In recent decades, there has been a lot of attention to the militarization of the police. Right before 9/11, the heavy weaponry normally used by all small-town police officers featured a high power rifle, a typical pump-action shotgun, and sometimes an extra M-16 that was easily placed in the trunk of the vehicle owned by a supervising officer. This system has changed and currently, police officers don black full battle uniforms and consistently have assault rifles or M4 carbine assault rifles similar to the ones used in combat tours.
The wars on terrorism and wars contributed to this sudden change in police agencies. Ever since the establishment of the 1033 program by the Department of Defense, these agencies easily receive military equipment and other weapons. Concerning recent police raids, an investigation carried out by the American Civil Liberties Union found that there was no oversight during the raids. Over 800 paramilitary raids were studied and surprisingly, 80% involved routine law enforcement duties for example serving search warrants in various homes; legit emergencies like hostage situations and barricades constituted only 7%. The downside of these exercises being the fact that they target the minority communities.
The current government administration headed by Trump invalidated Executive order 13688 initiated by former President Obama that limited the capacity of the federal program which allowed both departments of the state and local police to acquire military equipment freely without any training or oversight about their use. Following the institution of the 1033 program, law enforcement has failed and lost public trust.
The abolishment of executive order 13688 will again grant the police departments unrestricted access to armored vehicles, grenade launchers, high caliber guns, and other forms of military equipment. In an era where police reforms and criminal justice have tremendous support, the decision of scraping that order is a clear misunderstanding of what the Americans really want and what is actually productive in enhancing public safety.
The process of giving out unused military equipment in several local governments started in 1997. The budget defense department backed the practice. According to the 1033 program, the department of defense is required to publish a list of excess equipment, which is available to local governments. However, the crucial moment just like many other issues arose after 9/11. From the nineties until now, the department of defense has donated equipment to local governments worth five billion dollars – most of them being non-lethal for example office items. But looking at the total value of all military equipment received by police forces, it is much higher; almost thirty-four billion dollars all in form of grants acquired from the Department of Homeland security. The grants allow the police force to acquire any military equipment they need from private suppliers; a total of thirty-nine billion dollars is, therefore, the entire defense budget.
Formerly, when there was absolutely no other peaceful option and the situation required a swift military level response, only the S.W.A.T teams were called upon to deal with it as needed. Nevertheless, the S.W.A.T teams were maintained by only the largest police departments in specific big cities in America. However, to date, it is the main objective of police departments to be equipped with new weaponry as well as receive comprehensive tactical instruction and military training. There is also progress in all police departments because there are at least one or more S.W.A.T. teams; all members of these teams usually get their training from the U.S special ops commandos. as mentioned earlier, all these departments have S.W.A.T. teams involved in minor operations like serving warrants. Instead of being ‘special’, they are now a ‘routine’ and they claim such operations are undertaken with the safety of police offers into consideration.
The militarization of the police force absolutely leads to disaster. The most serious outcome of this rapid move is the gradual shift within the minds of civilians; they will no longer consider the police as ‘men in blue’ but rather, they will turn to be soldiers. This change is so crucial that it translates to modification in the nature of law enforcement. The main task of a police officer is to maintain peace and treat nay offender as a suspect. Under the rule of law, the same officers are supposed to defend and protect the civil liberties of each citizen including the offenders. A suspect placed in custody is innocent until proven guilty in domestic law enforcement. Police officers also mainly work in a friendly population and are known to be trained to handle disputes and problems by the help of a complex legal system; any use of lethal violence must be the last resort.
On the contrary, soldiers are adequately trained to identify two groups of people namely the enemies and those who do not pose any threat; only these two options are used to categorize anyone they encounter. The final decision is so often reached while they are enclosed by a population, which looks at the soldier as an occupying force. After the soldier identifies a potential threat, he has only one simple task; to kill the enemy. The soldier will try not to eliminate any harmless person. The two comparisons between a soldier and a police officer portray that there is a clear-cut contrast between how the two operate; the soldiers will always be alert to deploy, engage, and eliminate the enemies of the government in close combat like their motto states while the creed of the police officer expects them to protect and serve.
It does not mean that the police officers serving in the field must ignore all the techniques and pieces of equipment that help them carry out their duties in challenging and demanding situations. Neither does it denote that all police officers will be killing civilians after they get advanced training in military tactics. In quite a number of cases, police officers do their jobs in the streets engaging in scenes that fell like war sometimes. Although this is the case, the government should be mindful in incorporating military-style training since it has numerous consequences to domestic law enforcement. Killing the enemy is the main objective of a soldier; therefore, it will not be surprising when the police behave like soldiers.