / Shutterstock

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