According to the latest data from the National Registry of Exonerations, 46% of wrongful convictions have “official (including police) misconduct” as a contributing cause. The state bestows official “police powers” upon the police, which does, in fact, make them very powerful; and most police misconduct is manifested in the form of abuse of power, rather than simple error. In recent years, we have, increasingly, given the police not just “police power” but “military power.” As Lord Acton so insightfully stated in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Giving military power to police brings them that much closer to absolute power, and that power becomes easier and easier to misuse. This is compounded by the fact that the police have a demonstrated history of not being good at “policing” themselves, and official police oversight is perfunctory. Police departments will claim to have “internal affairs” divisions. I submit this like having the fox watch the henhouse, and they apparently don’t work, because police misconduct persists, and “official misconduct” continues to contribute to 46% of wrongful convictions.
See our previous WCB post about the militarization of police here.
Everyone has recoiled at what has recently transpired in Ferguson, MO. A recent NY Times article relates events in Ferguson to the militarization of police: here.
This all started in 1990 with Section 1208 of the National Defense Authorization Act passed by Congress. In 1996 Section 1208 was replaced with the Section 1033 DOD program, which is still in place today. And with the 1033 program in place, the wind down of the Iraq war opened the floodgates of military equipment available to police departments. See the Newsweek article How America’s Police Became an Army: The 1033 Program. See also the NY Times article War Gear Flows to Police Departments. While this was certainly well intentioned, the legislators failed to grasp the psychological impact this would have on the people who would actually be using the equipment.
All the military equipment and fire power is scary, but all that stuff is really just an “enabler.” What’s really scary is what’s going on in the brains of the cops. They seem to be increasingly adopting a “battlefield” mindset – vanquish the enemy – and giving them MRAP’s and M-16’s substantially reinforces that state of mind. Plus, if the police have all this stuff, of course they’re going to want to use it. For example, we’ve seen the evolution of excessive use of SWAT teams. SWAT teams have been around since the 1960’s, but SWAT teams are now commonly used to perform such routine functions as serving warrants and making simple arrests. There was a recent (Feb. 2014) debate between Radley Balko, Washington Post investigative reporter and author of “Rise of the Warrior Cop,” and Maricopa County (AZ) Attorney Bill Montgomery about the militarization of our domestic police. During this debate, Mr. Montgomery stated, “These ‘elite’ officers have to stay sharp and on alert. They have to practice.” Practice by having a SWAT team storm a young mother’s home at 3:00 AM to serve a warrant and make an arrest? Might I suggest this is “over the top?”
As an example of “military mindset,” I was recently startled by a news photograph of a police officer with what appears to be military style campaign ribbons on his uniform. Campaign ribbons? On a police uniform? What’s up with that? If this isn’t an indicator of a military mindset, what is?
If the situation calls for military intervention, then call in the National Guard. That’s what they’re for. But we just can’t have the “military” patrolling our streets and enforcing the law on a routine basis.