Ed Driscoll

The Slow, Gradual Change in America’s Police

Jim Geraghty on the increasing militarization of America’s policemen:

Let’s begin with all the proper stipulations: Of course, we all want the police protected from harm. Yes, they face danger on our behalf. Yes, they need to defend themselves and us with lethal force at times. Yes, in the face of a rioting crowd, they need to be able to apply – and threaten to apply – sufficient force to quell the riot quickly.

But one of the ways we as Americans responded to 9/11 was to throw gobs of money at first responders, to prepare police forces large and small to respond to any imaginable horrific emergency – a Beslan-style attack on a school, an Oklahoma City style bombing, heavily-armed criminals like the North Hollywood shootout. In theory, this was a good idea. It may still be a good idea.

But it had side effects. One is that the Department of Homeland Security started popping out military-grade equipment, weapons, armor and gadgets like a Pez dispenser, resulting in top-grade hardware in almost comically small towns:

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One big question is whether this represents a wise use of federal taxpayer money. But another big question is whether a country can outfit its police forces in the weapons, tactics, armor, vehicles, and tools of an army and not see a change in the behavior of its police forces.

One small town in Georgia represents a useful case study, Jesse Walker of Reason writes:

Even some opponents of militarized law enforcement have been startled by the tactics and machinery on display in Ferguson, Missouri, this week. They might not have been surprised to see such a horror show in Boston or Los Angeles, but they didn’t expect it in a suburban or small-town setting. Yet as Samuel Bieler recently told City Lab, “you can definitely see evidence of militarization of the police in the suburbs. You can find examples basically anywhere.”

Illustrating the point, former Reasoner Radley Balko, now at The Washington Post, has posted a SWAT video from Doraville, Georgia, population 8,500. “At least as of this writing,” he notes, “the video was posted on the front page of the Doraville Police Department Web site”:

You might want to turn the volume down on your soundcard before playing, as the heavy metal of the armored personnel carrier in the video is accompanied by equally heavy metal death rock:

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Perhaps in response to hits in the four or five digit range coming from a URL with the words www.washingtonpost.com in it, that video is no longer on Doraville PD’s Website — or at least, not on the front page. But it’s in the Wayback Machine. (Clicking on the video takes you to an archived YouTube page that indicates that’s  the version of the video the city’s police department embedded, death metal and all.)

Note the juxtaposition in the sidebar with the “Topic of the month: What to expect if you get pulled over: Our city is recognized through out the metro Atlanta area for the professionalism and dedication of our officers,” from Chief John F. King. And immediately above the video, “The Mission of the Doraville Police Department is to provide quality services, foster growth, and develop a vibrant community for our residents and businesses,” and below tht phrase, the jarring image of an APC that looks far more at home on the set of Full Metal Jacket or in Fallujah, than a sleepy Georgia town.

Chief King may well be a responsible public servant and chief of police. And the Doraville PD may well be living up to their mission statement. But as Jim Geraghty’s quotes Kevin D. Williamson in his post on the transformation of America’s police, “aesthetics matter:”

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