Why Do Local Community Police Need Military Weapons?

Neighborhood Policing: The view from inside a
Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MWRAP) vehicle


I have watched new policing methods since Mayberry RFD, to the adoption of bullet-proof vests to SWAT teams. The adoption of these new methods were reasonable. What is happening today is that the police are suffering the progression of “mission creep.”

Less and less, many police are thinking themselves as protectors of the peace and more and more as a militaristic thick blue line. Small towns are ready to counter an insurgency of unhappy citizens.

Some act with impunity waylaying motorists on the interstate highways. They are empowered to confiscate cars and money as the possible fruit of fantasy trafficking conspiracies. Recovering confiscated property by transient workers or travelers may be impossible to recover because of time and cost. Many just move on lest worse might happen.

PoliceStateMARCH_13_190_wideThe police use controversial techniques like “stop and frisk,” or DWI (Driving while Irish, not to be confused with driving while black). This is nothing less than the notion that, if you stop everyone, statistically, someone will possess medicine (not in its original container), drugs, have a warrant, or be guilty of something. Even littering is a popular reason to pull someone over, or alleging a tail light outage. It is true that if you stop everyone on flimsy or absent cause, you will find someone in violation of something.

However, the presumption of innocence demands that people have a right to travel freely and unimpeded. Manufactured suspicions relying on how low one’s pants hang around one’s waist, whether a Mohawk haircut, tattoos, or skin color are clear and present indicators of criminality. Eccentricity is a normal part of the human condition. Even mental illness is part of the human condition. We are a free country and we have the duty to rein in police overreach.

To confuse mental illness and eccentricity with criminality is wrong. Criminality may be a form of mental illness. However, the difference between conscious deliberative criminality is different from the non-deliberative delusional or hallucinatory actions of those who have no control over their actions. There is some overlap in the continuum of those poles but the qualitative difference is huge.

PoliceCameraRialtodcd538da8f08ea99cd05df16307aaf1cToo often, the police see no difference between the mentally ill and the uncooperative venal criminal. Too we see the mentally ill beaten to death by police with no training or empathy. Too often “command presence” trumps compassion. Their promotions are based on the number and quality of arrests they make. The quality of arrests has to be “good” even if the facts of the arrest must be fudged a bit to allow the district attorneys to successfully prosecute.

Truly, the concept of neighborhood policing has been hidden inside the shatter-proof, mine-proof, wall of isolation as much as any foreign policy.


About carlos

I'm a curious person, of reasonable intellect, "on the beach" (retired) and enjoying my interest in anthropology, language, civil rights, and a few other areas. I've been a hippie/student/aerospace tech writer in the '60s, a witness to the Portuguese revolution in the ‘70s, a defense test engineer and witness to the Guatemalan genocide in the '80s, and a network engineer for an ISP in the '90s. Now I’m a student and commentator until my time is up. I've spent time under the spell of the Mesoamerican pyramids and the sweet sound of the Portuguese language. I've lived in Europe, traveled in Brazil, Central America, Iceland, New Zealand, and other places. My preferred mode of travel is with a backpack and I eat (almost) anything local. Somehow, many of the countries I have been to have had civil unrest (for which I was not responsible). I'm open to correspond with anyone who might share my liberal, humanist interests. I live in San Buenaventura, California.
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2 Responses to Why Do Local Community Police Need Military Weapons?

  1. I’m curious…do you really perceive an increase in police brutality and/or unfair treatment of citizens? I haven’t read any statistics or anything, but my perception is that there has been a large decrease in such unfair treatment toward civilians within the past few decades. On the other hand, perhaps my perception is more influenced by unfair treatment toward people of color as opposed to the mentally ill. To put myself in the place of the police officer for a moment, however, I can’t help but think that it must be difficult for most officers to distinguish between the eccentric and seemingly defiant behavior of a mentally ill person and the willfully defiant or aggressive behavior of a criminal. It does not seem fair to ask our officers to play the psychiastrist and decide which is which in the heat of the moment, especially if the officer perceives that his or her life, or the lives of other people, may be in immediate jeopardy.

    Another question, only because I am dreadfully ignorant of such things, and most of my knowledge of police activities comes from watching Law & Order SVU — are police officers really authorized to confiscate vehicles and other property just like that, without evidence?

    • carlos says:

      Hi Tiare, thanks for the question. Sorry I’m a little late getting back.
      My perspective on police tendency to brutality comes from traveling the South in the fifties with my mother, coming of age in the civil rights era, and a conviction that the abuse of power is inherent in human nature. The abuse of power waxes and wanes in our perception, depending on the time and the news cycle.

      There are two issues at play. One is the tendency of power to corrupt the police in their dealings with those they see as criminal (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_prison_experiment). The other is the treatment by authorities of those who, due to diminished capacity to act properly in society, are unduly targeted by the police when they should be treated as mentally ill.

      Recently, the Albuquerque police have been subject to federal scrutiny because of their high number of police shootings. Widely available (Google) is information on police confiscations on many of the country’s interstates. (http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v99.n131.a06.html)

      Back in the Reagan/Clinton years mental hospitals were criticized for costing too much. Sadly the solution was to release many of the mentally ill onto the street where their mental issues caused them to swell the ranks of the street homeless. The police then had to deal with the mental conditions of petty crime and alcohol abuse. The mentally ill became criminals thrown in with the genuinely criminal and they were disruptive.

      Today a similar movement is underway to release those unfortunates and a population of prison-hardened pot smokers and crack addicts back into society to save the cost of incarceration. There is little talk of solving the problem of mental illness or our country’s obsession with moving minorities into criminal career paths.

      One of the problems is our inability to raise enough tax money to even adequately fund our veterans hospitals much less the legions of mentally ill incarcerated or living on the street. You can’t have 7th graders being arrested (zero tolerance) by the police for behavior that I got detention for and expect that they will not have their life’s course changed for the worse.

      Beyond that I just don’t think we are budgeting for a good society, not in education, infrastructure, mental health, corrections and many other areas. I see this is starting to sound like a rant so I’ll stop. Cheers to you and yours

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