Although some of the rhetoric around the “militarization of police” has quieted down, I still catch rumblings, observe media coverage, and hear from our members that they cannot seem to shake the contrived image that has been unfairly cast over the profession.
For me, it seems to be pretty clear—when law enforcement is dealing with fleeing suspects, active shooters, or terrorists, why wouldn’t there be an expectation that the police are adequately equipped to safeguard the public? A police officer on foot or in their cruiser is agonizingly vulnerable, even when they are wearing their vests and armed, and, if we leave officers vulnerable and unmatched for criminals, they will not be able to protect the members of their communities or themselves.
When responding to events—vehicle or knife attacks, bombs, active shooters, the pursuit of a lone suspect or multiple suspects—our officers need to be properly equipped and prepared to meet any number of life-threatening situations. The critical incidents in Paris, France; San Bernardino, California; the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida; and Las Vegas, Nevada were all instances where it was absolutely necessary for the police to be properly armed and equipped to quickly end the attacks and safeguard the public.
Every second of every day while on duty, we have an obligation to be staffed and equipped for any life-threatening episode… the safety of our communities and our officers require no less.
There are countless other incidents that go back in history, like the North Hollywood bank robbery that occurred over two decades ago, where 1,100 rounds of armor-piercing bullets were fired by two suspects. A SWAT team and specialized equipment were necessary to resolve the situation, but only after 11 police officers and 7 civilians were injured.
However, these few examples are only a handful of the high-profile incidents that have grabbed the world’s attention in news headlines. Some specific events may have contributed to the inaccurate perception of today’s police as a hardened militarized force, rather than selfless officers who would give their lives to protect their communities. Although the need for police to have the proper equipment seems clear, there are still individuals and organizations who do not think our officers should have use of helmets, shields, patrol rifles, batons, armored vehicles, or tear gas.
What I would ask those that would oppose properly equipping our officers is this: “If you were a hostage trapped in the Pulse nightclub or attending the concert at the Bata clan concert hall in Paris, hiding as gunmen fired into the crowd, would you not expect men and women of law enforcement to enter that building and be properly equipped to defend against or stop the criminals they face?”
Every year, millions of people are treated in hospital emergency rooms across the world. A fraction of those encounters are immediately life threatening. Nonetheless, each emergency room is staffed and equipped for any potential life-threatening episode; no one would expect differently. The reality is that a large part of what police officers do does not involve facing down criminals, but rather serving the members of our communities. However, every second of every day while on duty, we have an obligation to be staffed and equipped for any life-threatening episode… the safety of our communities and our officers require no less. ♦
Please cite as
Louis M. Dekmar, “Equipping for the Reality We Face: Addressing Community and Media Backlash,” President’s Message, The Police Chief 85, no. 6 (June 2018): 6.