OPINION – The 1970s were a great time for cop shows on television. There was something for virtually every taste.
“Dragnet” and “Adam 12” gave us no-nonsense insights into day-to-day police work with Jack Webb’s classic “just the facts” approach. Police dramas like “Columbo,” “Hawaii Five-0” and “Kojak” took a more cerebral approach to law enforcement as entertainment.
“Barney Miller” showcased the humorous side of policing while “Police Woman” and “Charlie’s Angels” kept our attention in other ways.
For my friends and me, nothing was better than the action-based cop shows. “Starsky and Hutch” and “The Streets of San Francisco” had plenty of gunplay, car chases and fist fights. But our favorite cop show of all had to be “S.W.A.T.”
Those were the guys who had the coolest weapons and were called out for only the most dangerous situations that TV writers could concoct.
We spent countless hours fighting imaginary battles across our neighborhood, scaling fences and diving for cover behind cars. Dressed in blue baseball caps and sporting blue sweater vests, we did our very best to impersonate our TV heroes.
Of course, the line between reality and made-for-TV fiction was often a lot blurrier for us as kids.
Eventually, my lionized adoration of the dispensers of organized violence gave way to a sobering recognition that the law of force was no longer reserved for only the truly dangerous among us.
It likely coincided with my awakening to the reality that government has created so many laws and made so many things into a police matter that it must now constantly threaten force against us all.
This is not to suggest all government is bad but rather a recognition that government power, left unchecked, can become a force that endangers more than just violent criminals. Instead of protecting us from crime, this force is used to take our money and bend us to the will of the state.
Joseph Sobran described this dynamic perfectly when he wrote:
We know that if we really, physically, resist state robbery, we are likely to be killed. The state is nothing more than organized force, and real defiance means death. That is the law of force. In that sense, the threat of death is implicit in every parking ticket.
It’s as if you were forced to join a club from which you could never resign, and which kept imposing stiff new membership requirements and raising your dues. Obligatory membership, in fairness, should mean minimal requirements and dues. But the state takes full, cruel advantage of its power to impose extraneous and compulsory conditions on members.
This is particularly true when the state starts resorting to overwhelming force in situations that weren’t violent to begin with.
SWAT teams which were once reserved for the gravest extremes are now regularly sent out on routine warrant service. Tens of thousands of SWAT deployments take place each year across the U.S., with only the tiniest fraction of them involving an actual violent crime in progress.
The old adage of “When you’re holding a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail” seems to apply here.
Police officers or detectives used to serve warrants with a reasonable yet firm approach, without first pointing guns in everyone’s faces or shouting and cursing to gain compliance. They got the job done too.
Today, using the boilerplate excuse of “it’s safer for everyone this way,” departments are much quicker to roll out the MRAP and go straight to brute force in order to justify having a SWAT team.
Charley Reese identified this disturbing trend many years ago when he wrote:
Some police departments these days will turn out a crew of people who look like Darth Vader, with bulletproof vests, masks, helmets, submachine guns, sniper rifles, hand grenades, etc., even if the call is for some little old lady who had too much to drink or a mouse heard in a gun store.
There is a fundamental problem with Special Weapons and Tactics teams (SWAT). They train more than they are ever needed, and therefore they begin to show up when they really aren’t needed.
Contrary to the melodramatic claims that the world is a much more dangerous place these days, police work has always entailed certain risks. The officers who took down Bonnie and Clyde managed to do their job without treating innocent citizens like enemy combatants.
What has changed is how the state views all of us as potential threats.
You don’t have to view the police as your enemy to be clear on the fact that they’re training and equipping as if we are the enemy.
The reality that these particular tools of force exist primarily to enforce the state’s edicts on all of us rather than to protect us should be apparent to anyone who isn’t still stuck in childhood fantasies.
Bryan Hyde is an opinion columnist specializing in current events viewed through the lens of common sense. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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