Perspectives: Overwhelming force, it’s not just for the criminals

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.

Email: bryanh@stgnews.com

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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13 Comments

  • cookiemonster June 26, 2017 at 8:33 am

    Not sure even where to start here. Technology has been a huge impact of crime. You talk of the 70’s like nothing has changed. youtube, ebay, google are all tools criminals use to find information and tools.
    Firstly I highly suggest you inquire about doing a ride along with AP&P.
    Things really have changed. Now you can buy bullet proof vests that stop rifle rounds off ebay for $120. Lock picking kits $20. Car opening tools $20.
    You can make explosives and custom bullets in your home. You can build guns from items in your home. This information wasn’t available at a couple of key strokes. We had green screens and the PET computers in the 70’s.
    It’s really a double edged sword if STPD go in too light and someone is hurt then it’s poor management and planning. If they go in heavy they get criticized.
    I would rather go with have it and not need it than need it and not have it. As long as no one is hurt that is what matters at the end of the day.
    If they roll up with a tank so be it.
    Bryan Hyde you need to remember the people behind that badge are people in this community not mindless thugs with nothing better to do.
    Do you really believe they want to go into full kit at 112 degrees heat to possibly get shot at or stabbed. Have you any idea how miserable it is?
    I come from the UK where we have very few guns and due to it our violent crime rates are just crazy. I also lived in New Zealand for part of my life now here.
    This is the place I have felt safest. The cops here are great and you really should put yourself in there shoes for a days with a ride along with ap&p before you start judging.
    I guess it’s true what they say. Those who “can’t” Teach.

    • comments June 26, 2017 at 10:17 am

      UK, ugh. Take away the citizens right to owns weapons, flood in enormous amounts of jihadist muslims and backwards 3rd worlders, what could go wrong?

    • Brian June 26, 2017 at 3:10 pm

      “As long as no one is hurt that is what matters”

      Except innocent people are hurt by excessive use of SWAT all the time, again and again and again:
      http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2014/05/baby-in-coma-after-police-grenade-dropped-in-crib-during-drug-raid/
      http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=95475
      http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/chicago-woman-82-hospital-police-raid-article-1.2570368
      http://archive.sltrib.com/story.php?ref=/sltrib/news/55032396-78/burbank-police-search-lake.html.csp

      The problem isn’t that SWAT exists, it’s that they are used more and more as the first line of offense, rather than the last line of defense. Yes, being a cop now is more dangerous than ever, but that doesn’t give them license to use the SWAT team for every drug bust or every warrant. Unless they have very good intel that there is an extraordinary risk AND they know for certain they have the right house AND they know where the innocents inside are, the MRAP should stay in the garage.

      Ogden in 2013 is a good example of this. SWAT kicks in the door and a massive fight ends in an officer dead and the suspect injured. His crime? Growing marijuana. Illegal? Yes. Reason for SWAT to kick in his door after dark? No!

      The real problem is that this is a trend happening at every level. The IRS spent $11 million arming their own SWAT-style enforcement team with military grade gear including semi-automatic shotguns and AR-15’s. Seriously? Is anyone OK with this? I’m not!

      • cookiemonster June 26, 2017 at 6:44 pm

        Really you never made mistakes at work? You were told something and it was wrong information. You have found 4 articles over a 5 year stretch. That sounds like a epidemic right there. Another reporter making a mountain out of a mole hill. Why don’t you go get a job with CNN and move to CA. Why not do a report on something that is actually and issue rather than trolling in the wrong state. Your 8 months too late to jump on the police using excessive force train of hype that was last year with Obama.
        Do a ride along with AP&P I DARE YOU! See if you have the same opinion then.
        When you have someone who is a known drug dealer on meth armed with a gun.
        Or run into a instance where someone is trying to do death by cop like last year at home depot in st George.
        What do you expect the police to have pee shooters and tasers vs people with AR15’s and and 308’s? Are you really that dumb. Tasers are not 100% reliable. It’s a known fact. Most pistols are only accurate out to 50 yards.
        Police take so much danger these days it’s not even funny. So much public records for arrests and court dates. You can find someone’s home address now with just a general area and first and last name in under 30 seconds. Known relatives and previous addresses. Just nuts. Too much information to be abused. There was a officer attacked a few years ago in his home by a guy with spade here in St George then dragged his g/f into the street and beat her. I am not law enforcement or using google to look things up I am just remembering the instants I have seen in the news.
        Nobody is perfect but there are bigger issues in this world that the mole hill your making a mountain out of. Why don’t you report on medical malpractice just remind me how many people die by that again? If you respect an officer and be honest with him you will receive the same respect. Become a low life drug dealer armed and dangerous with a AR15 and you could kill cops & neighbors with over penetration do you expect respect then. Do you expect them to kick down the door with a taser and a baton? Honestly which fantasy world do you live in? Hey Mr drug dealer I know you have a glock or ar15 and all and are high as a kite but would you mind being a jolly good old chap and coming along quietly now with no fuss or I might have to pepper spray you while your shooting your glock or ar15 at me and your neighbours. If your pro 2A you cannot expect police to be less armed than we are it’s just not feasible. They only wear soft armor not like that would stop a rifle round either way. Many officers in STG have to buy there own AR15 if they want one. So do a little research before making judgement. These were known drug dealers not someone smoking a joint in a back garden.

    • youcandoit June 26, 2017 at 7:16 pm

      I agree with you cookiemonster. ?

  • DRT June 26, 2017 at 9:43 am

    Both Bryan and cookiemonster have excellent statements here. I’m retired law, and I can clearly see both sides.
    From Bryan’s perspective, it seems patently absurd to see what appears to be a total overreaction to relatively minor busts. It’s not surprising that Joe Citizen has seen enough of this, either in person, or in media coverage, to be a little wary of law enforcement.
    It doesn’t help that the media tends to bend everything they talk about, to make it as shocking and exciting as possible. Sensationalism sells, and since “news” shows have pretty much dropped reporting in favor of entertaining, every police action is put under a microscope to see if they can manufacturer something to talk about.
    When “Little Eddie from down the street,” gets hurt or killed while committing a crime, the media will dig until they find somebody who will be happy to say what “a wonderful person” Little Eddie was. They get bonus points, if they cry on camera.
    They never talk about how “Little Eddie” has been busted half a dozen times for selling dope at the elementary school, or how he beat and raped an old lady while burglarizing her home. If they can turn this around and make “Little Eddie” the victim, it is more”entertaining.”
    As far as law is concerned, these folks are human, and want to go home to their families at end of watch. So if they feel that bringing in the special teams is going to make their job safer who can blame them for bringing them in. A cop NEVER knows what is going to happen during the work shift. The “routine” traffic stop turns deadly way too often.
    Knocking on a door to serve an arrest warrant on someone who honestly forgot about that ticket, so failed to appear, can suddenly turn into a deadly encounter, with no warning. You never know what is behind that closed door.
    So if the cops already know they are going in to take down a three time loser, who can blame them for wanting to make it as safe as possible?
    TV and other entertainment has been some of the worst enemies of law enforcement. There will always be ignorant people who can’t see the difference between reality and entertainment.

  • comments June 26, 2017 at 10:15 am

    911 empowered the law enforcers to a rather extreme degree. And after all these middle east wars they inherited a lot of surplus military equipment that they’re always looking for excuses to use. I think after 16 years the “911 effect” is wearing off and the public will start to become less tolerant of uses of excess force. Maybe they’ll “cook up” another 911-style event to freshen up the “everyone a terrorist” mentality. There are situations when they need swat teams, but I agree with Bry they get a little too amped up and go play GI Joe commando more often than they should. Gov’t needs to be held accountable at all levels, and that’s the challenge. I’d like to see our local cops doing more traffic and less GI Joe special forces bs. Don’t need cops to act like paramilitary thugs.

  • JeepFun June 26, 2017 at 11:33 am

    I totally support our police & fire departments. They have a tough job and are often criticized for not having perfect foresight. Having perfect hindsight is easy. But our lives are not on the line like theirs are. I think they show great restraint most of the time. They, like all of us, are not perfect. I am grateful that they be on the job.

    I understand the concerns Bryan has outlined; but, there are way too many people who rage at The Man to just knock on the use of SWAT teams. They are a needed part of our crazy society.

    Thanks to our men and women in the police and fire departments!

  • NotSoFast June 26, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    My cynical opinion: Up the chain, officials are getting free federal Grant Money for equipment. With promises (if) documentation to prove they use the equipment. So they use it. (regardless if they need it or not), they get more money. In my laymen’s opinion, follow the money. The average dedicated officer is just doing his job.
    Soon, the fully equipped SWAT truck will be showing up at handicap parking violation calls. (look at all the money pouring in. A police state in the making).

    • Brian June 26, 2017 at 3:19 pm

      I agree completely, but that isn’t the biggest problem. The biggest problem is that this destroys the intent of the 2nd Amendment. The entire point of the 2nd Amendment was to make sure that a citizenry was never again outgunned by it’s government. When the Constitution was created we had just won our independence from the British because they were entirely tone-deaf to the citizenry. We wouldn’t have won the Revolutionary War except for one fact: the citizens were armed roughly as well as the government. A disarmed citizenry is a necessary ingredient in tyranny. Hundreds of millions of people died at the hands of their own governments during the 1900’s (https://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/20TH.HTM), and they all had basically one thing in common: they weren’t allowed to have guns. If our local police forces continue to be militarized it drastically increase the chances we’ll be either massively outgunned by our government, or ultimately stripped of our right to bear arms.

      • cookiemonster June 26, 2017 at 6:58 pm

        Outgunned by the government? Are you high and annoyed that they arrested your dealer?
        You really are dumb. These are local people with a job here. Not mindless drones. They go home to a family same as we do. Your complaining about the people in your own community for using a ar15 and smoke grenades and flash bangs. In respect of the power the USA government has that is about as low as it goes.But don’t forget your getting State and Federal combined here if they wanted they could drop a bomb from a F15 on your house. Maybe we should all have F22 raptors does that come under the 2A? They could nuke your house and all of cedar city. Use some common sence you moron. No one is taking your guns. AR15s are the cheapest price in 7 years at $350 ammo is cheap also right now and easy to find even 22lr.
        We are already massively outgunned since WW1. You think you would stop a tank with a AR15? Even a WW1 tank? How about a plane? Honestly get off your drugs. You might start seeing logic. If your dealing with armed drug dealers with guns who are probably high you need to be better equipped than they are. Why would anyone go into a fight with a high probability they would loose or get hurt.

        • ladybugavenger June 28, 2017 at 10:26 am

          Stop calling Brian dumb! You can make your point without the hate for Brian. Brian doesnt have a dealer. Duh! So your making yourself look really dumb with your accusations, Brian is a nice guy. We don’t always agree, but he’s got a good heart.

  • DoYourHomework June 27, 2017 at 12:37 pm

    If there are illegal drugs and drug dealers (felons) in every city/county in utah. Task force with informants and massive budgets to purchase state of the art technology to follow then bust these criminals and there is a “war on drugs” ask yourself this…
    Could this be order out chaos? create this problem in order to control/fix it. The officers are just pawns and order followers in this sick twisted game. No disrespect to the officers they want to go home at night safely but when your. trained that every person who forgets to use their turn signal or wear their seatbelt is a “possible” terrorist and those “possible” use the right to remain silent or dont incriminate themselves like the officer wants. Force comes in and Innocent people are executed. Police states ruin nations and once it becomes inevitable that its too late to history shows the people just doing their jobs (using force to. make u pay) are the ones blamed for this tragedy.
    When corporations (paper) have the same rights as souls they impliment policies. agents are hired as policy enforcement to protect the paper not your brothers.

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