The events this past month in Ferguson, MO have caught not only national but international attention. As I’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts and comments to others, we still do not yet know all the facts of what actually transpired in the death of Michael Brown, therefore I urge everyone to hold off on any analysis or judgment and allow the family to grieve and judicial processes to work.
The other topic of discussion related to Ferguson, MO has been the use of police force and the equipment used by law enforcement. This has spurred a number of national-level news stories and even a request by the President to examine the programs which provide surplus military-grade equipment to law enforcement authorities. One such article can be found here.
Such inquiries can certainly be conducted but the fact of the matter is that the items that law enforcement is obtaining, such as body armor and armored vehicles, can be purchased on the open market. Armored vehicles of some type have been in the possession and use of law enforcement agencies decades before this post-9/11 program ever existed. The primary intent of the post-9/11 program is to bolster the resources of law enforcement agencies in the event that they encounter a terrorist threat. Having these resources for that purpose doesn’t mean we should moth-ball them away in the event of a terrorist attack, however. They should be used so our officers are familiar with them. We’ve certainly seen other legitimate uses such as responses to mass shootings, busting drug labs, and gang-related responses and arrests. Examine the case of the 1997 North Hollywood bank robbery where heavily armed and armored men simply had their way with LAPD. Law enforcement should never be caught in this type of situation again. A badge and a six-shooter just don’t cut it any more. Gun control laws have proven wholly ineffective against criminals who are determined to obtain high powered weapons. Clearly law enforcement must continue to have the upper hand to defeat these criminals and protect the public.
The CBS article referenced in the second paragraph does bring about some interesting examples of potential overzealousness in the use of these resources, however. Note that I do say ‘potential’, as a mere mention by the media does not tell the whole story, but we have seen articles with similar mentions over the last few years which do give cause to at least raise an eyebrow. The article suggests that perhaps additional training is needed in the deployment and use of such resources. I would suggest that the use of these resources must first be rooted in policy and procedure, accountability, and then training – just like everything else done in law enforcement and throughout most of public safety. I’m sure most departments who possess these resources already have such things in place, but some may not. Clearly we need to balance officer safety with operational necessity and even public perspective.
While I’ve worked with law enforcement for years, I’ve never worked in law enforcement. I’m curious about what others think. What, if anything, will change in law enforcement as a result of the events in Ferguson, MO?
© 2014 – Timothy Riecker