Recently the media has fanned the flames decrying the horrific militarization of police. They act as if this is something new, and bad. They seem to want to make the their facts fit their opinions. Arguably demonizing police is great for ratings and paper sales and police are easy to hate. After all, they are the most visible part of the government and have the most direct authority over citizens. The problem with the argument that the police are militarized is that it’s true. Police can’t argue that it’s untrue. So there really is no voice counter to the talking heads on TV. Where the spin happens is when they indicate that it’s a new development, as if police weren’t already a paramilitary organization. That some government surplus program is to blame, or training by former military members is the cause. That this is a sign of the pending apocalypse or some greater plan to trample on citizen’s rights.
Let me rain on the parade with some facts. Since the advent of the modern professional police service its roots have been in the military. The whole of the organization, complete with oaths, standard operating procedures, discipline, and ranks was lifted from the army. In fact, in the mid 1800’s when uniforms were adopted for police, they were originally surplus Union Army uniforms. This is why many departments still wear navy blue uniforms today. The uniforms have evolved over time, ties were lost, hats are disappearing, and uniforms in general are looking less formal than they ever have. Uniforms have become more utilitarian, cargo pockets are convenient; poly cotton fabric is more comfortable than wool or polyester, and ripstop is more durable. Does this sound familiar, business casual anyone? Here’s another secret, police departments are under enormous budget pressure and saving money on a uniform might mean more cops on the street. Those “military” style uniforms tend to be cheaper, in addition to being more comfortable and durable. Durability means longer lasting; longer lasting means less need for replacements which further reduces the overall costs. The taxpayer should be happy that money is being spent on the right things, instead of keeping up appearances.
The other area of concern is equipment and training. It is true that following any major military war or conflict, changes occur. This is natural, as many returning veterans find protecting their communities a natural extension of their service to country. Police agencies are proud to have these men and women continuing their dedicated service at home. They bring their experience, much of it valuable for surviving situations where people are actively trying to kill them, and pass it on to their fellow officers. Here’s a news flash, people do actively try to kill police officers. Don’t believe it? Go to http://www.odmp.org and read the details for every fallen officer in the US going back to the first recorded line of duty death in 1791. This transfer of tactics has resulted in fewer deaths, both citizen and police. Let’s be absolutely clear, tactics may be similar, but rules of engagement are very different. Any former Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine will tell you that those rules make all the difference in the execution of the mission. Police are governed by the Constitution. Police cannot violate your guaranteed civil rights. Period. If they do, they will be subject to the discipline of their department, criminal prosecution, and heavy civil penalties. Most professional police agencies spend a lot of time, effort, and money screening potential officers, writing policy, and engaging in training to ensure that your guaranteed rights are not violated.
Police equipment has also come from the military, the original revolvers were surplus Colt 1851 Navy revolvers. Those were followed by repeating rifles, Thompson Machine guns, and yes the Colt M-16. The first widely adopted semi-automatic pistol was the Colt .45, followed by the Beretta 9mm (military designation M-9). Surplus vehicles were also used, including motorcycles, jeeps, aircraft, and yes early armored vehicles. The use of surplus vehicles has continued with MRAPs, Humvees, and other vehicles. None of these have any offensive capability. The armor used by police is intended for one reason only, to provide cover from bullets while moving through an area where they are flying freely, most likely to rescue you. These tools are used strictly for defense and safety. You may have noticed that a lot of police equipment was originally surplus. This is no different than the programs available today. The military has a lot of equipment coming back from conflict that they no longer have use for. This has always been the case. Police take this equipment and convert it to non-offensive police use. This also saves those valuable budget dollars for actual police officers instead of equipment.
So, since the advent of modern police services they have been militaristic. Their organization, oaths, standard operating procedures, discipline, and ranks have roots in the military. They have used military equipment, tactics, and training. None of this over time has resulted in egregious system-wide violations of civil rights, or degradations in the interactions of cops with their communities. It has resulted in lower crime rates and lives saved. Militarization of your police has been, and is, standard operating procedure.