For years police officers have patrolled the streets by patrol vehicle, bike, or even on foot but that could change with the militarization of police. Over the years police officers have upgraded their equipment and began to militarize their departments. While it is obvious that smaller agencies can’t always afford the upgrades, the bigger agencies take advantage and upgrade their departments. The idea that police agencies could be militarizing can be frightful to some but could also help spread a sense of security within your community.
The History of Police
Years ago you would have thought of police officers as driving in a patrol car with a belt around their waist and a pistol in the holster but now with the rapid changes in law enforcement and the militarization of larger departments some may not see it that way. When law enforcement began in London they had a military structure but not the equipment the military had. Many departments followed this way of policing started by Sir Robert Peel and has served as a model for modern police departments. Throughout the years there have been many different eras of policing. From the political era of policing during the mid 1800s to early 1900s to the reform era of policing during the 1960s. During the reform era the crime rate nearly doubled and police officers were seen as ineffective during this time. But then came the community problem solving era, a time at which technology was incorporated, research was expanded, and the militarization of police departments began shortly after 9/11. In the new era of policing police departments are being described as militarized but ultimately the police and military have very different concepts. “Soldiers are aimed at enemies from outside the country. They are trained to kill those enemies. In fact, killing people and breaking things’ are their main reasons for existence. Police look inward. They’re supposed to protect their fellow citizens from criminals, and to maintain order with a minimum of force.’ Increased military equipment does not necessarily mean a police department is going to go about things the same way the military would.
When you hear the word “militarization” you may not know exactly what that means. While there is no set definition for militarization you could simply describe it as bringing military equipment and tactics into law enforcement. So what are some of the things police departments get in order to “militarize” their department? According to the Pentagon, through the 1033 weapons program the United States has received 5.1 Billion since 1990. The pentagon is said to have given “79,288 assault rifles and machine guns with nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines, $124 million worth of night-vision equipment, including night-vision sniper scopes, 617 MRAP vehicles, and more than $3.6 million worth of camouflage gear and other ‘deception equipment’
The impact on the militarization of police departments could be split into different sections, “material (e.g. the presence of military technology), cultural (e.g. the adoption of military language and values), operational (e.g. the use of SWAT in no-knock raids and zero-tolerance policing tactics), and organizational (e.g. the normalized use of specialized units like SWAT teams or ‘command and control’ structures)”. When talking about militarization many seem to think about the “material” impact, you think about the assault rifles S.W.A.T. officers carry, the dark camouflage some officers may wear, and the bomb protected vehicles used during times of war. “research suggests that uniforms that are designed more along military lines, employing darker colors or camouflage patterns (Paul and Birzer, 2004), have a negative impact on police-community relations, promoting hostility and aggression among the public (Bell, 1982; Johnson, 2005)”, this helps strengthen the idea that militarization of police departments could lead to fear in the community. Police departments becoming more militarized doesn’t just impact the community, it can also have an impact on the police officers. Officers come onto the job with the idea of helping people and a militaristic department may not be what they are looking for. Not everyone comes into law enforcement to wear camo or to drive bomb proof vehicles instead they get into law enforcement to strengthen relationships with citizens in the community or to control crime with the techniques used before 9/11.
The Future of Policing
The future of policing stands as an unknown, of course law enforcement is going to have to stick around to keep people around the country safe but that doesn’t mean they won’t change how they go about things. Many large scale departments across the country have the equipment and tools they need to militarize their respective departments while smaller departments could struggle to acquire all these items. If militarization were to keep occuring around the United States research suggests that “the presence of firearms can escalate levels of violence in a conflict among youth and others involved in criminal violence”. It is hard to determine what exactly will happen over the years with police departments whether it be increased military tactics and equipment or a step back to community policing. Whatever happens in law enforcement will come from research done by criminologists and events that take place overtime.
From the London Metropolitan Police Department to the NYPD there are still some things that run the same but some police departments post 9/11 have more militaristic departments. It takes a toll on communities when they see armored vehicles on the roads and police officers wearing camo and holding assault rifles. It can’t be said how police departments will evolve over the next few years but all it takes is one event for law enforcement across the country to have to change the way they do things.