Tag Archives: military equipment

Why the F*** Don’t All Police Officers Have to Wear Front Facing Cameras??

Please excuse my use of profanity in the title, but I’m very upset right now.

I’m upset that an unarmed teenager was gunned down in Ferguson, MO last weekend.

I’m upset that a few ignorant individuals used the tragedy as an excuse to cause mayhem, and even more upset that law enforcement agencies have used these few individuals to justify the implementation of a miniature police state in Ferguson, complete with recently-acquired military equipment.

Ryan J. Reilly of the Huffington Post tweeted this photo yesterday. A few hours late, he was arrested along with a Washington Post journalist as a SWAT team tried to clear out a McDonald’s they were eating at. Click to enlarge

But I’m also upset that, once again, the reaction to this tragedy has been so emotional and reactionary that reason has been largely left to die by the wayside.

My problem is that pretty much this entire issue comes down to whose story you believe: that of Dorian Johnson, the friend who was with Michael Brown when he was gunned down, or that of the officer who shot him (St. Louis police chief Jon Belmar gave the department’s official version of events at a press conference Sunday).

If you want to read each of their stories, you can do so here (they’re at the bottom of the article). However, I only bring this up to make a bigger point:

Why the f*** don’t all police officers have to wear front facing cameras??

If you don’t believe that this would make a huge difference in combatting both police brutality and public distrust of the police (especially amongst people of color), consider this:

Rialto, California is a city of 100,000. Last year, Rialto police chief William Farrar equipped half of his officers with front-facing cameras that also contained microphones so as to capture every police interaction in full detail.

The results (keep in mind that only half of the police force was equipped with the cameras):

In the first 12 months, public complaints against police dropped by a mind-blowing 88%. On top of that, officers’ use of force dropped by 60%.

Rialto police chief William A. Farrar. Click to enlarge (Photo: Micah Escamilla/Correspondent)

Though some police officers initially questioned why “big brother” had to see everything they were doing, Farrar pointed out that most of them quickly realized that the cameras benefited them as well:

“There are many police officers who’ve had a cloud fall over them because of an unfounded accusation of abuse. Now police officers won’t have to worry so much about that kind of thing.”

Obviously, I don’t believe that every police encounter should be public domain for anyone to just watch at their leisure. I also think it would be crucial to have an independent body that stored copies of all the footage to ensure that law enforcement couldn’t tamper with the videos.

But I do believe that implementing this practice would help us to avoid many of the tragic situations that feed the flames of anger and hate towards law enforcement within minority communities. Only then can we start to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the public.

Police monitor a peaceful demonstration in Ferguson this past Tuesday. Click to enlarge (Photo: Mario Anzuoni / Reuters)

Let’s imagine that the officer who shot Michael Brown had been wearing one of these cameras.

There would be no controversy as to what happened. The police department could watch the video, ascertain what happened, and inform the public within hours of the incident.

Think of how much anger and vitriol could have been avoided. If Johnson’s story was proven to be true, the public would have a lot of appreciation for the police department confirming his story as quickly as possible.

If the officer’s story turned out to be true, many of the people who are now angry about the “wrongful killing” of Brown would realize that much of their anger was unfounded.

Protest yell at police after being ordered off the street during a peaceful protest (Photo: Scott Olson / Getty Images)

And here’s the real question to ask yourself: do you think the officer would have shot Brown if he was wearing a live camera that was recording the whole event?

Do you think Dorian Johnson would even consider lying about the incident if he knew that the officer was wearing a live camera?

This is a cheap, easy-to-implement solution that benefits both police and the public. It continues to blow my mind that it isn’t an official policy in every police department across the country.

How Our Military’s Weapons Are Flowing to Local Police Departments As the War Dies Down

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have lasted almost 15 years now, costing the United States between $4-6 trillion (with a “T”) dollars since they began back in 2001.

A significant portion of that money has gone to buying weapons and munitions for the soldiers. But what happens to these weapons when the soldiers are sent home?

Hundreds of U.S. military vehicles will have to find new homes back in the U.S. after they are removed from Iraq over the next year (Image courtesy of the Pentagon)

“As President Obama ushers in the end of what he called America’s “long season of war,” the former tools of combat — M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, silencers and more — are ending up in local police departments, often with little public notice.”

That quote is from a New York Times article published last Sunday, an article that tells the story of how, under the Obama administration,

“police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.”

One of these pieces of military weaponry is the MRAP (mine-resistant ambush-protected) armored vehicle.  A total of 432 MRAP’s have made their way into the fleets of police departments around the country.

The graphic below shows where all of those MRAP’s were sent, as well as giving tallies of the all the military-grade equipment that has found its way into local department since the program started. Click the image to view the full-size version.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

So why are so many weapons flowing into local police forces? Is it because they are facing increasingly dangerous scenarios? Many would argue that this is the case, and while it does have some truth to it, this is simply an excuse.

The real reason for local police departments taking in all of these weapons is basically that the government has nothing better to do with them- if the police don’t want them, they’re turned into scrap:

“The Pentagon program does not push equipment onto local departments. The pace of transfers depends on how much unneeded equipment the military has, and how much the police request. Equipment that goes unclaimed typically is destroyed. So police chiefs say their choice is often easy: Ask for free equipment that would otherwise be scrapped, or look for money in their budgets to prepare for an unlikely scenario. Most people understand, police officers say.”

An MRAP being tested (it's driving over landmines, if you were wondering). Click to enlarge
An MRAP being tested out (it’s driving over landmines, if you were wondering). Click to enlarge

The situation often pits the community against itself. Neenah, Wisconsin, a small city with very low levels of violent crime, is one of the cities set to receive one of the military’s armored vehicles.

When word got out about the police department’s plans to acquire the vehicle, some residents, like father Shay Korittnig, weren’t too happy about it:

“It just seems like ramping up a police department for a problem we don’t have… This is not what I was looking for when I moved here, that my children would view their local police officer as an M-16-toting, SWAT-apparel-wearing officer.”

William Pollnow Jr. is a city councilman in Neenah who decided he would be the one to ask, “Why are we doing this?” However, the argument on the other side is almost unbeatable. Here’s another excerpt from the Times article:

At the Neenah City Council, Mr. Pollnow is pushing for a requirement that the council vote on all equipment transfers. When he asks about the need for military equipment, he said the answer is always the same: It protects police officers.

“Who’s going to be against that? You’re against the police coming home safe at night?” he said. “But you can always present a worst-case scenario. You can use that as a framework to get anything.”

Kevin Wilkinson, Neenah’s police chief, believes having a vehicle built for combat will help protect officers. (Photo: Darren Hauck / The New York Times

The biggest problem most people have with this heightened militarization of local police forces is that it’s being done, for the most part, without the knowledge of the public.

None of the cities taking in these weapons are holding town hall meetings, public forums or referendums to let the citizens decide whether or not to add fully-automatic machine guns and armored vehicles to the force.

I won’t be one of those people who sits here and tells you the government is about to start an all-out war against the people, using cops as infantry, because I just don’t see it.

What I will say is that, in my humble opinion, the increased militarization of police forces nationwide is both unnecessary and unsettling.

For more info, I highly recommend this New York Times piece– they did an extremely thorough job of covering the whole story from all angles.

BONUS: This great infographic details the cost of different parts of our military, comparing it to the average household income, as well as costs like college tuition, healthcare, and a new home. Click the image to view the full-size version: