Images of police wearing masks, helmets and holding assault rifles are posted all over social media. These images represent an increase in police militarization. With the help of federal programs such at the 1033 program; it has made it accessible for police departments to obtain excess military equipment, which has created an augment among the public. People are questioning whether or not this excess of equipment is necessary for a police to perform regular police work.
Heavily armed cops can escalate a situation or create a dangerous situation if too much force is used. Swat teams were organized to be responders in emergency situations and are now being sent on drug searches and other situations they are not intended for. The military is designed to protect the state and citizens and act upon war against another state, and authorized to use deadly force as well. The purpose of the police is to ensure public safety and assist in emergency situations. These are two separate organizations with different purposes; militarization of the police is simply unnecessary.
I do agree that the police force has become too militarized.
Some believe the military is far superior to law enforcement agencies and they should not be compared to the military. There are some situations in which heavy armory and assault weapons are needed such as in emergency situations. People argue that it is only in the public’s best interest for cops to have military equipment.
Since SWAT teams were organized in the 1960s, in response to riots, disturbances and violence, militarizing policing has grown (Harwood, 2014). In Harwood’s (2014) article he argues that police across America are being trained in a way that emphasizes force and aggression and has suggested that most officers “believe policing is about kicking ass rather than working with the community.” SWAT has had a huge influence on the militarization of law enforcement agencies. After the shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, new and social media headlines were all about police militarization. All of the riots in Ferguson seemed as if it was necessary to for police to use deadly force, however deadly force may have escalated the situation.
Police are progressively becoming more militarized with the unlimited amount equipment law enforcement agencies are able to get their hand on. Although many citizens believe it is in the public’s best interest for police officers to carry all this equipment, it is in fact ruining public relations with the police.
According to Gross (2016), “the law gives little guidance on when the use of force by police is justified” (Pg. 154). There are currently no limitations to obtaining excess military equipment and there are not set limits on when deadly force is appropriate to use. This has created an unsettling image in the public’s mind about police. Police are becoming less trustworthy in the eyes of citizens and this is a problem because community police are individuals anyone should feel comfortable talking to. The 1033 program is supplying law enforcement agencies with equipment, which is directly giving them all the equipment causing them to become more militarized. SWAT was created for emergency situations, however they are being used more frequently to handle situations the community police should be taking car of.
The 1033 program is directly providing military equipment to law enforcement agencies with no restrictions. According to Smith (2010), “the 1033 Program enables LEAs who have sworn officers with the powers of arrest and apprehension, to obtain aircraft, watercraft, tactical and non-tactical vehicles, weapons, mobile command centers, generators and many other items at no cost to them.” If all law enforcement agencies are able to obtain any equipment they want, they are going to take advantage of the free equipment. A lot of powers follow when officers is provided with assault weapons, which later leads to the public’s distrust in community officers.
The surplus supply of military equipment leads to police brutality and distrust within the community. The philosophy for community policing is the ability to develop a sense of trust between members of a community (Stocker et al, 2015). After several accounts of police brutality, body cameras are becoming more and more popular (Stocker et al, 2015). Deadly force and body cams have increased distrust between the public and police officers. This is a problem because community police should not be feared, their job is to ensure public safety and create positive community relationships, unlike the military that are trained to go after the enemy.
SWAT is an organization that was meant for emergency situations, but is now used excessively. According to Dulin (2005) “SWAT teams have been described as the “fifth branch of the military.” Not only do SWAT team members use weapons similar to their military counterparts, they also wear uniforms similar in effect and style to soldiers. Many SWAT team members have former military experience, adding to the paramilitary element”. They serve an important purpose in emergency situations; they should not be taking action for smaller incidents such as the war on drugs. They have been acting upon incidents that the police should be acting upon, which make it seem as if SWAT has become the new community law enforcement agency.
Law enforcement agencies have become too militarized and it has an affect on community relations. If police were simply restricted from military equipment the will leave a greater separation between the military and the police.