Friday, August 15, 2014

This ain't Mayberry. The militirization of the Nashville Police Department.

Patrolling the streets of Ferguson Mo.
It is not often I agree with Rachel Maddow but last night I was watching her show on MSNBC and she was reporting on the disruption in Ferguson Missouri and she reported on how the police had responded to the disturbance riding on armored personnel carriers  with snipers on top and policemen in full battle gear.  From there she expanded her report to report on the militarization of police across America.  The federal government makes funds available to local police department to buy surplus military equipment and they do. I share her concern about the militarization of our police.

The segment reported that many police departments even have mine sweepers.  One policeman who had spend his whole career on the bomb squad said he had never encountered a mine in all his years of police work.

Now, there are not many Mayberry's left where the Sheriff can go unarmed and the chief deputy gets only one bullet, but that does not mean we need the police to become small armies. Certainly, the police need to be well armed and well protected. Many criminals have AK47's which can penetrate body armor and go through  a person and out the other side. The police need to me able to meet the threat.  However, crime has actually been falling for decades now.  Crime is now about the same as in 1960.  With crime falling for decades now, why now do we need a police force that looks like an army? 
Do the police need a mine-resistant
vehicle in Nashville? 

I know a lady who smokes a little pot and she had a pot plant growing in her back yard at her home in Englewood.  A disgruntled tenant of hers who had stopped paying her rent and had to be evicted had seen the plant and tuned this person in to the police.  The police descended on this lady's home with several cars and a swat team dressed in black with assault rifles at the ready. Actually she said the police were nice and did not even do a good check of her home.  The pot plant had long been removed. The police asked to look around and walked around the well kept flower beds and finding no pot plant apologized for the inconvenience and left. In my view, police should not respond to this type of complaint ready for battle.

If police departments have swat teams, and K-9 units trained in crowd control, and helicopters and tanks, they will look for opportunities to use them.  Reporting in today's Nashville Scene, Steven Hale reports that included in surplus military equipment purchased by the city of Nashville are four helicopters, a mine-resistant vehicle, and two "other armored vehicles."  Wilson County and Williamson County have a mine-resistant vehicle each and Rutherford County has two. Our police force could probably take over a small country. Why do we need four helicopters?  Why do we need a mine sweeper?

The police need to "preserve and protect."  One needs to think of your local policemen as the good guys not an army of occupation.  Nationally the Congress needs to hold hearing on the issue of the militarization of police.  How much armament is too much for a local police force? What are we preparing for?  Locally, we should not wait for the issue to be addressed nationally, our local Metro Council Public Safety Committee needs to hold hearings and ask the Chief to justify this level of militarization. It needs to end.

Additional Comment:
Why I am concerned about the level of militarization of our local police, I did not want to leave the impression that our police routinely act inappropriately. I do think sending a swat team to investigate a tip that someone is growing marijuana in their back yard is excessive, but I agree with the following comment posted to his Facebook page by my friend Barry Donegan:
Seeing what's going on in Ferguson once again reminds me why Nashvillians are lucky in that our local police are more reasonable than in other places and tend to respond to protests by sending one or two officers out, not wearing armor, not riding in tanks, not standing in a line 100 strong in body armor with shields, not pointing sniper rifles at people, but just a couple guys in blue with a regular old pistol in the holster, and who usually announce something along the lines of "we are not here to stop you from protesting, but just to make sure everyone's safe."
Guess what else: nothing really ever escalates and no one gets hurt. No one starts smashing windows out downtown and stealing anything. Police presence at protests shouldn't be provocative, and, to my knowledge, Nashville police never really do things to escalate these situations, and, subsequently, things rarely ever escalate.

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