The Myth of Police Militarization

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“Militarization of the police” is a frequently used catch-phrase being carelessly used by all kinds of people these days.  It doesn’t seem there’s really been much thought put into the phrase by most who use it.  In fact if I asked most people to define exactly what they mean by the phrase, my guess is that most people who are denouncing it wouldn’t really be able to define what “militarization” even means in this context.

What items, specifically, do people want the police barred from possessing?  Chances are most people don’t really know.  They just hear stories and see  pictures of SWAT members all geared up and assume that it must be “militarization” and “abuse of power.”

So are the police really being “militarized?”  My goal in this article is to answer that question and then ask a few of my own.

Yes, it is true that the U.S. military began selling surplus weapons to police forces such as the M-16 rifle.  What most people don’t realize is that the overwhelming majority (if not all) of those police departments that got the rifles modified the rifles from fully automatic to semi-automatic.  So is possessing semi-automatic rifles considered “militarizing” the police?  No, not really, considering the 2nd Amendment allows your every day citizen to possess them.  Additionally, most departments no longer carry M-16’s but carry the AR-15 which is a semi-automatic rifle that anyone can buy online or at a gun show.

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There are other rifles that police carry such as .50 caliber sniper rifles, but again, it’s nothing that an ordinary citizen can’t also possess.  So the police are on equal footing with the average citizen there.

Are there any other weapons that would be considered a “militarization”?  Most people will say “tanks.”  Well, police departments don’t own tanks.  You won’t see any re-purposed Bradley’s or M1A1 Abrams’  with a coat of black paint and a POLICE sticker slapped on it.  What some police departments own are APC’s (Armored Personnel Carriers) such as a Bearcat.

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None of them have any canons or even guns on them.  It’s essentially a mobile shield.  That’s it.  And they’re used in bomb disposal calls more than anything else.  And they’ve saved the lives of numerous officers who were taking gunfire.

Citizens can also armor their cars.  It’s not illegal for them to do so.  In fact, a man named James Boulware legally purchased an armored van on ebay.

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Guess where the armored van originally came from?  It was surplus police equipment.  Mr. Boulware then used the van, complete with bullet proof windows and port-holes for firing from, to launch an attack on the Dallas Police Department headquarters building before a Dallas SWAT sniper killed him with a .50 caliber rifle.  So is it really a “militarization” of the police for them to own an armored vehicle when any nut job can buy the very same vehicle when the police are done using it?

What about body armor?  Body armor is legal for your average citizen to possess.  Some states do ban body armor from being worn near schools and there is a federal law that prohibits body armor from being worn in the commission of a crime.  But once again, the average citizen is on even footing with the police.

What else is there?  Tear gas?  It’s non-lethal.  Pepper spray?  Non-lethal.  Tasers?  Non-lethal and the citizen version of the taser actually has a longer range and shock duration than the police issued version.

So I ask the question, if you are against the so-called “militarization” of the police, what specific equipment do you want to be banned from police use?  If you say semi-automatic rifles, you’re asking for police to be forcefully obligated to go into battle with potential criminals who are better equipped.  If you say APC’s, you’re asking police to risk their bodies being bullet sponges instead of an armored vehicle and you’re asking them to be at a disadvantage with people like James Boulware.  If you say body armor… well… if you say body armor then you’ve lost all common sense and there’s probably no hope for you.

So to answer the question…

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