Dear Cops, Don’t Compare Yourselves To Soldiers

Radley Balko’s book The Rise of the Warrior Cop was recently released. In the Huffington Post, he writes a column about pushback he is getting on the web from police officers. One quotation of Balko’s critics really stood out to me:

“What is it with this growing concept that SWAT teams shouldn’t exist? Why shouldn’t officers utilize the same technologies, weapon systems, and tactics that our military comrades do? We should, and we will.”

Balko never said they shouldn’t exist. He doesn’t think we need as many of them because they shouldn’t be used for trifling reasons. He writes,

“You’re either alarmed to hear this kind of language from a domestic police officer, or you aren’t. And if you aren’t, I don’t think there’s much I can write to convince you otherwise. I highlight it here only to point out that it is indeed a domestic police officer who wrote this. I’ve been criticized at times for making the argument that too many cops in America today see their jobs in this way – that I’m exaggerating when I write or say that some cops see American streets as war zones. Well, here it is.”

Balko provides more evidence that cops think this way, referring to our neighborhoods as “sectors” as if they were military pacification operations. But I think Balko should have asked, with the possible exception of military veterans on the police force, what right do cops have to pretend that real soldiers are their “military comrades”?

In Afghanistan and Iraq and other real battlefields soldiers go into dangerous area and subdue hostile forces. In the United States, the dangerous areas exist because law enforcement neglects them. No police officer is necessarily to blame for this scenario. Usually it has to do with city revenue and the decisions about how to spend tax dollars. But the bottom line is that domestic police never face the kind of challenges involved in real war.

Furthermore, while I don’t begrudge cops the tools they need when they are really in a combat situation, the fact remains the police do not commonly face I.E.D.s, snipers, suicide bombers, or RPGs. They simply have no business claiming such “camaraderie” with our troops sent overseas into combat.

It seems to me that a great bait and switch has taken place. Let me use the “Dirty Harry” movies of old as an example: Imagine cheering for a Clint Eastwood playing Harry Callahan dressed in full body armor who is completely backed and defended by a police department that told every cop that he was the model for their behavior.

Dirty Harry was popular because he showed legendary courage for the sake of victims against superior forces at great personal risk to himself. That may not be realistic, but that was why audiences admired his character. That has nothing to do with our present cowardly regime of enforcers terrorizing innocent people behind the protection of body armor and AR-15s.

We have cops who openly declare that it is their right to victimize the innocent due to the possibility they might be in danger when they raid the wrong house. That should be a badge of shame, not pride.