Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Call of Duty

Obama Offers Half-Measures On Police Gear:

President Obama, grappling with how to respond to the racial unrest in Ferguson, Mo., and a wave of anger at law enforcement officials across the country, said Monday that he would tighten standards on the provision of military-style equipment to local police departments and provide funds for police officers to wear cameras.

But Mr. Obama stopped short of curtailing the transfer of military-grade gear to local law enforcement authorities and continued to put off a visit to Ferguson. Instead, the White House tried to channel the rage over the fatal police shooting of a black teenager there into a national debate about how to restore trust between the police and the public.


Administration officials said they concluded after a review that the vast majority of transfers of military-style equipment strengthened local policing, even after the police in Ferguson were criticized for heavy-handed use of such gear to quell protests last summer. But the officials said local authorities needed common standards in the types of hardware they requested and better training in how to use it.
Wait a minute. "After a review" of what?  Where is the evidence, one shred of it, that shows "the vast majority of transfers of military-style equipment strengthened local policing"? That contradicts every expert in policing, and virtually every study done on the matter.
With no legislation likely, Mr. Obama has instead focused on standardizing regulations across the multiple federal agencies — primarily the Department of Homeland Security — that supply this equipment to cities and towns. He would also seek to improve training and require “after-action” reports for incidents involving federal equipment.
LOL. So after we go in and destroy your neighborhood with tanks, M-16's, hand grenade launchers, and battering rams, now we'll have a better report on the aftermath. Brilliant.
Criminal-law experts said the measures on military-style equipment were worthwhile, though would have a minor effect, given the unceasing demand by local police departments. Much of that equipment is bought by municipalities through grants made by the Department of Homeland Security, as opposed to directly from the Pentagon.

The police’s use of heavily armored vehicles and assault rifles came under criticism in Ferguson, but the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, said it had proved valuable in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing — a contention some experts dispute.
A contention most experts dispute. The law enforcement reaction in Boston was roundly criticized by most experts as heavy-handed, over the top, and disproportionate to the actual threat. 
The president also announced on Monday the formation of a task force to improve local policing. Leading the panel will be Charles H. Ramsey, the commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department, and Laurie Robinson of George Mason University, a leading criminal law scholar.

The White House also faced skepticism in its choice of Commissioner Ramsey as a co-chairman of the task force. During his tenure as police chief in the District of Columbia from 1998 to 2007, he was criticized for the mass arrest of people protesting International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings.

“We were just dumbfounded when we heard they had chosen Chief Ramsey,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, which brought suits against Mr. Ramsey in Washington. “You’d be hard pressed to find a more inappropriate choice.”
That's because, at the end of the day, the Obama administration really doesn't want to do anything about the garrison, militarized state of law enforcement in this country. 

Ferguson is still being painted in terms of race and race only, ignoring the fact that the officer involved in the incident testified to the militarized, "Call of Duty" mentality that many officers are being trained with today. Rather than de-escalation (which is what the Marines are taught in combat situations, for heaven's sake), this guy said it was incumbent upon him to bring "Hulk Hogan" to the ground, no matter what the actual or perceived threat. 

A Marine in combat, facing a situation where you are outnumbered, is trained to de-escalate, fall back, and wait for reinforcements. This guy thought he was in some commando, black-ops video game or movie, where it was him against the world (or in this case, an unarmed teenager) and he was going to prevail, no matter what. It's sheer lunacy. I'd love to see what role video games played in all this, and whether the officer was, in fact, a gamer during his off-time.

Regardless, Obama's announcement of providing funding for body cameras was somewhat good news.
To bolster local policing, the government also announced a $263 million program that will provide up to 50,000 body cameras for police. The video footage from these cameras could clarify disputed incidents like the deadly encounter between the teenager in Ferguson, Michael Brown, and the police officer, Darren Wilson.
Possibly. We do know from some studies that body cameras lower the overall complaints against police for unjustified force, etc. But the jury is still out regarding their overall deterrent effect.

There is a healthy discussion (unless you're on social media, then it's unhealthy) going on regarding race and law enforcement as a result of the events in Ferguson, and that's a positive. But if we don't address the hyper-militarized commando culture that so many departments are instilling in their officers, not just the reaction to the protests, but the every day patrol mentality, then more Ferguson's will happen. 

According to the FBI in 2013, law enforcement killed 461 citizens (felons) and listed these as "justifiable homicides." That number has been increasing every year for the past five years, despite the fact that crime itself is at near record low levels, the likes of which we haven't seen since the 1960's. And it may not even be half the picture: as Eugene Robinson argues, because of police reporting procedures, the number could be over 1,000 citizens killed every year by law enforcement. By way of contrast, Great Britain and Germany reported ZERO citizens killed last year by police.

These deaths will continue to increase if the above militarization mentality is not addressed. While the racial element is important (as well as social class, for it's only ever low-income residents who are at the other end of a police bayonet), it will ultimately be a footnote to the larger story of militarization and the warrior, garrison state we are enacting via our local police departments.

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