The Radley Balko book “Rise of the Warrior Cop” has been making a lot of media hay lately and I have discussed the subject in various discussion forums. To paraphrase those discussions I have the following to say on the subject.
I agree that 10 man departments forming SWAT teams is a problem, but I also think Balko is going in with an agenda, cherry picking data and exhibiting a little confirmation bias.
My opinion…it’s not gear that “militarizes” police. Its their actions with or without the gear. If I kick down your door and storm your house in street clothes pointing a revolver it’s not legally different than if Im wearing a helmet and carrying a subgun. The overkill stories being bandied about are ALL about police leadership decision making. The trappings and vehicles are just a diversion from the fact that storming an office building for wood importation records would be overkill if it was done by uniformed patrolmen.
If anyone is truly interested in the roots of PD’s “gearing up” I think they need to look into the after action analysis of the Mumbai attack. That attack (in conjunction with domestic mass shootings) plays a LARGE role in US police forces trying to prepare themselves to deal with such situations. I sat through a number of regional meetings on it. As the Bank of America incident illustrated: Two domestic bank robbers outgunned cops with nothing but pistols and shotguns. What would 4 dedicated attackers with AK’s be able to do in your Town/City with officers restricted to Barney Fife equipment?
This is not to say that cops should be walking the streets CARRYING rifles..and they really don’t, they are just kept in cars in case of need…or doing routine patrol in Bearcats. But we need to balance preparedness with departmental policies of use. Which is the REAL issue here IMO….
I have seen pictures of turn of the century (1918 etc) cops with motorcycle mounted machine guns and 1940’s cops with armored vehicles. I don’t think this trend is unprecedented, or that having the gear is necessarily wrong. But if we cant use it correctly then someone will have to set policy limits on its use.