P1 First Person: Police militarization, professionalism, and the balance of persuasion and force

“Militarization” is seldom defined and has grown to mean whatever the author doesn’t like about modern law enforcement

Editor's Note: This week’s PoliceOne First Person essay is from PoliceOne Member Fred Leland, with additional input from security and technology analyst Alex Olesker. In PoliceOne "First Person" essays, our Members and Columnists candidly share their own unique view of the world. This is a platform from which individual officers can share their own personal insights on issues confronting cops today, as well as opinions, observations, and advice on living life behind the thin blue line. If you want to share your own perspective with other P1 Members, simply send us an email with your story.

By Fred Leland and Alex Olesker

There has been a lot of talk recently in the wake of the Occupy Wall Street Movement and its evolution state to state on the topic of militarizing police forces. This topic has also come up in regards to police raids in their various forms throughout the country. Yet “militarization” is seldom defined and has grown to mean whatever the author doesn’t like about modern law enforcement. Often it’s about gear, but dressing in black does little to militarize an agency. Expanding tactical capabilities also do not justify the widespread outrage, as a more capable police force is, all else being equal, always preferable.

Though automatic weapons and armored vehicles in law enforcement are usually associated to the War on Terror, it’s important to remember that SWAT was a response to several sniping incidents against citizens and police in 1960s Los Angeles and the rise of urban guerrilla movements. The North Hollywood shooting in 1997 is yet another example of a conventional crime turned unconventional, when an armed confrontation between two heavily-armed bank robbers and the LAPD. This incident left police outgunned to the point they had to go commandeer weapons from a local firearms dealer.

We are witness to a worldwide evolving threat from highly trained active shooters. Westside Middle School, Thurston High School, Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, the Amish school house in Pennsylvania and many other schools, universities and campuses have been victims of active shooting incidents. Terrorists have used small arms and small unit swarming tactics at luxury hotels, restaurants, train stations, community centers, cinemas, police headquarters and other public locations. Recent examples include the coordinated attacks in Mumbai, India and the premeditated shootings at Fort Hood, Texas and the gangs and narco-terrorists on the Mexican border.

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