Monday, August 18, 2014


A few days ago my e-mail from the WordSpy website delivered a new and timely neologism: SWATification, defined as "the increase in the use and militarization of police SWAT teams." It's a word that is particularly timely given the sad events in the Missouri town of Ferguson, where the shooting last week of a young black man by a white policeman led to days of protests that often turned violent enough to call for a very large and very heavily armed police response.

Which leads to an ugly question for those of us who love this country: when did Sheriff Andy Taylor turn into Robocop, and Mayberry turn into Ferguson?

Police departments are paramilitary organizations charged with keeping the peace, and police officers in this country - going back to the days of the frontier marshals of the Old West - have always been armed. In a country where the ownership of deadly weapons is a right guaranteed by the Constitution* and criminals are as likely as not to be armed (and even once had nicknames like "Machine Gun Kelly"), it only makes sense for the forces of law and order to provide for their own defense. But when did we decide that our police needed to look like front-line combat soldiers? At what point did even the smallest of towns decide that it needed armored cars or SWAT teams equipped with military grade automatic weapons?

There's been a great deal of handwringing in the op-ed pages in the last week about the militarization of our local police forces that has taken place since 9/11. Vast amounts of money have been lavished on police and other security agencies, often without the least consideration of what their needs actually are relative to the threats they face, and that money has not - in most cases - made us any safer.

Don't get me wrong - I'm a firm believer in law and order, and in ensuring that criminals of any kind who prey on honest citizens feel the full weight of the law land on their heads. But I'm afraid that we have created a new situation in which the transformation of our local police into something resembling an army has driven a wedge between us as average citizens and the people we trust to protect us. I for one feel less safe when the weight of armament on the streets is so large on all sides.

Maybe that's just me.

I know that some of my friends who are police officers read this blog, and I'd be interested to know what their opinions are. And yours, too, Dear Readers. How do you feel about the militarization of our police? Does it make you feel safer?

Have a good day. Be safe out there. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Although common sense is not.


eViL pOp TaRt said...

A good question. In most situations sending in SWAT teams is unnecessary and may be a provocative cue. Recently there was the notion of well-armed drug gangs armed with automatic weapons. I wonder how often that was the case, though.

The situation in MO sounds like the police were a quasi occupying army.

Linda Kay said...

In answer to your question, it does not make me feel any safer. When my husband and I got off a plane in Russia some years back, there was a military presence that made us really feel uneasy. I hate to think that's where we are going in this country. Not sure how we go about making sure the "bad" side is under control as well.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

Some of the problem is that the police come from communities outside the community in question, making them outsiders. Police departments should have rules requiring that sworn officers are hired only from the local community. In that way, the department would be more likely to reflect the local demographics.

Mike said...

I think the police need to look like the police. Not the army.

Last night there was a mixture of both types of uniforms in Ferguson. Most were police uniforms.

Duckbutt said...

Sending in the Guard makes them into sacrificial victims. Rarely are they trained in crowd control.

I think that cops togged out as SWAT teams conveys the expectation that there's going to be serious trouble.

Banana Oil said...

Once the Texas Rangers sent one ranger to deal with a riot. When asked about it, he said, "You have only one riot, don't you?"