Should Police Have Military Capabilities?
Programs that transfer surplus military equipment from federal agencies to local law enforcement have been around for decades. However, Congress increased spending to help police departments acquire more military gear in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks.
Obama is also placing a long list of military equipment under tighter control, including:
- Drones and manned aircraft
- Specialized firearms and explosives
- Battering rams and riot gear such as batons, helmets and shields
Beginning in October 2015, police will have to get approval from their city council, mayor or other local governing body to obtain these types of equipment. Police departments will be required to explain why they need such gear as well as collect data on training and use involving the equipment.
Police Militarization and Its Effect on Citizens
The issue of police militarization most recently came into the spotlight in Ferguson last year. Police fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, sparking protests from area residents. After critics questioned why police in full body armor with armored trucks responded to dispel the thus-far peaceful demonstrations, Obama ordered a review of the programs that provide the equipment.
While this type of equipment has been useful in the aftermath of such tragedies as the Boston Marathon bombing, critics point out that it also serves to alienate citizens and give residents the feeling that the police are their enemy rather than civil servants sworn to protect and serve.
The Importance of Trust in Law Enforcement
Trust that police will protect the innocent is a crucial element of a civilized society. Statistics show that seeing police respond to civil demonstrations in full military gear erodes that trust.
Rather than repealing programs that supply this gear to police, the president is issuing executive orders requiring federal agencies that supply police with military-style gear to consult with law enforcement, civil rights groups and civil liberties organizations to enact changes that encourage accountability and transparency.
The Fine Line Between Trust and an Effective Police Force
What do you think? Do you see police in military gear as protectors or as bullies? Have President Obama’s recent orders gone far enough to restore trust in the police in embattled communities?