The Cops We Deserve, Cont.


Fallows has gone Radley Balko has taken to cataloging the militarization of the cops. Here's a contribution from his files:

If you liked the wheeled APC in Galax Virginia, you're gonna love the M113 with a cupola mounted .50 cal machine gun that Richland County SC picked up [ a few years ago]. Note the SWAT team posing around the vehicle with submachineguns. Lovely.

As a former US Army Cavalry soldier, I have to say I am astonished and horrified that anybody in law enforcement would think that an M2 .50 cal machine gun has any place at all in a police force. It is a weapon made to destroy vehicles (like light tanks, APC's and helicopters) and unreinforced buildings. A single round can literally tear a person in half if hits him in the abdomen. It will go through your house and the house after that and then continue blithely along for another mile or more until it hits something else.

I think one thing should never be forgotten in all of this. Guns and tanks are cool. It's really hard for me to believe that there's not some sort of power-trip going that convinces a police department to secure a tank.

On the specifics of UC Davis. A professional writes in to give his view on how cops are trained to use pepper-spray:

Allow me to preface what I say by stating that my views are not those of the Dallas Police Department or the Caruth Police Institute and should in no way be taken as my speaking on the department's or institute's behalf. These views are my own. I read your article regarding the brutality at UC Davis. I was shocked and dismayed at the actions taken by Lieutenant Pike and at the same time can see how leadership and policies failed him. I've been in law enforcement for over 20 years and have never been trained to use chemical agents on non-violent or passive resistors. 

I have more than a "lay-officer's" knowledge of how to address crowds. In fact I have served as an instructor in Mobile Field Force tactics and have trained other officers/supervisors to be trainers themselves in crowd control techniques. I was a supervisor and team leader on Dallas SWAT and have dispensed chemical agents in various forms as part of my duties as a law enforcement officer. I am also a graduate of the Caruth Police Institute's Lieutenant's Leadership Series and teach a class on values based decision making to police supervisors...

From a tactical perspective I have no way of knowing how many officers UC Davis had on hand that day but they appeared outnumbered for the actions they chose to undertake. Hindsight being 20/20 they should have recognized the need for more officers or (more appropriately) recognized the need to take a different approach to dealing with these protestors. They owe a debt of gratitude to those students who, although very angry, remained relatively calm and certainly non-violent. Had the crowd "decided" that the officers were not going to escort the prisoners through them, the officers would have been unable to do so. 

 Departments and officers must remember the we (the police) only serve at the allowance/discretion of the citizenry who employs us. If we fail to treat everyone as we would have ourselves and families treated then we cease protecting and serving and begin preying and harming. I personally appreciated your logical stipulations and from a law enforcement veteran's perspective I can see no legitimate basis for the actions that those few officers took either.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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