Perspectives: Stop turning our police into warriors

OPINION – What’s wrong with this picture? A woman informs her boyfriend that she intends to leave him. In anger, he throws her belongings onto the front lawn of their townhome. She calls the police and tells them he’s distraught and owns a gun.

Arriving officers try to convince the man to come out of his home but he refuses, talking with them for nearly 40 minutes through a screen door. When the man lowered his hands from where they were resting near the top of the door, an officer fires a single shot that strikes him.

He retreats into the house and a SWAT team is brought in with a Bearcat armored vehicle. K-9 teams and snipers are deployed with helicopters flying overhead. His front door is eventually smashed in by a battering ram mounted to the front of the armored car. The SWAT team finds the man dead from his wound.

A final detail: according to police investigators, the man was unarmed.

Before going any further it must be said that most members of law enforcement are professionals who exhibit honorable qualities. No one wishes to see our police exposed to unnecessary risks. At the same time, it is becoming impossible to dismiss the growing militarization of police at every level as paranoid fantasy.

Though the story described above played out in Fairfax County, Va., this is not merely a case of East Coast overreaction. We’ve seen a similar scene of militarized overkill here in St. George, thankfully without loss of life.

The federal government has been making surplus military hardware available to local law enforcement agencies since 1997 under its 1033 program. In some cases the equipment has been used for entirely benign purposes such as rescuing stranded victims from floodwaters.

But gifts of military hardware from the feds can also be a Trojan horse of sorts. Not only do some agencies find the allure of big-boy-toys irresistible, but also some have abused the program by stockpiling things like crew-served machine guns for which there is little need in civilian law enforcement.

Local law enforcement agencies often point to how the taxpayers are saving money when surplus Pentagon equipment is acquired for little or no cost.

But as Will Grigg explains, there is a downside that is not as readily apparent:

When local police are supported by local tax funds, they are locally accountable. When those police are materially and financially supported by Washington – to any extent – the locus of control and accountability shifts there. That is the principle recognized in the Supreme Court’s 1942 Wickard v. Filburn decision.

The most common justifications offered in defense of militarizing local police include claims that elevated danger necessitates such action. But the real numbers tell a much different story, with neither mass shootings nor terrorism on the rise.

The concept of officer safety has become a catchall excuse to escalate nonviolent situations into the use of overwhelming force. This is how innocent, unarmed individuals can be gunned down without posing a demonstrable deadly threat to anyone.

Perhaps it’s time we remind ourselves that we have been an armed society since before the founding of our nation. Prior to 1934, anyone could purchase a fully automatic firearm from the hardware store without even having to show ID. Before 1968, it was still possible to order a 20 mm cannon and most other firearms by mail.

We made it for over 200 years without encouraging our police to look and behave like an authoritarian, hyper-aggressive military force. There were always dangers associated with law enforcement, but we didn’t expect our police to act like warriors. They were still peace officers first and foremost.

When even small towns succumb to federal enticements to obtain military hardware, training, and tactics, the temptation to use them grows.

This is how small incidents like a breakup can become excuses for a full-blown circus of high drama overreaction. SWAT teams once were reserved for only the most potentially violent situations. Now they are sent on even routine warrant service so long as the magic words “drugs” or “may own a firearm” have been invoked.

We’ve seen unchecked, corrupting lethal power being handed over from president to president and then being expanded. The same can happen at the state and local levels too. With more than 220 SWAT-type raids taking place every single day across America, the isolated incidents are beginning to add up.

We doubt this at our own risk.

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Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: bryanh@stgnews.com

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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15 Comments

  • P. T. Farnsworth November 4, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    The bottom line, is that Mr. Geer did not have to die. Had he complied with the instructions of the officers on the scene, the situation would have been peacefully resolved. Instead, he chose that particular time to exhibit the stubbornness and anger that even his father said was not new to him.
    Sure he was distraught. Who wouldn’t be, over the break up of your family. But all he had to do, was to exit the house as he was told to do, and it would have been over. Instead, he chose to escalate it, and I’m not at all sure that he did not do a “suicide by cop.”
    Yes, sometimes cops over respond to a situation. Sometimes, some of them seem eager to use the fancy toys provided by the feds.
    But what bothers me the most, is your personal and repeated attempts to blame law enforcement for situations that they often have little control over. Do you really think that a responding cop just got tired of standing around talking and said to himself, “I’m gonna shoot this clown and get this situation over with?”

    • ladybugavenger November 4, 2013 at 1:30 pm

      You mentioned “suicide by cop” maybe it was “murder by cop” the woman did tell police he was distraught and owns. a gun.

      • P. T. Farnsworth November 4, 2013 at 2:32 pm

        Possibly. However his father did confirm that he owns at least one gun. Of course, almost everybody (at least around here,) owns several guns. . .

      • ladybugavenger November 4, 2013 at 8:46 pm

        Ill add this: her intentions are not pure. She probably worded it in a way that caused all this activity and ultimately his death

    • Gary November 4, 2013 at 8:46 pm

      @pt farnsworth
      You are right, he did not have to die. Fairfax County Sheriffs office COULD have sent ONE or TWO officers out to quote investigate unquote. The would have (quite likely) talked to his like he was a human being WITH RIGHTS instead of a criminal who needed to be shot. You know, everyone always says that all that needs to happen is to ”obey the cops”. You do realize that you are not required to always obey the cops, especially when you are doing no wrong.

  • Ron November 4, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    I do have to say I am tired of the same benign opinions of Mr. Hyde and the St. George News.

    • DoubleTap November 5, 2013 at 8:28 am

      Usually, when I get tired of the “same benign” anything….I just lose interest in it. You should give it a try. It does wonders for a new “Perspective”.

  • zacii November 4, 2013 at 7:00 pm

    Being distraught, or owning a gun, or a combination of the two, is not illegal.

    We are no longer a free country, and haven’t been for many decades.

  • phil smith November 4, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WV6Bq8xeQrU&oref=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DWV6Bq8xeQrU&has_verified=1

    “To serve and protect” is definitely falling by the wayside. Please take the time to watch the Murder of Todd Blair by the Weber and Morgan County ” Narcotics Strike Force” here in Utah. This force is armed and trained with grants from the Feds. The question has definitely arisen as to why they would need such a force. This force can seize property without the necessity of conviction and creates an incentive to purchase more machine guns and carry out more raids. In order to secure grant monies, weapons must be accepted and training continued…… Is this serving and protecting?

    This can and will happen in St. George unless we hold local officials accountable for applying for grants and organizing these Military Units.

    Lets get back to ” Serving and Protecting” NOT “Killing and Harassing.”

  • Tyler November 4, 2013 at 11:02 pm

    Excellent article for today’s near-militia law ordering

  • Brugh November 5, 2013 at 12:06 am

    It’s all part of their plan. A change from Democracy to Martial Law status. It seems every SGPD cop wants to play detective, always-always has that chip on their shoulder. And it’s always the belief that your up to no good. Law Enforcement these days is not law enforcement. Its above and beyond “Law Enforcement”. They seek no laws to enforce but what they deem viable for that day of emotion…oh yeah, fill that quota…fill that quota…I need that raise, I need that promotion! SGPD quote “We did an INTERNAL investigation and found nothing to be out of order” – of course you did.

  • Steve November 5, 2013 at 1:20 am

    Bryan,

    I am glad that this article is prefaced with the word “OPINION.” As a 28 year law enforcement officer who has served in a variety of positions including; patrol officer, detective, SWAT team member, SWAT team Commander and retiring as a Patrol Division Commander, I take issue much of the content and conclusions of your article.
    This is not the proper format for me to debate the specific facts of the incident that you spotlighted or some of the statements that you present as proper or improper. I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the reality of police tactics and why certain procedures are utilized or not utilized. I would simply like to add my own opinion in a respectful manner, you do a dis-service to the public by assuming; facts at face value and judgements on police tactical decisions. It is easy to Monday morning quarterback and to ponder what could or should have been done. The danger comes from your lack of knowledge of law enforcement procedures and then portraying your opinioin as how something should or should not be handled. I certainly am not aware of all the facts of this particular incident and it is impossible for me to make an informed opinion with the very limited facts you presented. In the same regard, you are attempting to determine why the police have adapted certain “military style” tactics” without either having a knowledge of police procedures or interviewing a law enfrocement officer with the proper background to explain why certain tactics are employed or not employed.
    Bryan, I would personally not feel qualified in writing an opinion piece on whether a “news commentator’ in a particular instance acted appropriately or not in a particular situation. I can’t see how you feel qualified to formulate opinions on potentially incorrect facts or false perceptions. You certainly have a right to your opinion but as a news commentator, you have a responsibility to make that an informed opinion.

    • Bryan Hyde Bryan Hyde November 5, 2013 at 7:57 am

      I appreciate that you took the time to write a response. I have followed this trend of militarization of police for more than 20 years now. I also am fortunate enough to have a number of close friends who have served or currently serve in law enforcement–including SWAT duty.
      .
      They have proven to be a most valuable resource in verifying or disproving the reality of what is happening to our police. I also have had many opportunities to train alongside members of law enforcement. I understand very well why officer safety will always be a concern to LEOs.
      .
      However, officer safety does not trump the inalienable rights of the people they are supposedly serving and protecting. A police officer’s life is worth exactly the same as the members of his or her community. Neither should be exposed to unnecessary risk but, as the video linked in the story shows, pointing rifles in the faces of people who are clearly not the suspect nor resisting is inexcusable.
      .
      That is behavior that one would expect from an occupying army that considers everyone not in uniform to be a potential adversary. It is entirely incompatible with how a peace officer would behave. Don’t blame the messenger for pointing out what reasonable people, including many members of law enforcement are finally recognizing.
      .
      Though you may firmly disagree, this column was not simply a blind swat (pun intended) at something I know nothing about.

  • pldenc44 November 5, 2013 at 11:02 am

    Dressing up cops in military gear and arming them with automatic rifles doesn’t make us citizens any safer. I’m always amused how hours after a shooting we turn on the TV and see scores of paramilitary forces patrolling the streets in full battle gear, yet the incident itself involved a single shooter and lasted only a matter of minutes. Remember the Chechnyan brothers that bombed the Boston marathon? Despite being armed with only a couple handguns and some homemade bombs, those two jokers held literally hundreds of over-armed police at bay in multiple engagements (hundreds of rounds fired) until the older brother essentially committed suicide by running straight at the cops, then the younger brother just drove away and escaped only to be caught hours later by a vigilant citizen who noticed the tarp covering his boat had been moved. Over-arming the police doesn’t make them an effective fighting force. We don’t want a fighting force. We want community peace officers.

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