What happened to friendly neighborhood cops? The drug and terror wars happened. Via Oregon DOT/Flickr
Balko, via the Cato Institute
The other problem is that political factions decry police militarization when it's used against them, but tend to fall somewhere between indifferent and gleeful when it's used against people they don't like. Conservatives, remember, were furious over Waco, Ruby Ridge, and a host of BATF abuses against gun owners in the 1990s -- and rightly so. Liberals mocked them for it.
It won't be long before we see pro-militarization lobbying and pressure groups. Say hello to the police-industrial complex.
As for change, the good news is that I think the public is finally waking up to this problem. Anecdotally, I've noticed more skepticism, for example, in the comment sections to stories about SWAT raids. I've also noticed more skepticism in much of the media coverage of these raids. And again, I think the fact that these tactics are now being used against people who have the means and status to speak out is drawing new attention to police militarization, and causing more people to question the wisdom of all of this. But again, there are some major political hurdles in the way of reform.The gear and weapons and tanks are a problem. But I think a much deeper problem is the effect all of this war talk and battle rhetoric has had on policing as a profession. In much of the country today, police officers are psychologically isolated from the communities they serve. It's all about us vs. them. There are lots of reasons for that, which I describe in the book but are too involved to get into here. But it's really destructive.I make a number of specific suggestions in the book about how to change that mindset -- most of which came from interviews with long-time cops and former police chiefs. But generally speaking, cops should be a part of the communities in which they work. They should walk beats. They should know the names of the school principals, 7-11 managers, and Boys and Girls Club and community center staffers. When your only interaction with the community is antagonistic -- responding to calls, conducting stop & frisks, questioning people -- your relationship with the community will be antagonistic. Cops are public servants. Their job is to keep the peace while protecting and observing our constitutional rights. Somewhere in the process constantly declaring war on things, we've lost sight of that.For 30 years, politicians and public officials have been arming, training, and dressing cops as if they're fighting a war. They've been dehumanizing drug offenders and criminal suspects as the enemy. And of course they've explicitly and repeatedly told them they're fighting a war. It shouldn't be all that surprising that a lot of cops have started to believe it.
The Founders would have been appalled at the idea of a team of police, dressed and armed like soldiers, breaking into private homes in the middle of the night.