The militarized police discussion

| August 15, 2014


When I saw the footage of Federal officers who came to take Elián González back to Cuba in April, 2000, I got a sick feeling in my stomach. Some were wearing balaclavas to hide their faces and other were dressed like the fellow in photograph above – helmets, goggles, tacti-cool vests and submachine guns (I never understood the gloves without finger tips thing – never). For a six-year-old boy and the unarmed folks who were taking care of him. Many of my friends in the law enforcement community defended the military-like attire, saying that the law enforcement climate had changed, but I just didn’t see the need.

At the time, I lived in Washington, DC and many of the Metro police were prowling the city in military Battle Dress Uniform-style clothes and bloused combat boots – you know – even though they never got out of their patrol vehicles. I thought it was a bit much.

We’ve written several times in the last few years about police departments who seemed to be arming up for a war. They were scooping up MRAPs and scary black guns (that they now call “patrol rifles” except when you or I own them – then they’re “assault rifles”). Some police officers in the media defended buying the military gear by telling the public that veterans coming back from the war presented a greater threat to police departments, even though they couldn’t point at any specific incidents of veterans setting up IEDs or ambushes on the police departments any where in the country.

But, now that the Ferguson Police Department in Missouri are demonstrating their recent purchases, everyone is upset;

Ferguson Police

Comments I’ve read from veterans of the recent wars indicate that the Ferguson Police are carrying more gear than they ever carried when they went outside the wire in Iraq or Afghanistan. I get the feeling like they’re in some sort of military fashion show. But anyway, when the police defended their purchases with the threat of veterans, no one said anything. But now that the police are dressing up to confront non-veterans, it’s a big deal. The Hill reports that Congressman Hank Johnson (the “Guam is tipping over” guy) is involved in writing legislation to get the police under control;

“Our main streets should be a place for business, families, and relaxation, not tanks and M16s,” Johnson wrote in a Dear Colleague letter sent Thursday to other members of Congress.

“As the tragedy in Missouri unfolds, one thing is clear. Our local police are becoming militarized,” Johnson’s office said in a statement.

Johnson said he will introduce the bill in September, when Congress returns from a five-week recess. He has been worked on the legislation for months, but his office said the current situation highlights the need for the bill.

Yeah, when the specter of Timothy McVeigh justified the police departments’ shopping spree, it was fine, but now, it’s all on display for controlling regular citizens, somehow it needs to brought under legislation. It’s up to local voters to stop the proliferation of military-style police forces, not Congress, by the way. Local voters will hold their police forces to account, Congress writes a bill and forgets about it.

I support the idea that every policeman should go home to his/her family after every shift, but this type of stuff doesn’t inspire confidence in the general population. They don’t look like they’re trying to protect us – they look like the police I’ve seen in third world countries who brutalize the population into submission.

Category: Police

Comments (59)

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  1. Old Trooper says:


  2. Mustang1LT says:

    Columnist Mark Steyn has been writing on this topic quite a bit in recent months. His position is well-written and, as he is known to do, illustrates his point with solid logic and some humor. Using his vast knowledge, he points out that the predecessor to modern police departments (London’s Metropolitan Police) made a conscious decision to outfit its constables in blue uniforms instead of the red coats of the Army to make a clear distinction between Police and military. Food for thought.

  3. David says:

    There is a clear distinction – most of those cops wouldn’t hit a military weight standard if they lost 100 pounds.

    I find it funny that the same folks screaming about the cops looking too military are the same ones saying only cops should be allowed to have any guns. Make up yer minds, folks… I suspect they are the same folks who agitated in the ’80s to get every car equipped with airbags “for the buh-buh-buh BAYbees” – and then sued manufacturers in the ’90s and ’00s for injuries due to airbags.

    • Gravel says:

      And they’re the same ones that forced us to switch from paper to plastic grocery bags … to save the trees. Now garbage land-fills are full of plastic bags that don’t bio-degrade.

      And on and on …

      • Stacy0311 says:

        And now some cities are charging for plastic bags. You’re supposed to bring your own resuable bags because they’re “sustainable”.
        Or you could just go to Sam’s Club, COSTCO, etc and buy plastic bags in bulk…

        • That Guy says:

          Which is funny because those ‘reusable’ bags are great incubators for all sorts of microbes.
          People who use reusable bags and don’t wash them (and most people don’t) are basically carrying, into the store, all sorts of bacteria and viruses and even PARASITES you don’t want near your food.

          • Big John says:

            Go and put on your tin-foil hat. Do not go outside. Use distilled water. Cook only on open fires.

  4. Poohbah, Lord High Everything Else says:

    “I support the idea that every policeman should go home to his/her family after every shift”

    I don’t.

    The Coast Guard saying explains it all: “You have to go out. You don’t have to come back.”

    This is allegedly a life of service to others and not to self. Sometimes, wearing the badge may call on you to make the ultimate sacrifice. If, as a police officer, you are uncomfortable with that idea, to the point where you cannot do your job without engaging in the following behaviors:

    * Acting like a complete shitbag to people you disparage as “civilians” (Yo, buddy, you are a civilian yourself);
    * Dressing up like a Mall Ninja to hand out traffic tickets;
    * Muzzle-sweeping the guy in front of you in line at the doughnut shop (yes, this has happened to me);
    * And, last but not least, ignoring the Constitution you swore an oath to uphold and defend;

    . . . then you should find another line of work. I understand that there are many opportunities available for hard-chargers in the fast-food industry.

    • Mike Kirkwood says:

      Pooh, did you mean that comment towards me. I’m a cop and a vet. How can you say something like that.

      • Anonymous says:

        He means the public-union dirtbags who shoot jaywalkers and pets while claiming self-defense because their “training kicked-in” or something…

  5. 10 Percent Truth says:

    There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.

  6. Delilah T. says:

    Someone should tell them to their faces that they look like a pack of idiots who couldn’t hack the real military.


    • Old Trooper says:

      I have. I was at an open to the public day at a gun range and the Mpls Airport Police had their SWAT vehicle there and the guys were all dressed up in their tacti-cool gear and I told them if they wanted to look like the military; why not join the military?

      • Former 11B says:

        I agree with this 100% Trooper. A guy in my old unit got into air soft and started dressing up in all kinds of tacticool bullshit, and making air soft skill badges to wear. He was trying to look like SF without actually being SF. These clowns are no different.

        • That Guy says:

          If you were in the 82nd Airborne, I know who you’re talking about, and he’s making a living as an airsofter now.

      • That Guy says:

        I regularly run the Matt Haverkamp 5k in Cincy (because I DO believe in K9 units). Last year, members of the SWAT team showed up with their gear before the race, and three of them ran the race. I had the same discussion with the three overweight SWAT members in ACU’s. Then I finished ten minutes ahead of their first to finish.

    • Planet Ord says:

      Most of the guys on our SWAT team are former infantry. Off the top of my head I can recall one Ranger, one Force Recon, several 82nd infantrymen, a 10th Mtn. MP, and a Navy welder.

      I understand your point. Keep in mind though that a lot of those guys have been there, done that. They may not be as fast, or in as good shape, but who is after several years.

      That being said, there are some real arrogant pricks. They usually weren’t in the military. They don’t last long.

  7. MGySgtRet. says:

    “When you start looking like Marines you’ll start feeling like Marines and then, Goddamn it, you’ll start acting like Marines.”

    Only problem is, they are law enforcement officers…..

  8. OIF '06-'07-'08 says:

    Heck, even Bill Maher is speaking out against our militarized police.

    • The Other Whitey says:

      Bill Maher? Jesus, you KNOW you’re doing something wrong when that midget assdouche is right about you!

  9. Pinto Nag says:

    Our officers here still wear blue uniforms, still wear metallic badges, still wear low quarters. I believe they are issued tactical gear, but I have yet to see it. I’ve only had to interact with our police a couple of times, but they are professional and have always been polite — with me, at least.

    I think there are still departments out there that are resisting the temptation to militarize, although like ours, they’re probably small or medium size departments, that don’t have the stresses of the larger city departments.

    • The Other Whitey says:

      Like the Sheriff’s Deputies in my hometown, though they are part of a very large department. They generally wear their class-B uniform shirts with the soft armor underneath as their day-to-day attire. On hot days, I’ve occasionally seen them switch to polo shirts and tacticool vests, but primarily because those aren’t as hot to wear, not because they want to look like airsoft commandos. And I have never even once seen one blouse his pants.

    • Mister Winsa says:

      One difference I’ve seen is police carrying assault rifles versus just their side arm. Whatever happened to relying on the side arm and just having a shotgun in the trunk. I feel like the assault rifles should be left to SWAT and the standard Cop on the beat doesn’t need to carry an M-4.

      • Planet Ord says:

        We transitioned from shotguns to AR-15s a few years ago. The reasoning was two active shooter incidents within the past 5 years and three terrorist bombings a while back. Our high school has long 300 yard long hallways. The local military contractor has hallways and open areas half a mile by .75 mile wide. Shotguns were useless in those areas. But those are where the active shooters would most likely be.

        We paid attention to the active shooters in our own neighborhood. We needed to be able to engage them at longer distances.

        I can say that the training I received on the AR was much more involved than anything I got at Fort Jackson. And the ongoing training is relevant and intense. Much more so than annual BRM.

        Given the response protocol to active shooters,which is the first officer makes entry, moves to the sound of gunfire and engages,that doesn’t mean waiting for a SWAT team before making entry and engaging, what would you suggest the ‘standard Cop on the beat’ use to engage the threat in those environments?

      • Mike Kirkwood says:

        School Shootings, Bank Robbery, all sorts of stuff. Everyone in my part of the country has an AR. Now you want the Police to stop someone with an AR and the police have a .40.

  10. Beretverde says:

    With the zipperhead haicuts and military ninja gear…they look like wannabes.

    • Mike Kirkwood says:

      Those cops are all veterans, mostly combat. Your hating your own.

      • Beretverde says:

        Really? Wow…I’m enlightened.
        Get real.

        • rb325th says:

          He’s pretty much spot on when it comes to all the LE I know. All of them are veterans, and most all are Combat vets.
          Our State gives preference to Veterans, especially Combat Veterans on Civil Service Appointments.
          I rarely, if ever see them parading around dressed for combat. Only times they have is when there is an active shooter, home invasion, raiding a drug house, or in response to a little bombing/ambushing and killing of a cop incident in Boston.
          Otherwise they are in their regualr duty uniforms, no bloused boots, no slung M-4’s…

          • Beretverde says:

            At a Veteran’s Day Parade in a major large city an old teammate commented on the cops who were wearing black BDUs, boots and gear. He asked over 15 if they served in the military…only one. She was in the Air Force Reserves.

  11. AW1 Tim says:

    The problem with all this tacti-kewl gear is that the cops are now looking for excuses to use it. THAT right there is the danger they pose to society.

    Cops should always wear blue, and sheriff’s department folks always wear brown. That’s so we know who is who. They have no reason for anything other than a handgun, a vest and a shotgun for every patrol car. If they need more than that, then a.) They start leaning on force rather than communication skills to resolve a situation, and B.) They\re in the wrong business.

    Cops are NOT there to “serve & protect”. The SCOTUS has ruled that the police have no duty to protect you, your family, or your property. That is YOUR responsibility. The cops have two functions: Investigate crimes and make arrests.

    I am more concerned that the militarization of our police forces is part and parcel of the thugocracy which iss the TSA, and all of it designed to get the citizens used to being bullied and treated as potential criminals and terrorists. In other words, get the people used to living in a police state.

    This, to my mind, is the “armed citizen force” that Obama was talking about, a NEW armed force equal in power to the military.

    Are there good cops? Sure there are. I know a couple, known one since he was a police dispatcher and now he’s the Chief. But these folks are being suppressed by the rest of their crew, those who have failed to see that they WORK for the citizens, and that anything outside their bunkered-up precints is NOT “Injun territory”.

    Time to rein them all in and take back the kewl toyz.

  12. Ex-PH2 says:

    So what we’re seeing all over the place is the creepy black armor dudes with black helmets and those mini-microphones that look like discouraged snot under their noses?

    Except in small towns, of course, not connected to major metro areas. Oh, wait, I forgot about the Northeast Kingdom. They have all that carp there, too.

    Is there any place left where common sense prevails and the po-po don’t look and act like birdwitted idiots? Is that too much to expect?

    Oh, yes, it is fodder for my overheated imagination. Working on it.

    • Jonn Lilyea says:

      In West Virginia, the local police, the Sheriff’s deputies and the State Police all look like police officers, not as if they’re on the streets of Mogadishu.

    • Ex-PH2 says:

      Good to know. The local poh-lease and county mounties still look normal, and I hope it stays that way.

  13. Rerun0369 says:

    I disagree that they are more heavily armed than those of us overseas. I carried way more crap than anything I have seen in these photos and videos (of course I was and am actually able to emply said equipment properly and effectively). What actually worries me, is how loose and non-restrictive police ROE’s, or whatever the LEO equivelant is, have become. If myself or any of my guys did half of what our LEO’s are able to get away with, our names would be spalshed all over the headlines, and we would be standing a court-martial.

  14. Whitey_wingnut says:

    I always look forward to going home on leave to see that my small town police departments are just that. Course a few towns in Iowa think they MRAPs for some odd reason. Thankfully I don’t live in Iowa.

  15. Spade says:

    “Metro police were prowling the city in military Battle Dress Uniform-style clothes and bloused combat boots”

    They still do this. They also wear tactical vests now with M16 mag pockets. Not entirely sure why as I’ve never seen one with an AR style weapon. Even the few guys I’ve seen open carrying MP5s were still wearing vests with AR mag pockets. Doesn’t seem to be body armor/plate carriers, just tactical vests. I haven’t seen the MP5s in a while though.

    DHS/TSA does this on the commuter trains now too. Vests (again with the AR pouches and now AR mags or rifles), drop legs, and all that. Last DHS guy I saw had his drop leg pistol holster around his damn knee.

    I’m also always entertained these days when cops and politicians let me know that my black rifles should be taken from me because they’re weapons of war that don’t belong on American streets. lol.

  16. Spade says:

    *”again with the AR pouches and now AR mags or rifles” should read “no AR mags or rifles”.

  17. Richard says:

    Fashion show?

    I am about as far as you can get from tactical (yes, “round” is a shape, “ugly” is a look, and “old” is a fact). Having said that, in that second photo cops all in a crowd like that doesn’t seem very tactical to me. Seems to me that one shot could hit three or four of those guys. And the individual in blue does not appear to be very dangerous – no slung AK. Stacking up for dynamic entry is one thing, bunching up on the street is something else completely. I understand that the photo was intended to make the police look foolish. As far as I am concerned, it succeeded.

  18. That Guy says:

    I’ve noticed a difference between big city and little city cops.
    I get pulled over once or twice a year by ‘big city’ cops on various pretenses of suspicion, due to my beard and my tattoos. The reasons have all been bullshit trying to suggest they think I have drugs. In big-city Cincinnati, I routinely have to deal with two cops, both wearing their BDUs, and, occasionally, one guy standing casually in the back with his AR while the other ignores my questions as to why I was pulled over after I give them the compliance required by the state (my valid Driver’s License). Big-city Cincy cops also like to fuck off, a lot, on company time, to the point where I had two of them park in a two lane street and just bullshit for three minutes while I honked the horn. We also have basically no outlet, here, to get a complaint to actually go anywhere in the chain of command at any precinct. Top that off with having a district (district 3) where the cops, for all their tacticool crap, won’t respond to calls in a timely fashion for fear of being injured (allegedly), and you have a police force that isn’t worth half a damn.

    The other day, I went to one of my guitars up from my back-country luthier, and ended up in the middle of a mid-sized city on the outskirts of Cincinnati metro. I got pulled over for not wearing my seatbelt (which, I wasn’t, although technically you can’t pull someone over and ticket them just for that in KY unless they’ve changed that law). Officer was friendly, calm, didn’t talk down to me like I was a retard, didn’t make assumptions based on tattoos, and, more importantly, didn’t assume I was a criminal. In fact, it being a very hot day and my AC not doing the job, he allowed me to sit on the trunk and play the guitar I had just picked up while he ran my info. Then he came and just shot the shit for a few minutes.

    Notice a difference in policing styles? I certainly do, and I know where I’d rather live.

  19. NHSparky says:

    Even small towns are getting into the military shit. Keene just got an MRAP. What the fuck for? To bulldoze the hippies and college students?

    Thankfully I live in a town still small enough where I know the Chief by his name (as he signed my CCW permit) and the cops have enough between their ears to know when to be a servant and when to be a hardass.

    • David says:

      back in the ’70s I had a friend move to Nebraska, where he was their sole Class III dealer and was contracted by the state to arm the four SWAT teams they were setting up. We had a hell of a time guessing which four cities needed a SWAT team.

      Me, I’d be a damn sight more worried about the cop 40 yards away with a riot gun than one with an M4.

  20. Atkron says:

    We have a very telling record of this change, in the reruns of COPS. Looking at the early season’s episodes with those of the past ten years or so you can see a HUGE difference in not only equipment but also philosophy.

  21. FatCircles0311 says:

    It should be against the law for police officers to wear military uniforms while on duty. That is one simple and easy law congress could pass.

  22. Ex-PH2 says:

    Since you can get the local news on live stream, any time Chicago cops get called to a shooting, they show up in vests and maybe carrying rifles, depending on the circumstances. But I have yet to see any of them wearing tactical gear or dressed up like phony SV soldiers. And considering that some of the neighborhoods they get called to a gang-controlled, they’d have a good excuse to wear more stuff. They just don’t seem to need it.

  23. Dennis - not chevy says:

    The first step in de-militarizing the police is to get them to change their rank insignia. One day, on base, a local police chief was glaring at me as I walked by him; if he was waiting for a salute, he’s still waiting. We were both in uniform; but, I didn’t care if he had four stars, a salute would have signified he was my superordinate. It wasn’t going to happen. You wear a general’s uniform, you and your subordinates may think you’re a general.

    How to do it? The police can look at fire fighters uniforms for examples. The fire fighters’ cuff ranks are similar to the Navy’s; but, they are different enough not to confuse a fire chief with a ship’s captain. The fire fighters’ collar rank insignia are completely different.

    The police can maintain the ranks of sergeant, lieutenant, captain, etc. However, insignia that’s different from the military will start the way back to protect and serve.

    • That Guy says:

      Give them ROTC ranks. We do the same things with our friends in the third world…

    • The Other Whitey says:

      Speaking from firsthand knowledge, the cuff device on the long-sleeve uniform of most fire departments denotes years of service, not rank, which further supports your point. There are some exceptions to that, usually at high rank if at all.

      Generally, it’s either a star or a Maltese cross for every 5 years worked (two stars on my sleeve, a little past halfway to my third). Some departments incorporate stripes for longer periods. In any case, those are only found on dress and admin uniforms, and occasionally on long-sleeve class-B shirts.

      In case anybody cares, collar devices are generally as follows:

      Firefighter- bare collar
      Engineer/Lieutenant (whichever rank is used)- one silver bugle
      Captain- two silver bugles side-by-side
      Battalion Chief- two gold bugles crossed in X-shape
      Division Chief, Deputy Chief, other higher ranks- more crossed gold bugles

      Large departments may use stars for their highest chiefs. Some outfits have a Sergeant or Senior Firefighter intermediate rank thrown in there, but our rank system is top-heavy, not much from boot fireman to Captain, lots above. And of course, the higher they go, the longer it’s been since they’ve actually witnessed combustion. Battalion Chief is generally the highest rank with operational responsibilities. It’s all big desks and I-Love-Me walls above that.

      Cops tend to have more lower-level ranks to promote through, and more variation from one agency to the next. Not sure what system might work better than what they already use without looking retarded. I do see your point though.

  24. charles w says:

    Whats with the woodland BDUs these guys seem to like? In the city wouldn’t you want to wear maybe a Burger King uniform to blend in?

  25. HS Sophomore says:

    In fairness, I’m not sure Elian Lopez is the best example to use of this sort of thing. There were thousands of angry Cuban Americans protesting outside his house, so I think it could be argued convincingly that there was an unacceptably high risk of a riot if the removal was handled by a couple of regular cops or folks from Child Protective Services.

    However, as far as the general trend goes, I agree with you 100%. Police badges cannot be a license to kill like with the Ferguson thing, the Peralta killing, Amadou Diallo, etc. This should be a non-partisan issue that Congress could handle easily enough (of course, “should” is not the same as “is”). Ah well.

  26. gitarcarver says:

    One of my friends is an ex-Air Force cop, ex-DEA and a retired private eye. One of the things that he constantly harps on is how that the police today have lost the ability to talk with people. Instead of having a conversation, they want a confrontation. Look what happened in Ferguson last night. When the cops stopped being so aggressive and started working with citizens, incidents dropped down to almost nothing.

    I personally have problems with the military look and equipment of the police these days because they have to justify the expenditure for procurement and maintenance somehow. There is a part of me that sadly thinks that the police WANT to use the gear and the equipment.

    I think this gets into a circular response from citizens and the police. A citizen says “no, I am going to film,” and suddenly he is on the ground. Citizens say “you can’t do that” and the police respond in force to the area. The citizens come out and become confrontational and the police respond with the stuff we saw in Ferguson. It is a mentality of “pushing back because the other guy pushed first.”

    There is one other thing I want to mention. Many of you have seen the tape of the al Jazeera crew that had tear gas fired at them and were chased away from the area. If you watch the entire incident from the crew on the other side of the street, as the police lower the lights and tripods to the ground, there is an officer in tactical gear with an AR15 pointed down the street.

    Now, take a look at this photo:

    The guy on top of the vehicle is sighting the weapon towards the crowd.

    Rule number one of gun safety is that you should never point a weapon at something unless you are willing to kill or destroy it.

    What kind of message is being sent when police are raising weapons toward citizens when the police are not under any threat?

    Are they really willing to shoot, kill and destroy people and things because that’s what it looks like to me.

    And I can’t stand it.

    • The Other Whitey says:

      Not disagreeing with you, but I must admit that the thought of Al Jazeera lackeys getting tear gassed, tazed, nightsticked, or otherwise getting their asses kicked warms the very cockles of me Black Irish heart.

      Sorry, somebody had to say it.

  27. Brian says:

    Cops IMO are extremely ill prepared to go toe to toe with a determined and organized armed force. These idiots are eventually going to piss off the wrong people, and those people IMO are the middle class. Whenever the middle class says enough is enough in this country real change happens extremely fast. If these cops remembered that they were middle class citizens then they would be extremely wise, and would probably make different decisions than they have so far.

  28. Smaj says:

    You give all this cool stuff to police forces and they are going to find excuses to use it (whether they are properly trained on the equipment or not), which inevitably leads to misuse (no-knock raids on wrong addresses, using SWAT teams to serve non-felony warrants). Combine the above with a growing police tendency to use violence to resolve situations where using violence is not the best option and you have a growing mistrust of the police among folks who used to fully support law enforcement.

  29. Trevor Burgess says:

    Let Me Tees You