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Militarization of the police?

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In light of the police shooting and aftermath in Missouri, a lot has been written about the "militarization of the police".

I can't comment on tactics used for crowd control, because I would be going way out of my lane, but I would like to get a discussion going on the wider topic.

I post this article not because I fully agree with it, but it does seem the most balanced of the ones I read, so I thought it would be good fodder for discussion.

Personally, I am not a big fan of the dark uniforms and external body armour, though I do see the logic behind it (dark uniforms: no contrasting torso target for the baddy to aim at; external body armour: easier to doff on and off).

How do people on this forum, particularily those with law enforcement experience, feel about this topic?


Militarization and protests in North America – do we have a problem?
By Matthew Coutts | Daily Brew – Thu, 14 Aug, 2014

The shooting death of unarmed Michael Brown in a Missouri suburb earlier this week and the rampant police response to demonstrations in its wake have led many to question the scope of police militarization in the United States.

Brown’s death, a black teenager at the hands of a white police officer, has sparked tense racial outrage in the town of Ferguson and across America, highlighted most viscerally by the nights of unrest that have followed in the community.

Photographs, live streaming footage and first-hand accounts of Wednesday night clashes between protesters and heavily-armed police forces are jaw-dropping. Armoured tactical vehicles can be seen pawing down the town’s darkened streets. Officers are visible through thick clouds of tear gas, dressed in gear that shouts soldier, not peacekeeper.

Acoustic Riot Control Devices, or sound cannons, stand at the ready, grenade launchers filled with rubber bullets are seen being fired at will into crowded streets. It’s military action, on North American streets.

What is happening in Ferguson is a singular instance, comparable only in scope and response to previous conflicts between police and the public on the streets of America, and Canada. But such police responses have indeed happened before.

In Moncton earlier this summer, the RCMP manhunt for a gunman who allegedly shot and killed three officers involved, according to Vice, armoured vehicles, helicopters and a cadre of heavily-equipped officers in full combat uniforms. Faced with a threat with a proven willingness to shoot, this is perhaps the best argument for access to such equipment.

Other instances are more troubling. A peaceful anti-fracking First Nations protest in New Brunswick ended in violence earlier this year after a large police presence featuring camouflaged snipers descended on the scene and employed military-like tactics to clear their encampment.

Four years ago, when the G20 summit brought protesters to the streets of downtown Toronto, an army of officers from various forces responded with strength of numbers against peaceful demonstrators. The result, similar to Ferguson, was allegations of police brutality, an unnecessarily violent response and the wanton use of the weapons available, including rubber bullets and tear gas.

Darryl Davies, a professor of criminology at Carleton University, says local Canadian police agencies have not gone the way of militarization and are in principle committed to service-based policing.

But he says Canadian officers and the general public must resist the pressure to perceive the role of police this way, which indeed comes from south of the border, often from fictional television shows.

“What do we see? We see police officers breaking doors down, we see SWAT teams and tactical units going in,” Davies told Yahoo Canada News. “We got a bit of this during the G8 and G20, so we are seeing some signs of it. What that points to is basically the way which policing is being framed in Canada is absolutely, completely out of sync with the majority of what police do on a day-to-day basis.”

Davies added: “In the United States right now, police in many cities have gone the direction of this militarization approach.”

As Newsweek reports, the militarization of American police forces is all but official policy. The 1990 National Defence Authorization Act, updated in 1996, allows the Secretary of Defense to transfer surplus military equipment to federal and state agencies. The policy is known as the “1033 Program” and has seen everything from aircrafts and armoured personnel carriers to guns, boots and canteens transferred to local police forces.

The 1033 Program accounts for some, though possibly not all, of the military-grade presence on the streets of Ferguson on Wednesday night. It also accounts for scores of other community police forced decked out with gear more often seen in action overseas. It explains how a small Connecticut town received a $733,000 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle (MRAP) for transfer fee of $2,800 (an apparent necessity, despite the historical absence of landmines in Watertown, Conn.).

And it also accounts for how Bloomingtown, Georgia, with a population of 2,713, secured its police force four grenade launchers.

Newsweek’s Taylor Wofford writes:

Given the proliferation of military weapons and military training among America’s police departments, the use of military force and military tactics is not surprising. When your only tool is a hammer, after all, every problem looks like a nail.

Michael Kempa, a criminology professor at the University of Ottawa, says he feels Canadian police forces are trending in the same direction as their American counterparts.

“There is a long history in Canada of police militarization,” Kempa told CBC’s The Current, pointing to policing around large events, such as Toronto’s G20 or the Vancouver Olympics, which are turned over to the RCMP, a national force that does not have the same direct accountability to the community.

“If they are doing the planning, and much of it has been militarized with sound cannons and armoured vehicles and the rest of it, we actually have much less control over that as citizens as we would have had in the past.”

Things may not seem so bleak north of the border, but we have seen our own police forces secure military-grade equipment. The Windsor Star reported earlier this year that the local police force secured a 10-ton armoured fighting vehicle from the Department of National Defence.

And the Nova Scotia community of New Glasgow received a similar vehicle around the same time, telling local media they intended to use it in situations that require bulletproof cover for officers and civilians.

Several other towns and cities have also seen their forces equipped with tactical armoured vehicles (TAVs), nicknamed Cougars by the military. Such vehicles have been donated to York Regional Police, Saskatoon police and others through a “Cougars for cops” program over the past several years.

In 2012, the RCMP received a fleet of TAVs from the Canadian military, complete with gun ports, sentry hatches and capable of high ballistic and explosive protection. A request for information about the use of these vehicles was not immediately returned. At the time, however, Commissioner Bob Paulson said, “It will keep our members safe, and increase their ability to intervene when communities face dangerous circumstances.”

There have been other instances of local forces securing powerful equipment. In May, the Montreal police service acquired two sound cannons to use in the case of future protests and demonstrations, according to La Presse. Toronto police kept four similar devices that had been obtained ahead of the G20 Summit. In both cases, forces were said to value their communication ability over their ear-piercing crowd dispersal function.

In his interview with Yahoo Canada News, criminology professor Darryl Davies said he’s not opposed to equipping police with the proper equipment, “But I want them in police uniforms. And I want them using those weapons properly under Canadian law, as dictated by the criminal code.”

“For me, policing has to be what the community wants the police to do and that is provide a service,” he said. “Don’t call yourself a police service in Canada and run around in army fatigues like they do in the States, kicking doors down in the pursuit of drugs.”

What’s playing out in Missouri this week is not the same as those instances that have occurred in Canada or anywhere else. But the response, those powerful and overwhelming suppression tactics by a militarized police force, are troubling. Police have a balance to maintain.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association wrote recently, in response to the Toronto police shooting of teenager Sammy Yatim, that “police play a critical role protecting public safety in our communities.”

“It is our view that the motto of ‘to serve and protect’ be a true starting point for police officers to guard against the tensions and ‘us against them mentality’ that can arise between police and the communities they are to serve,” the CCLA wrote.

One wonders how the police force in Ferguson, Missouri, perceives the public. Are they there to serve and protect. Or is it us against them?
I really dont care if the uniform they give me for patrol work is black or some other colour scheme as long as it is standard among the three services.  MP wise at least.  Back in the day when we had one police service and three different uniforms it not only looked bad but it was confusing to the civilians we were required to deal with.

As for external vice internal body armour, and I've worn both over my career, I MUCH prefer the external body armour for comfort and versatility.  Internal body armour goes on and must stay on regardless of duties unless you want to take the time to undress to remove it.  Come in for break, to conduct an interview, for admin duties or for any other reason (and there are many) and the internal body zrmour gets pretty uncomfortable.  Even while wearing it, it can get pretty darn hot.  Much hotter then the external body armour.  External quickly comes off and on regardless of your duties.

I really think the attitude of the officer  (police officer) you are dealing with is much more important then the uniform and/or body armour he or she is wearing. 

When it comes to the current situation in the US I think the whole militarization issue is just a destraction from the real issues of race and special interest groups.  My 2 cants at least. 
I think it's a tool in a tool box.  I also think they're using the wrong tools right now.  If you take down a meth lab I can see the need for full battle gear.  Peaceful protest not so much.
Sheep Dog AT said:
I think it's a tool in a tool box.  I also think they're using the wrong tools right now.  If you take down a meth lab I can see the need for full battle gear.  Peaceful protest not so much.

With "Black Block", peaceful protests don't stay peaceful for long.
Agreed, that said most instances shields and batons suffice.  Also again you have the tool in the tool box.  If required roll it out. 
I am a bit out of my lanes when it comes to riot control.  But I'd personally rather see an LRAD in use to clear the streets than other traditional methods such as shield wall with batons or a cavalry charge which puts everyone at risk.  One thing that hasn't gotten any focus on, is that last night (morning of the 17th) police where shot at.  A police car did get shot at.  And a man at a restaurant was shot.  With a gunman hiding in a large crowd that is already disobeying the curfew, I understand why the tear gas and armored vehicles where used.
I've been following twitter and haven't seen any of that.

They are using the LRAD.  Ferguson is writing the book on how to do everything wrong.
Militarization of police has happened slowly. In some cities now it is Obey or Die. This naturally alienates the public. Who then no longer call or cooperate with the police in a mutually reinforcing cycle. In some cities in NY state police feel like an occupying force. Police are terrified of the public and act accordingly. The public hatred is constantly given fuel. I hope this does not come north of the border.

The other is use of massive databases. This started in the 80's. Where people near crimes would be asked to identify themselves and the computer would cough up a number/percentage chance they were the perpetrator. This has become more sophisticated, but is the opposite of real police work. Investigating crimes, finding clues, etc. Now all you need to do is be smart enough to game that system and you stay invisible. Rounding up the usual suspects was never good policing. Massaging stats is not the same as preventing crime.
One of the cops live on air threatened to shoot a reporter in the face if he didn't turn his camera off.
All this riot gear, assault weapons and armoured vehicles is a waste of tax money. We all like playing with toys. But at then end of the day in my city close to 90% of duties are traffic. There are only 27 crimes per officer per year in Ottawa, roughly 2 crimes per officer a month. With a 280 million dollar budget that is 7000$ per crime.  In the last decade crime has dropped 25% and costs have increased 250%. Ottawa could lose some fat off the police budget. Better be polite on that next traffic stop or citizens will be asking for those budget cuts
Be careful in picking what you wish for. The alternate to the police having the kit and training to handle large public disturbances is to call out the troops. In the sixties and part of the seventies we used to practice crowd and riot control and part of the force structure planning was the ability to cope with major and minor riots in separate parts of the country at the same time. Off hand I can recall a cople of occasions when the Vandoos were called out under Part 11 of the NDA in response to violent civil disturbances in the Montreal area in the late sixties. As well the example of events like the Detroit riots of the mid-sixties did not go unnoticed in Canada. I for one would not wish to see today's soldiers deployed in the streets to battle Canadian citizens. (Note - historically troops were deployed against civilian unrest dating back to Confederation and beyond and it is only in the past few decades that the police had the numbers, equipment and training to replace the army in the streets.)

At the same time the growth in the availability of semiautomatic and automatic weapons and their use by various criminal elements forced the police to form SWAT teams instead of having normal officers confront criminals with vastly superior weapons. This eventually grew into perhaps an overuse of the capability, but on the other hand there is the example of incidents like the recent Moncton murder of three RCMP members to consider whenever one ponders the role and equipment of police.
Old Sweat said:
In the sixties and part of the seventies we used to practice crowd and riot control

We did it for several years after I arrived in 2RCHA in 1978 also.

Nemo,.......if only you had a clue.........
I don't dispute the requirement to have assault rifles etc however they need to be used in the right situation, or on stand by, not the standard go to. The problem in Ferguson seems to be that they have no training in peaceful demonstrations, just violent ones.
"peaceful"?    That was the massive march in Hong Kong yesterday, very peaceful.

Tell ya' what, let me try and hit you in the head with rocks and crap and then you can tell me I'm being 'peaceful'.  Obviously the CF should go back to "aid to the civil power' training to help people find their clues......
Curfew was unwarrented.  Police started pushing people out WELL prior to the curfew.  If you think for one second the police actions in Ferguson are justified you may want to evaluate things.  Population wants answers not tear gas.  Give them answers and they would have left.

It's CLEAR that the police there have no idea how to deal with the situation.  They are writing the handbook on what not to do.

Why don't you ask why they were throwing stones?  Threatening people (media in this case) with deadly force because they were filiming is justified to I suppose.
Sheep Dog AT said:
I'm talking Ferguson.  Curfew was unwarrented.  Police started pushing people out WELL prior to the curfew.  If you think for one second the police actions in Ferguson are justified you may want to evaluate things.  Population wants answers not tear gas.  Give them answers and they would have left.

It's CLEAR that the police there have no idea how to deal with the situation.  They are writing the handbook on what not to do.

If all they want is answers they would wait until answers can be given.  They were rioting within 24 hours of the shooting....nothing can be determined by then.

The rioters are killing each other....literally.  Go live there, have your store or home looted and wrecked and say the police action isn't justified.  Since you're so sure they are handling it wrong....since you must have all the answers, what would you do?  The fact that the national guard has been called in just shows the situation is out of control.
Well out comes the National Guard.

Jay Nixon: National Guard to Ferguson

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon is deploying the state National Guard to Ferguson to address the “intensifying violent attacks” in the suburb of St. Louis, he announced early Monday.

The Democratic governor’s announcement came after arguably the most violent night in the Missouri city since unarmed African-American 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by a white police officer more than a week ago.

“Tonight, a day of hope, prayers, and peaceful protests was marred by the violent criminal acts of an organized and growing number of individuals, many from outside the community and state, whose actions are putting the residents and businesses of Ferguson at risk,” Nixon said in a statement.

“Given these deliberate, coordinated and intensifying violent attacks on lives and property in Ferguson,” he continued, “I am directing the highly capable men and women of the Missouri National Guard to assist [Missouri State Highway Patrol] Col. Ron Replogle and the Unified Command in restoring peace and order to this community.”

Sunday night marked the second evening of a state-imposed midnight-5 a.m. curfew Nixon put in place, a decision he said was necessary to prevent looters from doing more damage but has been criticized by many in the Ferguson community and elsewhere.

Police officials have acknowledged that they fired several smoke canisters and at least one tear gas canister Sunday, and many of the hundreds of officers in Ferguson Sunday evening appeared in riot gear. Protesters said the police acted without being provoked, while the police reported that they were responding to gunfire and Molotov cocktails thrown by members of the crowd. Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson said one protester shot another and that the victim was listed in critical condition early Monday morning. He also said he was forced to “elevate the level” of police response after some crowd members threw bottles at officers.

A preliminary autopsy performed Sunday showed that Brown was shot at least six times and twice in the head, according to a report by The New York Times. He was shot four times in the right arm and the bullets didn’t appear to be fired from close range, the report said. Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Sunday that he directed the Justice Department to arrange for another autopsy to be performed by a federal medical examiner. Holder said the autopsy was ordered “due to the extraordinary circumstances involved in this case and at the request of the Brown family,” and as part of the greater federal investigation into Brown’s death.

On Thursday, Nixon directed Johnson to take control of security and law enforcement in Ferguson, and that evening saw no arrests and a much smaller, demilitarized police presence.

But on Friday, the Ferguson Police Department identified Brown’s shooter as six-year department veteran Darren Wilson, an announcement that angered some protesters by tying Brown to a convenience store robbery. Police later said Wilson was unaware that Brown was a suspect in the robbery. After a violent evening Friday, Nixon announced the curfew effective Saturday, a decision decried by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the ACLU and the Lawyers’ Committee.
Sheep Dog AT said:
I'm talking Ferguson. 

In the meantime, thousands of outsiders/non-residents are flocking to Ferguson to protest. 

This is a mess that is spiraling out of control.  If you think a curfew was unwarranted, are you advocating anarchy reign unchecked instead?
What I'm saying is that this could have been avoided (Sat I think) when the other police force came in to take over.  It may be too late now I grant you.  I fear it's going to get worse before it gets better.
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