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Are the police putting ordinary people at risk by militaristic tactics?

Recently, a man was shot and killed when a tactical unit of the Memphis police served a warrant for animal cruelty after dark. (The man was suspected of being an animal hoarder.) Was that approach necessary? Are the police endangering people's lives by using such militaristic tactics on people not likely to be violent?

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Lauren , 14.01.2013, 15:02
Idea status: under consideration


Michael, 22.01.2013, 22:36
Radley Balko of the Cato Institute brought up the same issue years ago (his article is online). However, Mr. Balko focuses on superficial items like safety equipment; ballistic garments, rifles and distraction devices. The tactical officer of today does look like a modern soldier, but there ends the similarity.

Domestic tactical teams use civil police tactics; no casualties are acceptable, rights violations by officers (that are brought to light) are punished and the government pays for any property damage. Additionally, appellate court decisions require tactical teams write an Operational Plan for each deployment that includes the reason (there are court approved criteria) for the use of the tactical team. Tactical teams have historically been very successful at reducing the amount of violence at critical incidents.

The narrow issue in Memphis will be did the officers act properly to any perceived threats? Did the police properly use retaliatory violence or did they violate a person's rights? Were they properly trained to handle combative people? The clothing worn by and the equipment used by the police are not germane to those questions, only their actions.

Of course the broader question is should the Memphis incident have been a police issue at all (just like drug offenses). That is a political question that will not be addressed. I argue that the existence, use and equipment of a tactical team is a red herring and can cause us to lose focus on the true issue; the proper use of government force in a domestic setting.

As an aside, since the Vietnam War, the U.S. military has learned and adopted domestic police tactics. In a micro setting, such as urban Afghanistan and Iraq, the military uses civilian police tactics and rules of engagement to search buildings and police populations in "asymmetrical warfare". Prior to the 1970s it was unheard of for a soldier to search a building and that skill was not taught. If an enemy combatant was suspected of being inside a structure it was demolished and the soldiers moved on.

The reality is that civil police agencies are not adapting military tactics; they are adapting safety equipment developed by the military. This safety equipment was developed by the military because they have committed themselves to using civilian police tactics to combat "asymmetrical warfare" abroad. Today's soldier is trained more like a domestic police officer, domestic police officers in the U.S. are not being trained like traditional soldiers.
DianaHsieh, 23.01.2013, 07:29
"Domestic tactical teams use civil police tactics; no casualties are acceptable, rights violations by officers (that are brought to light) are punished and the government pays for any property damage."

Alas, I've read more than a few stories that reveal that to be completely false. (Plus, the question isn't about military gear: that is a red herring!)

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