Militarization of police endangers liberty

Militarization of police endangers liberty
Rory Penman / The Daily Utah Chronicle

Rory Penman / The Daily Utah Chronicle

In the early 1990s we, Salt Lake City police officers, knew our beats. We knew the people who lived there and the community dynamics. And the citizens we served knew us and trusted us to protect them. There was no need to roll tanks in, tap into citizens’ emails or plant GPS devices on their cars. The shield I wore was never intended to create fear or to intimidate the public I served.

Now, in the egregious times of aggressive and unwarranted war policy mixing with national law enforcement — the militarization of the police — communities all across America have been losing trust in their local police forces, and more times than not the trust is replaced with fear, and respectful service with military rule.

Officer-involved shootings and excessive force cases have quadrupled. Our government has slowly and efficiently procured a militant style of law enforcement, thus threatening our freedoms and future.

Fortunately, our freedoms have a friend in the American Civil Liberties Union. On March 6, the ACLU New Jersey announced that it, and its affiliates, would be opening investigations in 23 U.S. states to determine just how much militant ideology, technology, tactics and federally funded military equipment American police agencies used.

Utah is one of the states being investigated, and thankfully so. The Utah National Guard and 19 police agencies are suspected of militarization and excessive police tactics. I have noticed myself that the SWAT team I knew when I worked for the Salt Lake City Police Department is distinctly different from the one today. There are military-style vehicles and extensive paramilitary mission creep — that is, the expansion of a mission’s original goals.

ACLU offices have filed 255 requests for public records regarding the militant infestation of law enforcement, most of which were ordered from local municipal police departments. The ACLU filed two requests under the Utah Government Records Access Management Act, which dictates a response from the attorney general.

Kara Dansky, senior council at the ACLU’s Center for Justice, said, “We’ve known for a while now that American neighborhoods are increasingly being policed by cops armed with weapons and tactics of war.”

That is bad news, especially since the unique greatness of America is found within the tapestry of its freedoms.

The ACLU requests for records were filed simultaneously throughout the 23 suspected states, asking for information and documentation in reference to SWAT number and purpose of deployments, types of weapons used during deployments, training materials and funding sources.

Also summoned are reports concerning cutting-edge weapons and technologies, including GPS tracking systems, aerial drones, augmented detainee restraints, commonly known as shock-cuffs, military weaponry, equipment and vehicles obtained from or funded by federal agencies.

More than just weapon militarization, SLCPD Chief Chris Burbank has on several occasions taken his leaders to train in Israel with the Israeli defense forces, resulting in an implacable militant credo. That is clearly not appropriate training for police officers in Utah.

Communication, the foremost tool of successful policing in America, has been replaced with coercion and violence. Police officers are departing from keeping the peace, and moving to strapping the tape over the mouth of free speech, and binding the hands of American youth who have the courage to stand up for what is right and just.

Military equipment is not necessary — rather detrimental — for protecting our neighborhoods and enforcing our laws. This militarization must be harnessed because it is not sustainable, and works very much against a democratic society.

In the old days we caught bad guys just fine with sharp investigation skills, and the tried and true walking the beat — patrolling on foot. The military was designed for an entirely different purpose, not one to overthrow stoic principles of freedom.

Police officers are supposed to comfort their citizens and work to capture the perpetrators. Military policing captures the public and enslaves them, making it much more difficult to sort out the real bad guys.

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