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The question of whether or not the police should be militarized has become more controversial over time. Tietz defines police militarization as "the mechanism by which civilian police officers increasingly rely on and model themselves after the tenets of militarism and military models" (191-192). Simply put, it is the use of military techniques and weapons by police officers, such as snipers, armoured vehicles, and SWAT services. In the recent past, American society has been seen using a non-militaristic approach to address political, economic, and social problems, applying war metaphors to initiatives and strategies to highlight the gravity of the problem and the road to resolution. However, after witnessing the Fergusson and Missouri 2 riots, policymakers, scholars and other concerned parties have begun to investigate the alleged militarization of the police forces throughout the US (Bolduc 268). While a section of scholars argue that police militarization helps the police to serve and protect, others scholars are of a contrary opinion and base their arguments on the fact that police militarization usually makes things worse and also, it rarely works. According to Winright, police militarization alienates law enforcement officers from the public, resulting in the use of excessive force by the police and increases violence and intimidation, therefore, eroding the positive bonds that are essential for a just society (10-11). Thus, the police should not be militarized.
Police militarization rarely works and only alienates the public thereby eroding the positive bond that is essential for a just society. According to Winright, police officers armed with Special Weapons force their ways into people’s houses in the middle of the night, deploying explosive devices thus bringing a lot of discomfort to the residents. Surprisingly, the SWAT teams only do this to serve a search warrant on suspicion that someone may be in possession of a few drugs (Tietz 191). Moreover, the author adds that the society is not a war zone. Therefore, police officers should not treat the public like wartime enemies as this will only result in the public developing some form of hatred against the police because of the belief that they are being treated unfairly. For instance, when a cop dressed in military regalia confronts people, it gives them an impression that they are being viewed cynically and suspiciously as potential enemies (Winright 11). The police feel alienated from the public, thus leading to unfair treatment and dehumanization of the very people that they are supposed to serve and protect (Winright 11). As a result, people become angry and can be driven to riot for example the Ferguson, Missouri riots. Most importantly, people trust law enforcement more when the police treat them justly and humanely. For these reasons, the police should not be militarized as it results in the separation between the public and the militarized police.
The indiscriminate use of SWAT-style is an indication that the police is not militarized enough. The police do not follow the rules of engagement as they should (Tecott and Plara). Also, according to Tietz, the use of military tactics and hyper-aggressive tools result in the destruction of property, use of excessive force and undermines individual liberty thereby leading to unaccounted deaths (191). For instance, the killing of a black teenager – Michael Browne would not have happened if the police officer understood his role well. The police officer shot the teenager killing him even after he had raised his hands as a sign of surrender. In another instance, officers killed Tarika Wilson instead of her boyfriend who was suspected of drug dealing (Tietz 191). These examples show that the police is not militarized enough as the police training on the use of force is less vigorous than the military training (Tecott and Plara). Soldiers undergo training so that they are able to handle stressful and dangerous situations calmly. Police training, on the other hand, tends to be classroom-based and do not prepare police officers to respond calmly in dangerous and stressful situations (Tecott and Plara). Therefore, for the police to be militarized, the policemen should undergo rigorous training and they ought to be held legally accountable for their actions (Tecott and Plara). However, the current US policing fails to do so thus resulting in police killings that would have otherwise been avoided.
The militarization of the police increases intimidation and also result in unnecessary violence, an indication that the police is not militarized enough. According to Winrifght, the actual daily work of police – up to 90 percent do not involve force (11). For instance, the policemen search for lost children, direct traffic, intervene in domestic disputes and stop suicide attempts. However, most recruits enjoy firearm training the most. Therefore, most law enforcement officers see themselves as crime fighters rather than as peacekeepers. As a consequence, firearms tend to be used unnecessarily (Winright 11). Further, the police also use awful lots of SWAT tactics to make the opponent to surrender. SWAT officers ambush suspects with no search warrants. Despite there being a constitutional crisis on this issue, the court ruled that the SWAT would carry out the raids with any warrants as warrants would notify the suspects to destroy or clear evidence for example flushing of drugs in the toilet. As a result, there have been instances when police shot people who were not even suspects. For example, in January 2011, the police forced their way into Eurie Stamp’s house as he was watching a baseball game. After being subdued, he lay on the ground with face down waiting for further instructions then an officer shot and killed him instantly. Eurie Stamp was not even a suspect as police were looking for his stepson who was not even residing with him in the same house (Tietz 192).
Critics of police militarization argue that the failure of the society to regulate firearm forces both the police and civilians to support police militarization (Kena 6). The author adds that as long as guns are available to the public, the modern law enforcement cannot rely on tear gas and handguns only. Another reason given for the militarization of the police force is that the same tactics were used in the Afghanistan successfully and that it’s not a bad idea to put a powerful gun in someone’s hands. Additionally, the case Tennessee vs. Garner 1985, that a police officer cannot use force to stop a fleeing suspect not unless the officer has believed that the suspect can cause harm either physically or kill the police officer or others in the surrounding (Tietz 193). These arguments are however flawed considering the deaths that result due to the excessive use of force by the police. Moreover, the case of Tennessee vs. Garner is refutable as police officers might use it to justify their unlawful killings.
In a nutshell, police militarization alienates the police from the public, resulting in the use of excessive force by the police and increases violence and intimidation, therefore, eroding the positive bonds that are essential for a just society. Police brutality has led to deaths which if officers would have used the proper way of handling suspects they would have been avoided. Therefore, even though the police should be equipped with the necessary equipment and tactics to serve and protect, militarization should not be the way.
Bolduc, Nicholas S. "Global insecurity: how risk theory gave rise to global police militarization." Indiana journal of global legal studies 23.1 (2016): 267-292.
Kena, Kwasi. "Community and Police." Christian Century, vol. 131, no. 21, 15 Oct. 2014, p. 6.
Tecott, Rachel and Plana Sara, "Maybe U.S. Police Aren’t Militarized Enough. Here’s What Police Can Learn from Soldiers." Washington Post, Web, 16 Aug. 2016, www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/08/16/maybe-u-s-police-arent-militarized-enough-soldiers-are-better-trained-to-deescalate/?utm_term=.f64ddb623883.
Tietz Jr, Timothy. "Militarizing the Police and Creating the Police State." Peace Review 28.2 (2016): 191-194.
Winright, Tobias. "Militarized Policing. (Cover Story)." Christian Century, vol. 131, no. 19, 17 Sept. 2014, pp. 10-12.
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