Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit and law professor, has an excellent USA Today column this week on the militarization of the police. I’ve been tracking a lot of opinions on this and Glenn’s strikes me as the most commonsensical:
There’s a role for SWAT teams in limited circumstances, but they’ve been overused in recent years, deployed for absurd things such as raids on sellers of raw milk. The problem is, when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And when you have cool military equipment, there’s a strong temptation to use it, just because, well, it’s cool. (Federal regulatory agencies have succumbed to SWAT Fever too.)
I don’t entirely blame the police. If somebody gave me a Bradley fighting vehicle, or an Apache helicopter, I’d take it.
Glenn’s three prescriptions for dialing back the hardware and abuses also make excellent sense and you should read the whole thing here.
I recently heard Hugh Hewitt say that he’s not concerned about the equipment the police have, but only about how it’s used. For all sorts of reasons, I’ve been in the car during Hugh’s show a lot lately so I’ve been listening to him quite frequently, and the guy is really terrific, a revelation and a treat. Here, though, I think his point would only be right if human nature weren’t involved — and that’s what Glenn is getting at.
One of Hugh’s recent guests, my pal Kurt Schlichter — high-ranking military veteran, lawyer, author and (according to some recent rumors) karaoke dude extraordinaire — recently made the excellent point that the military wins by increasing violence while the police win by decreasing violence. Glenn’s column catches that distinction as well:
The people they are policing aren’t enemy combatants, but their fellow citizens — and, even more significantly, their employers. A combat-like mindset on the part of police turns fellow-citizens into enemies, with predictable results.
The problem then is that the militarization of the police is only a symptom of the larger disease: public servants re-conceiving themselves as public masters who do not need to follow the laws they pass and aren’t accountable to the people who elect them. I guess we can expect to see Nancy Pelosi in a SWAT suit right soon!