Email From a Former Cop

Monday, March 17th, 2008

Good stuff:

I read your article on the police raid. My father was a cop for 35 years and a police chief for 20 of that. He was the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. I am also a former police officer. We both discussed many times the problems with police departments becoming paramilitary forces. He was chief in a military town and had many former military on his department. He fought constantly to keep them from becoming too military like.

One of the problems we both saw in the early 90′s were departments leaving the formal police uniforms with leather belts and holsters in favor of the dark blue fatigues with nylon mesh belts and holsters. This put police in a more fighting posture.

The final point my father was adamant about was the police 7 point hat. He said this hat was unmistakable in identifying an officer in any situation. His officers were not supposed to leave their vehicles without putting on their hat. Many departments have abandoned these expensive hats in favor of baseball caps. In a crowd there may be dozens of dark ball caps.

I worked as an officer in Wilmington NC where that college kid was killed. In the early 90′s both the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Dept and the Wilmington Police Department were heading toward the more aggressive styles of uniforms and tactics.

Thanks for the article. I do not think most people realize the value of good cops and the danger of bad ones.

I get into this a bit in Overkill. Even subtle changes toward a more militaristic culture can have a lasting effect on the type of mindset with which police officers approach their jobs. I’ve heard this complaint before from older cops–that the switch to more military-style fatigues also accompanied a shift to a more aggressive form of policing.

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8 Responses to “Email From a Former Cop”

  1. #1 |  Matt | 

    This is a chicken or egg question; do the cultural changes cause more aggressive policing, or does aggressive policing make (for example) fatigues more fashionable? Do both cause each other? Or is there an underlying cause behind both (cough… crazy drug hysteria)? Or maybe I should just read the paper.

  2. #2 |  EdinTally | 

    Excellent observations by career officers.

    Another point is how officers are programmed now (I can’t speak to “back in the day”). Officers are constantly reminded that every single encounter could be deadly. While that is technically true, in practice it doesn’t pan out and the most important thing when dealing with the public is mindset. Any time an officer shows up there is a gun on the scene. The question is, is the gun the first thing the officer is thinking about or the last?

  3. #3 |  Cory Michael McKenna | 

    It is a function of the expansion of governmental power. In order to increase power, government has to increase the number crimes (therefore the ability of the government to use force, which it has a monopoly upon, against citizens). As this pool of power grows cops acquire more and more responsibilities to the public – creating an exasperating situation (hence the typical pissed off cop although some are true psychos).
    The answer is removing the non-victim crimes. The result is the friendly cop-on-the-beat that actually knew his community back in “the day”.

  4. #4 |  Joel Rosenberg | 

    Yup. I think that good soldiers are great, and so are good cops, and that there are very, very few situations where the same mindset and skills apply, and, even then, they apply differently.

    The militarization of the police is sowing the wind; we’re already into the reaping stage.

  5. #5 |  Dave Hummels | 

    Good comments folks. I especially agree with Cory’s points. Police officers grow very frustrated when they realize that they are becoming the end all and be all for an increasingly helpless population. Officers may talk about “job security,” but they often mention it in a deeply cynical manner. If anyone has access to a police scanner, you probably know what I’m talking about. A huge percentage of the calls, of course, are drug-related. If you listen long enough, you will notice that the same people are calling constantly to have the police sort out every detail of their dysfunctional lives. This is not a healthy situation for the cops or citizens of a supposed democracy. Role conflict can cause any kind of employee to experience severe stress. Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore Police Officer, and current Criminal Justice Professor at John Jay College, is doing great work on trying to end the war on drugs/vice and changing the way officers are deployed (ie. a new focus on neighborhood foot patrol, with a bit less focus on rapid response which seldom leads to immediate resolution of crime anyway ). He will have a new book out soon called “Cops in the Hood” and I encourage those who enjoy “The Agitator” to check out this guy’s blog.

  6. #6 |  meh | 

    Increased militarization of the police force also allows the President to make increasingly damaging decisions without fear of reprisal from the citizens. It also allows the President to “take” powers which he is not granted specifically in the constitution again without fear of reprisal from the citizens. When the time comes for the citizens to revolt forcefully there will be a formidable force in the form of militarized police for the citizens to deal with before they reach the target.
    It’s chess. Right now the people sit and wait.

  7. #7 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Pretty soon police departments will probably start using video game recruiting techniques like they use for the Army. You know, shooters sort of like Grand Theft Auto except they would be actively seeking the kinds of personalities that have trouble differentiating between the game and reality.

  8. #8 |  Ron W | 

    Another point of view on the uniform changes: BDU type uniforms are more comfortable for the offices. The amount of equipment and the weight of the equipment carried on the belt of traditional uniforms causes problems in the lower back. Overwieght officers actually have an advantage on this as the same amount of equipment is spread over a wide area. A cop with a 30″ waist has problems fitting all the equipment on the belt without having to sit on it while driving. This causes pressure and pain on the lower discs. BDUs distribute the weight better. The gun is the heaviest object on the belt. Putting in a thigh holster isn’t just for looking cool. It really does help with backs.

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