Police Militarization


I believe that the legislature needs to hold hearings and set state wide policy on when, who, how and which agency of the police are allowed to bring out SWAT and Military type equipment. If the legislature needs to set reasonable policies for which agencies are allowed to have the heavy equipment we are seeing in Ferguson MO and Watertown MA, and set standards of excellence and training so the agencies that have this heavy firepower are able to use it well. The Legislature is failing our citizens if they do not address the issue and we will have an oppressive police state eventually because every police department will have the Military equipment and use it as often as they want. While I think the the police agencies in Massachusetts are not as inept as what we are seeing in Ferguson it is clear that the political system has not really paid attention to the freely available heavy equipment on offer from the Dept of Defense and Homeland Security and what that means for the public in the short and long run. We need to have the public conversation.

The police as centurion philosophy is also a problem, compared to police as a partner in the community.

I regard the shut down of Watertown for the terrorist hunt largely a failure to use resources well, and have not heard of any critical post event analysis of what was done well or badly. This needs to be publicly addressed too.

Given the current events, and our experience with heavy handed police action, it is time that an effort was made to impose a systematic policy on police militarization with an eye to laying out a framework when it is allowed to be used and who is allowed to possess it and the training required to retain it.

9 replies on “Police Militarization”

  1. Dan, thank you.

    The events in Missouri certainly raise this issue sharply.

    The feds have made a lot of grants for homeland security to local law enforcement over the last decade and there is lot of very heavy firepower in the hands of local police.

    Certainly in most local policing situations, that firepower is irrelevant and there may be a temptation to use it when it isn’t appropriate.

    I’m putting this down on the list of things that we could take up when the new session begins and all the players are in place.

  2. Will,

    On this topic, I think it’s worth reviewing what happened in your own senate district after the marathon bombings. There was a lot more hardware on display in those days than there was in Missouri.

  3. I agree with Daniel. It upsets me that so many jurisdictions grab all this hardware in case it will come in handy, and as a natural consequence bring out out at the smallest provocation.

    And what about those MRAPs? Each one of these babies cost taxpayers a half mil. Being creatures of military procurement they are also very costly to repair. Does DoD provide spare parts? If, not, where will they come from and who will pay for them? Do municipal garages understand how to fix these beasts?

    Also, I note that DoD provides no training on any of the items law enforcement agencies receive. This really courts misuse and collateral damage, especially in situations of civil unrest like we saw in Ferguson MO. Heck, the show of force we saw after the Boston bombings should have been scary enough for anyone.

    Congress is investigating the 1033 program, which has dumped $5m in army surplus on local law enforcement since 1997. The hearings may result in minor reforms, but I’m not holding my breath; it’s too much of a temptation for Congress-critters to belly up to all that pork.

    So, citizens and legislators must loudly protest these sinister giveaways. Stockpiling deadly instruments of war of little value to communities at the expense of our freedoms and local taxpayers’ dollars is a very bad bargain for America.

  4. Sorry, I meant to say that the 1033 program has dumped $5 Billion worth of equipment since 1997, not 5 million. Many of the recipients are small police forces having fewer than 10 officers. All they really needed was some pepper spray.

  5. I completely agree that there is a lot of excess hardware floating around, especially at the Sheriff level. Sheriffs in other places have a larger role in law enforcement than in Massachusetts, but MA Sheriffs have ended up with some very heavy duty stuff on the federal nickel.

    1. That’s undoubtedly right — Ferguson reflects not only hardware, but a disconnect between the police and the community. Hardware can encourage isolation — the ultimate example is our drone wars in the Middle East.

  6. Will, I agree with this, and I would wonder if we could start (or already have, who knows? I don’t pay enough attention) some system of record-keeping and training to help spot potential police trouble spots and repair them. Reading the news from Ferguson it sounds like their police department has built a solidly terrible culture; biased, confrontational, and unprofessional.

    So, are equipment acquisitions sensible? Are there well-defined situations for use (and not use) of the mostly-not-lethal-but-darn-painful weapons that generate resentment and ill will? And do we have policies in place for use of recording equipment in police cars and interviews? I understand that this was tried in San Diego and outcomes were almost entirely positive.

    1. As you suggest, I think the real issues is culture. I think there is some over-possession of equipment in Massachusetts, but I think the police culture is much better. There are real problems, but I think in Boston in particular, the police stay relatively close to the community — they put a lot of effort into that. It seems like it is very different in Missouri.

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