During the current anti-law enforcement climate there have been calls to de-fund law enforcement. One of the main issues by some political entities of the country, has been to continuously criticize the militarization of law enforcement. This includes some individuals within the law enforcement community who believe militarization is not necessary for effective law enforcement.
We must examine the evolution and reasoning behind the “militarization of law enforcement”.
From the 1960’s up until the late 1990’s, law enforcement was outgunned by the criminal element. When my career began with the Maryland State Police in 1978, we were issued 38 revolvers. It was not until the 1980’s that the Maryland State Police switched over to semi- automatic handguns. In 1985, I joined the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and was issued a revolver and later given a semi-automatic handgun. The standard issued rifle became a shotgun, and eventually evolved into semi-automatic rifle. Law enforcement agencies ran the risk of being outgunned by criminals which meant that training tactics and equipment had to evolve.
In 1993, one of the most controversial raids involving the government was in Waco, TX. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), unfortunately lost several agents in this raid. Armored vehicles borrowed from the military had to be utilized due to the amount of fire power owned by the Branch Davidians. Some questioned the initial tactics of ATF, since it appeared management was more interested in extensive news media coverage for publicity sake. This action resulted in the deaths of civilians and law enforcement. Many agreed there were numerous occasions were the leader of this cult could have been arrested prior to the raid, while the individuals were in town under surveillance by the authorities. This was the hard lesson learned by law enforcement and the introduction to the use of military equipment.
In 1997, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) was outgunned by two bank robbers with automatic weapons and body armor. Once the bank robbers exited the bank all hell broke out. In the end, both robbers were killed, 12 LAPD officers injured, 8 civilians, and numerous vehicles and property damaged or destroyed. There were over 1,000 rounds fired by the bank robbers that day. LAPD SWAT arrived with sufficient fire power, leading to the need to commandeer an armored car to evacuate the wounded. Again, law enforcement was forced to examine the need to use armored vehicles.
In 1997, under the Clinton Administration, the 1033 program was instituted to assist the police in the fight on the war on drugs. It transferred the military’s extra or outdated gear to state and local law enforcement agencies. One of the most important pieces of equipment and arguably most controversial are the armored vehicles. However, without the use of this equipment for protection, the police are sitting ducks in the fight against criminals and terrorists.
In 2014, the program was under fire by the Obama Administration and BLM movement in Ferguson, MO during the shooting of an individual who attempted to kill a law enforcement officer. This officer was later cleared by the Department of Justice as well as restrictions put in place for the use of military equipment. In 2017, the Trump Administration lifted those restrictions.
In this current climate of looting and rioting, the use of military equipment such as the armored vehicles may be the only thing to help save the lives of law enforcement officers. In the end, the police should use the utmost discretion in the type of equipment used as a last measure for the safety of the public as well as its officers.