Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Obama suspends military equipment transfer to police departments

The specter of our "protect and serve" officers decked out in full combat gear next to armored personnel carriers is troubling on many levels. So Obama's executive action is most welcome. But it is only a start as Paul Waldeman writes in the Plum Line at the Washington Post.

The program under which military equipment is transferred to local police departments has certainly helped spread the idea that police are soldiers in a war. Give a small town’s police force an armored personnel carrier and a dozen assault rifles, and suddenly carrying out that warrant on a guy you think is selling drugs turns into a military operation. This may be anecdotal, but I’ve seen police in a number of small towns where no cop has ever been shot wearing bulletproof vests on their daily rounds, while 20 years ago, cops would only don the vests if they were going on some kind of raid. And that’s despite the fact that crime has dropped precipitously over that period.

This web of associated problems with American policing — racism, abuse and exploitation of people in poor communities, inadequate training, the warrior mentality — is going require sustained attention and policy energy, particularly at the local and state level. Not arming every local force like it’s the 101st Airborne is a start, but it’s about the least we can do.

What else must be done?

This is undoubtedly good news (how anyone ever thought it would be a good idea to give local police bayonets and grenade launchers is difficult to understand). But everything we’ve learned in the last nine months tells us that the problems in American policing are so deep and so wide that they not only will require years if not decades to solve, they require a fundamental rethinking of the ideology of American policing.

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