The so-called “militarization” of police is a theme that has been repeated ad nauseam by the media. Politicians have jumped on the bandwagon, and they quickly held a September 8th hearing through the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs to examine this alleged problem. What they got was testimony—mostly ignored by the media—about how military-style equipment in the hands of the police can actually save lives.
At issue is the Congressionally-authorized 1033 program, which provides surplus equipment from the Department of Defense for use by police agencies in law enforcement, counter-drug and counter-terrorism activities.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) called and led the hearing, with Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) getting sympathetic media attention for his “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” display, similar to the protesters egged on by the racial agitators in Ferguson, Missouri.
Some liberal journalists tried to spin the issue, rather than just blame the police for being prepared for drug gangs, heavily armed criminals and terrorists. “Police today are much better armed because it’s the only way they can keep up with criminals,” noted Michael A. Cohen, a fellow at the Century Foundation, in a Boston Globe column. “When powerful semi-automatic and military-style weapons started to appear on the streets, police departments began moving from six-shot revolvers to semi-automatic weapons. That trend accelerated after several high-profile incidents where officers were simply outgunned by criminals, the most infamous being a 1997 shoot-out at a North Hollywood bank in which the robbers were toting automatic weapons and wearing body armor.”
Cohen, a liberal, insisted that “Our toxic gun culture and permissive gun laws are crucial factors in the ongoing militarization of America’s police departments.” But the Second Amendment cannot be blamed for the criminals’ ability to get these weapons and break the law. That is why they are criminals.
What is missing from the coverage, however, is the evidence that the police need and deserve better weapons to cope with their armed adversaries. That evidence was apparent in Ferguson, Missouri, if only the media would take note.
The “de-militarization” of police, as proposed by the publicity-hungry Senators McCaskill and Paul, would leave the officers at a distinct disadvantage, leading to more law enforcement personnel cut down in the line of duty, and their families left without husbands and fathers.
Retired Police Chief Jim Bueermann, President of the Police Foundation in Washington, D.C., cited several examples at the hearing about the benefits of the Pentagon’s 1033 program. His testimony included the following (in his words):
Two weeks ago, the Cook County Sheriff’s Department used armored vehicles to get officers tothe scene and extract six children and two adults being held hostage after a home invasion. Twoofficers were shot during the 20-hour standoff, but the equipment prevented further injury to lawenforcement and helped with the safe recovery of the hostages.
The Los Angeles police recently used an armored “Bearcat” tactical vehicle to protect officers as they apprehended a heavily armed suspect who was firing a high-powered rifle at them and had wounded an officer.
In West Bloomfield, Michigan a suspect barricaded himself in a residential neighborhood and engaged in significant gunfire with law enforcement, ultimately killing police officer Patrick O’Rourke. During the 20-hour standoff, law enforcement used their armored vehicle to safely evacuate neighborhood residents from the area.
In the last case, the media learned that the cop-killer, Ricky Coley, a military veteran, had “a fully automatic Uzi” in addition to high-powered rifles, handguns, knives, a bullet-resistant vest and protective goggles. About 15 families were evacuated from nearby homes during the 20-hour standoff that ended when Coley was found dead. The local Fox TV station reported that the confrontation started after Coley’s marriage ended in divorce and he was accused of adultery and physical and emotional abuse. He had lost custody of his child and had been ordered out of his house. But he refused to be evicted.
The slain officer, Patrick O’Rourke, is survived by his wife, four children, parents and three brothers. Perhaps some additional “militarization” might have saved his life.
Wiley Price, a staff photojournalist at the St. Louis American newspaper, was allowed to testify at the Senate hearing and claimed, “What police used to defend themselves at the early stage of the confrontation was a high level of military weaponry not often seen on city streets in the United States. What we saw were large military style weapons including armored vehicles normally seen on the national news during conflicts in Middle East war zones. Most Americans would not be so shocked if this were a response to an overt terrorist attack on an American city, but not during a spontaneous protest over the shooting of a young African American male by a white police officer while walking in the street in the middle of the day.”
The notion that this was a “spontaneous protest” was never challenged, even though independent journalists and the police themselves documented the presence of outside agitators. The police presence became even more necessary after violence and looting erupted. Eventually, the National Guard was called in. So more, not less, “militarization,” was clearly required.
According to a local TV news report, the looted businesses included:
Zisser Tire and Auto
Ross Dress for Less
In total, it was reported that more than 20 businesses suffered damage.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the riots cost John Zisser, the owner of the tire store, about $100,000 in damaged and lost merchandise. St. Louis County Chief Operations Officer Garry Earls is quoted by Fox 2 News as saying that the final price tag of the riots could be as high as $6 million.
Let the media and the politicians tell these business owners, who lost everything, that the police were too “militarized.”
Why don’t we hear from them in a Senate hearing? Or would that contradict the “militarization” narrative promulgated by such “experts” and media favorites as Radley Balko?
Cliff Kincaid is the Director of the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism, and can be contacted at [email protected]