Police Militarization vs. Criminals With Big Guns

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

A. Barton Hinkle has a good column on police militarization today, and not just because he quotes me (though that helps!).

There is one point Hinkle concedes that I’m not sure he should: I’ve still yet to see any empirical data to support the contention that criminals in the U.S. are arming themselves with more powerful weapons—at least in significant numbers. I’ve heard plenty of anecdotes to that effect from police officials while justifying their new APV or armament of military-grade machine guns. But nothing in the way of data.

In fact, in Overkill (see pages 27-28), I noted that the only two studies available at the time—one done in 1995 by the National Institute for Justice and one published in 1991 by Dave Kopel and Eric Morgan—came to the opposite conclusion. Both those studies are pretty dated now, but I’ve yet to see anything newer to support the broad contention that criminals in the U.S. are moving toward higher-powered weapons. But I also haven’t tracked the issue as closely as I did while I was researching that paper.  If anyone knows of something more recent, please send it my way, or throw up a link in the comments.

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61 Responses to “Police Militarization vs. Criminals With Big Guns”

  1. #1 |  Brian | 

    Even in the absence of data, I haven’t seen anecdotal evidence of an arms race outside of claims by law enforcement when justifying their expensive new toys. And when the police make a big drug arrest and show off all of the confiscated stuff on the evening news, all the guns they show look like the same sort of stuff you could have found on the street 10 or 20 years ago. One would think if they were acquiring all of this equipment to combat the drug dealers, the stuff they confiscate from the drug dealers would be commensurate in strength.

  2. #2 |  CyniCAl | 

    If, as I am told so often, that we must have police, then it seems that an arms race with criminals is exactly wrong. The emphasis should be on making police as indestructible as possible defensively, by armor or other shielding. While it’s obvious that much police brutality is caused by sadists, in fairness I understand that police are human and fear death just like every other living creature, and that this is the root cause of police brutality.

    Make a cop impervious to harm and there would be no need for them to be armed. Then the only cause of police brutality would be sadism. And perhaps those cops could be weeded out over time.

    Of course, all this is premised on the principle that a police force’s mission to serve the people, not the State or themselves. Thus, police obsession with offensive weaponry proves my premise to be false, and police brutality is a feature, not a bug.

  3. #3 |  Aresen | 

    Assume, for the sake of argument, that criminals are getting their hands on ever more powerful weapons.

    Would the consequent point be that, once criminals have nukes, we should also arm the police with nukes?

  4. #4 |  Aresen | 

    CyniCAl | August 23rd, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    While it’s obvious that much police brutality is caused by sadists, in fairness I understand that police are human and fear death just like every other living creature, and that this is the root cause of police brutality.

    I am highly doubtful that this is the case. My experience with bullies is that they will continue to bully so long as they can do so with impunity. Make a man of poor character invulnerable and he will act worse.

  5. #5 |  James D | 

    “criminals in the U.S. are arming themselves with more powerful weapons” no, but WE’LL arm them through programs like Fast and Furious ….. and then turn around and use that as an argument against 2nd amendment rights.
    – Obama Admin

  6. #6 |  CyniCAl | 

    Which was my conclusion, after all. However, assuming that we’re trying to reduce the incidence of police brutality, keeping them vulnerable AND armed to the teeth helps how?

  7. #7 |  hooglyboogly | 

    I don’t think we need to look any further than the evening news. Does everyone else notice a lack of stories about the huge gun fights taking place all across America? Since the pathetic, gun-grabbing media in this country constantly drum up as much negative publicity as they can when there is some kind of crime committed with a firearm the lack of headline news stories should prove the point.

    Look at the police that have armed themselves with .50 cal automatic weapons and explain that they need them to combat the drug war. The semi-auto versions available to J.Q.P. are quite expensive and not likely to be owned by the Crips and the Bloods or whatever they call themselves now. Ever heard of someone using a .50 in the commission of a crime? Me neither, because they aren’t happening. The fact is that no civilian law enforcement agency has any legitimate reason for possessing such weapons. Then again, when was the last time you heard a cop refer to them-self as a peace officer?

  8. #8 |  CyniCAl | 

    I think it was a line of dialogue in the movie Tombstone.

  9. #9 |  Fred | 

    Radley

    The contention that “criminals in the U.S. are arming themselves with more powerful weapons” is in a word crap; the AR15 series of rifles are chambered
    In 5.56mm is not legal to hunt with because it is simply not powerful enough
    To reliably kill a 100lb. pronghorn (antelope). The 5.56 cartridge has less than a third of the muzzle energy of my hunting rifle I.E 950 ft. lbs. of energy VS. 3000 ft. lbs.
    The BearCat G3 is an 8-ton armored personnel carrier. Its half-inch steel plating and 2.5-inch window glass can stop a .50-caliber round. The whole idea that some gang banger is going to do a drive by with a rifle that is almost 5 feet long weighing over thirty pounds and costing almost $15000.00 is ludicrous at best. (http://barrett.net/pdfs/Price-List.pdf)

    As a side note I am a completive shooter in 3 gun and sporting clays

  10. #10 |  Brett | 

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1986_FBI_Miami_shootout

    This is the shoot out that I remember causing a huge buzz in the law enforcement community. From the time this happened until the mid nineties I saw this one come up again and again in articles on law enforcement training. I am no expert, I am a casual target shooter who shoots mostly black powder when I manage to get out, but this incident was filling the shooting magazines for almost ten years in the police columns. I do see this incident as a factor in what we see today, I will see if I can find some of the articles, they were pretty adamant about the need to switch tactics to a more military style.

  11. #11 |  Matt | 

    I don’t see why the police would need to up-gun themselves even if criminals were arming themselves with better weapons. I suppose you could make an argument for an armored-up vehicle or two (although I think that is indefensible on other grounds) but the fact remains that regular weapons kill criminals just fine. There is no conceivable police use for an M2 Browning, even if the criminals have RPGs.

  12. #12 |  Acksiom | 

    Keeping them vulnerable helps by intimidating those among them whose violence is only kept in check by greater threats. You yourself may not be like that, but there are plenty of people who are, including among cops.

    Still don’t understand? Try looking at the problems with institutional immunity and how that contributes to the corruption of police, prosecutors, and judges. Physical immunity has similar effects, and not just for police.

    The bottom line is that invulnerability, like power, tends to corrupt, and absolute invulnerability also corrupts absolutely.

  13. #13 |  JThompson | 

    Even if one concedes the point that criminals are better armed (And I don’t for a second think they are.) it still doesn’t automatically back an argument for cops needing military grade weapons.

    The criminals aren’t organizing to have shootouts with cops, they’re mostly just shooting at other criminals. Perhaps we should have a program to prevent one group of criminals from falling too far behind in the arms race, so that we never end up with a powerful group that can control the others? It’s worked so well for us in foreign policy.

    That’s intended as sarcasm, but now that I think about it, it’s kind of what we’re doing.

  14. #14 |  John P. | 

    Crime is way done and still dropping. Those criminals who go armed still prefer good old Saturday Night Specials (Cheap throw away guns) they can toss if cornered and not be out a pile of cash.

    The last time a machine gun was used in any crime against the police, it was infact a police officer, a SWAT Team member who recently shot it out with some cops with his DEPARTMENT ISSUED 9mm sub machine gun.

  15. #15 |  Carl-Bear | 

    I don’t have a fancy study to support it, but my personal experience (including when I wore a badge myself) is that most criminals choose the tools of their “trade” according to three criteria, in order: 1) what is available, 2) what is cheap, and 3) what they can easily conceal and dispose of. I’d be willing to bet that 2 & 3 lead to relatively few long guns being stolen for further criminal use, which limits them in the fist category.

    The Miami shootout was certainly used to justify militarization. Too bad it didn’t instead prompt better training (firearm handling, retention, and shot placement; don’t force a felony stop of known violent criminals in a residential neighborhood; proper equipment for the known threat). The evolution from 9mm to 10mm to .40S&W made some sense given the limits of 9mm cartridges at the time (and much of that STILL prompts a lot of gunnie disdain against 9mm, even though newer loads are quite effective). That “criminals have more powerful weapons” should not have been a lesson learned, since shotguns have only been around for centuries, and .223Rem/5.56 NATO is such a relatively wimpy round that it isn’t even allowed for deer hunting in some areas. Seems to me I’ve heard of Depression era crooks toting BARs in a somewhat more potent chambering, long before the current fad for militarization; cops dealt with them back then.

  16. #16 |  EH | 

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1986_FBI_Miami_shootout

    This is the shoot out that I remember causing a huge buzz in the law enforcement community.

    Jeez, talk about an isolated incident.

  17. #17 |  CyniCAl | 

    This too: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Hollywood_shootout

    But whatever.

    Either it’s possible to limit the weaponry that police are authorized to carry and use or it’s not. If it’s not possible to limit the weaponry, then the trend will continue to its absurd conclusion.

    However, if it’s possible to limit the weaponry, then it’s possible to make an invulnerable cop armed with nothing more than a baton or even less lethal weapon, who can’t shoot anyone to death but who can subdue anyone. And though said cop may be a sadist who revels in his invulnerability, he would only be invulnerable while on duty and incapable of shooting someone to death.

    Like I wrote though, if you truly believe that it’s impossible to limit police powers, than why bother discussing this? And I ask again, how is a vulnerable, armed-to-the-teeth cop preferable to an invulnerable unarmed cop? What relation does this have to police brutality?

  18. #18 |  CyniCAl | 

    “The ineffectiveness of the pistol rounds and shotgun pellets in penetrating the robbers’ body armor led to a trend in the United States toward arming selected police patrol officers with semi-automatic 5.56 mm AR-15 type rifles.[12] Seven months after the incident, the Department of Defense gave 600 surplus M16s to the LAPD, which were issued to each patrol sergeant;[25] other cities, such as Miami, also moved to supply patrol officers, not just SWAT teams, with heavier firepower.[26] LAPD patrol vehicles now carry AR-15s as standard issue, with bullet-resistant Kevlar plating in their doors as well.[27] Also as a result of this incident LAPD authorized its officers to carry .45 ACP caliber semiautomatic pistols as duty sidearms, specifically the Smith and Wesson Models 4506 and 4566. Prior to 1997 only LAPD SWAT officers were authorized to carry .45 ACP caliber pistols, specifically the Model 1911A1 .45 ACP semiautomatic pistol.”

    Thank you Phillips and Matasareanu, thank you so much.

  19. #19 |  Acksiom | 

    And again I answer, keeping them vulnerable helps by intimidating those among them whose violence is only kept in check by greater threats. You yourself may not be like that, but there are plenty of people who are, including among cops.

    Still don’t understand? Try looking at the problems with institutional immunity and how that contributes to the corruption of police, prosecutors, and judges. Physical immunity has similar effects, and not just for police.

    The bottom line is that invulnerability, like power, tends to corrupt, and absolute invulnerability also corrupts absolutely.

  20. #20 |  seannyboy | 

    For the last three years, from my home state of Pennsylvania:
    July 2009: Berks County Deputy Sheriff Kyle Pagerly; murdered by an offender with a SKS-style assault rifle.
    December 2009: Penn Hills Police Officer Michael Crawshaw, murdered by an offender with a AK-47.
    April 2009: Pittsburgh Police Officers Paul Sciullo, Steven Mayhle, and Eric Kelly. murdered by an offender with a AK-47.
    May 2008, Philadelphia Police Officer Stephen Liczbinski, murdered by an offender with a SKS-style assault rifle.
    Now include Freemansburgh Officer Robert Lasso (murdered with a shotgun) and PA State Trooper Paul Richey (murdered with a .30-30 hunting rifle).
    6 of the last 15 law enforcement officers murdered in PA were killed with military-style weapon, and 8 were murdered with some style of rifle or shotgun. There are many other instances, of course, where these weapons were used against police with less tragic results. Whether or not there is an upward trend, the fact remains that these incidents happen, and it is odd to suppose that the police should not attempt to be better armed than the bad guys.
    CyniCAl: please, describe for us in detail how exactly these invulnerable officers are supposed to be equipped.

  21. #21 |  EH | 

    Seannyboy: care to shill more obviously? To take your example, please describe in detail the connection between your examples and .50cal and APC usage by law enforcement.

  22. #22 |  BGHS1986 | 

    Now, I will admit this is purely anecdotal; I spent Saturday sick on the couch watching a marathon of “DEA” on SpikeTV. During the five plus hours of watching, at the minimum, two raids on hour I saw exactly ONE FIREARM (small caliber pistol) recovered. Even that handgun was recovered, not in the hands of the alleged drug dealer, put in a box in the closet. By the way, the owner of the home was captured after jumping out of his second story window in the middle of a Detroit winter. That was how far he went to AVOID a confrontation (violent or otherwise) with police.

  23. #23 |  CyniCAl | 

    @#20 | seannyboy — In such a way that at least bullets, and quite possibly bombs, cannot harm them. Science put a man on the moon, is defensive armor really an insoluble problem?

    Acksiom, we can agree to disagree. The status quo remains police brutality. An arms race, if one even exists, is no answer.

    You know, someone tries some out-of-the-box thinking and he’s pilloried for it. What a fucking surprise. Keep on doing more of the same, I suggest giving police officers steroids, amphetamines and the biggest fucking guns ever made, guns that would make Big Bertha look like a peashooter. Then at last there will be peace on Earth.

    Puke.

  24. #24 |  JOR | 

    “However, assuming that we’re trying to reduce the incidence of police brutality, keeping them vulnerable AND armed to the teeth helps how?”

    Well, the problem is that an invulnerable (leaving aside the question of whether that’s economically or even technologically possible) man is an incredibly dangerous thing, even if he’s unarmed. An unarmed, but armored man is in roughly the same technological and social position relative to an unarmored, unarmed man, as an armed, unarmored man is. Other things equal, they’d have the exact same incentives anyway.

  25. #25 |  JOR | 

    “You know, someone tries some out-of-the-box thinking and he’s pilloried for it.”

    People disagreed with you (for differing reasons) and explained why. It’s nothing personal.

    “Keep on doing more of the same, I suggest giving police officers steroids, amphetamines and the biggest fucking guns ever made, guns that would make Big Bertha look like a peashooter.”

    If you say so. Personally I suggest giving them tranquilizers and then feeding them to sharks.

  26. #26 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    Here’s a proposal that’s sure to cause both the Cops and the Gin Control twits collective apoplexy; pass legislation that states that citizens may own and carry any weapon available for use by state, local, or federal law enforcement, and that no law enforcement officer may under any circumstances shot of declared martial law use any weapon not available to any citizen.

  27. #27 |  BamBam | 

    @17, it’s called using Robocop after the ED-209 kills a room full of innocent people that did not put down their weapons and comply. Oh wait, cops already do that … shit.

  28. #28 |  Highway | 

    Seannyboy, can you explain how in *any* of those cases you mention would the police having a bigger gun would have saved them from being shot? The only way it could possibly have saved them would be if the incoming shot hit the bigger gun.

    It’s not a war of attrition, or a war between countries. Having better offensive armaments works between countries because it’s not a case of ‘him vs me’, it’s ‘us vs them’, and you want to have as few of ‘them’ left and as many of ‘us’ left as possible.

    In a situation where it’s one or a few bad guys, and one or a few police, well, pretty much any gun is going to be sufficient to kill that one person. In all those incidents you mention, it’s not that the bad guys’ weapons overpowered the police, it’s that they shot first or better.

    The incident with the LA police that has been mentioned, where they didn’t have guns that were up to the bad guy’s armor is a different case. But that doesn’t justify anything more than rifles that can penetrate body armor, which I sure don’t think you need a .50 cal, or an APC, for.

  29. #29 |  Rick | 

    I think the partial answer is to not have so many goddamn laws, and to start with gutting the War on Drugs joke….we had Prohibition. Did we not learn anything? The second issue is to stop using cops as revenue enhancers for the state…I for one am sick of the mentality of ticketing….it’s the biggest racket of all.

  30. #30 |  Matt I. | 

    The Miami Shootout was stopped by one cop with a .38

  31. #31 |  Whim | 

    Although annual police statistics for “Line-of-Duty” deaths are intentionally exaggerated by including police traffic deaths, year-in and year-out approximately 50 police die violently while on duty. The majority are killed by pistol fire.

  32. #32 |  Seannyboy | 

    EH- Not a shill, just a cop in a high crime jurisdiction. Nothing theoretical about this conversation to me.
    Matt I- The Miami Shootout was stopped by one cop with a .38, but only after two FBI Special Agents were killed and several other officers severely injured. All gunfights end, but it’s better if they end quickly. Counterfactuals are iffy without a time machine, but the fight probably would’ve stopped sooner if the FBI Agents had had access to a rifle or submachine gun.
    CyniCAL- Your idea is an interesting thought experiment. It has nothing to do with reality. Science put a man on the moon, but is still having trouble with cancer, cold fusion, and time travel.
    Highway and Whim: The question is not “Will an AR-15 keep a cop from getting shot?” The question is instead “Are there instances in which police use of an AR-15 will stop a gunfight quicker than if officers only had pistols?”
    The war on drugs is a costly fuck-up- stipulated. It’s ridiculous to use SWAT teams to serve warrants for internet poker and prostitution- stipulated. Too many jurisdictions use DHS money to buy BearCats that’ll mainly be used to get cats out of trees- stipulated. But there is a big gap between between agreeing to all these statements and then saying that police should never have any kind of military-style weapon. As Brother Radley himself pointed out last month during a shootout between police and a barricaded subject in Delaware County, PA, SWAT teams do have a place.

  33. #33 |  Mario | 

    Regarding the 1986 FBI shootout in Miami, the Wikipedia page relays something I found interesting. One of the FBI cars rammed the suspects’ car. As a result of the collision, one of the agents had his gun — which was carelessly placed on the dashboard — fly out the window of the car; the other lost his glasses in the collision and was left effectively blind for the ensuing firefight. It sounds to me like these reckless tactics were what kicked off the fiasco.

  34. #34 |  Marty | 

    I like continuing focus on ending drug prohibition- the militarization of the police will look even dumber as the street violence statistics drop.

  35. #35 |  JS | 

    Rick “I think the partial answer is to not have so many goddamn laws, and to start with gutting the War on Drugs joke…”

    I hear this a lot and agree totally but why stop there? The problem is not mrerely too many laws but too many people enforcing the too many and unjust laws. We have too many cops. The more cops you have the more arrests you will have and the more arrests you have the more people you put in prison. The US has 5% of theworld’s population and over 25%, a full quarter of the world’s prisoners. To me any discussion of reducing the number of laws or ending the drug war is incomplete without discussing a reduction in the number of cops.

  36. #36 |  Pablo | 

    I too have wondered about this. I read the gun rags from time to time and there are always articles about armament and “tactics” to deal with the purported fact that bad guys are more likely these days to carry high capacity weapons, to attack in multiples, wear body armor, take cover, etc. I think much of that is unsubstantiated, or BS that is made up to sell gun magazines (cops love to read stuff like that).

    “More powerful” weapons? The only new service caliber to come down the road in decades is the .40 auto. Its between the 9mm and .45 in power. When people talk of “more powerful” I think they actually mean weapons which hold more rounds, or look scarier, or are easier to shoot accurately (the latter being the main advantage of an auto pistol over a revolver).

  37. #37 |  CTD | 

    Seannyboy,

    What on earth is an “SKS-style assault rifle?”

    Statements like this confirm my belief that cops are, on balance, grossly ignorant about firearms. Like the general public, they seem to know most of what they do about guns from Hollywood action movies and TV procedurals.

  38. #38 |  Highway | 

    The question is not “Will an AR-15 keep a cop from getting shot?” The question is instead “Are there instances in which police use of an AR-15 will stop a gunfight quicker than if officers only had pistols?”

    Even if this is *a* question, it’s certainly not *the* question. A question that goes along with it is “Even if use of an AR-15 might stop a gunfight sooner (which I do not stipulate it necessarily would), is it still something that should be used in an every day situation?” On top of that, what is the mechanism that could even account for military style weaponry stopping a gunfight sooner? Again, wouldn’t it be ‘kill that other guy before he kills you’? What about an AR-15, or other ‘assault rifle’ or even high powered pistols and rifles allows that to happen. Are they easier to aim (from my limited knowledge, the answer is no)? Are they more accurate in a shootout?

    I cannot purport to be a gun expert. I think they’re an interesting topic, but I couldn’t tell you what is more powerful, less powerful, etc. But if what folks upthread have been saying is true about the relative weakness of the 5.56 round, why would that be better than a current 9mm round? And if most of the ‘criminals’ are guys who get cheap guns and don’t have body armor, then it’s no wonder that the SWAT guys are bored and looking for more stuff to do, so they go do warrant service. Do we really want to expand their ranks?

  39. #39 |  GÄC | 

    FBI puts out statisics every year concerning the number of police officers killed and assaulted. One of the tables included in the report outlines the caliber of ammunition used. The data for 2000-2009 can be found at:

    http://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/killed/2009/data/table_35.html

    (I have no clue how to do the linking in here…)

    This is an annual report, so it should be fairly easy to go back and put together the statisics to see if there has been a trend towards more powerful rounds. May do that at home tonight…

  40. #40 |  Seannyboy | 

    SKS-style rifle can include the actual Russian-built SKS or one of the many version built under license in China, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, etc. To further muddy the waters, mdeia reports will often erroneously describe them as an Ak-47 (capable of full-auto fire), esp. because an SKS can be dressed up to look just like the AK and they fire the same caliber. For the same reason, an AR-15-style rifle can refer to the actual model built by Colt or the variants made by Stag, Bushmaster, S&W, Stag, CMMG, Rock River Arms, LWRC, Noveske, DPMS, Bravo Company Manufacturing…
    I will cheerily contradict you and say that cops, on balance, know far more about weaponry then the general public, enough to be able to call TV/movies on their bullshit.

  41. #41 |  Seannyboy | 

    Highway- Compared to a pistol, a rifle is easier to aim, holds more rounds, has further range, and is more effective against body armor. The 5.56 round is perfectly suitable for the overwhelming majority of civilian law enforcement scenarios. If I’ve going up against a bad guy who has a history of carrying firearms, I’m bringing a rifle or shotgun. I have no interest in a fair fight.
    GAC- Cool, thanks for the info.

  42. #42 |  los gentes | 

    “no interest in a fair fight”, “officer”?

    so i assume you’ll tase the suspect, be it an 8-year-old kid or a 88-year-old granny, and shoot the dog(s), even if they’re penned up? like the heroes at waco did?

    “no interest in a fair fight”? So i assume that should you be called to deal with the next school massacre, you’ll cower behind cover and wait for the perps to off themselves before entering the building, allowing several kids & teachers to die in the interim, just like the heroes at columbine and virginia tech did?

    or is your idea of a “fair fight” like that of the cops in chicago or fullerton? beat the hell out of a 90-pound woman, or swarm a 140-lb. suspect with 10 of your closest brother fair fighters?

    keep talkin’, bubba. enlighten us.

  43. #43 |  Seannyboy | 

    Any response to resistance has to be proportional, not “fair.” Every last one of the examples you gave, the force used was obviously out of proportion to the resistance given. God forbid all of us be judged by the worst that our peers have to offer. The officers in your examples are an embarrassment to all of us, and I have no defense for them. I share your outrage.

    But your examples have nothing to do with the justified use of force against an assailant. In those circumstances, no, I have no interest in a fair fight. That’s why all use-of-force policies teach that the level of force used to effect control of a uncooperative subject must be one step higher than the resistance offered. The same goes in a gunfight. If given the choice, I’d rather bring a gun to a knife fight and a rifle to a pistol fight.

  44. #44 |  Charlie O | 

    “At this point a reasonable person might ask: What, exactly, is wrong with the paramilitary approach? After all: The police are on the side of law and order; they serve and protect law-abiding citizens. If you aren’t breaking the law, then you have nothing to fear.”

    I almost fell out of my chair reading this part.

  45. #45 |  c andrew | 

    #29 | Rick | August 24th, 2011 at 3:46 am
    I think the partial answer is to not have so many goddamn laws, and to start with gutting the War on Drugs joke….we had Prohibition. Did we not learn anything?

    Uh, No. We didn’t learn a goddamn thing.

    sarcasm>
    Because the current rise of Narco-terrorist mini-states could not possibly have been inferred by the creation of nationwide organized crime for the first time in the US in conjunction with Prohibition.

    /sarcasm>

  46. #46 |  JSL | 

    “God forbid all of us be judged by the worst that our peers have to offer. ”

    Cops do this everyday when dealing with the public. They also lately tend to not be able to dial back the “dominate, control” attitudes when its clearly not needed.

  47. #47 |  Charlie O | 

    #20 Seannyboy,

    I live in PA. I’d call that a good start.

  48. #48 |  Deoxy | 

    “If you aren’t breaking the law, then you have nothing to fear.”

    Unless the law itself is wrong, which is fairly common regarding what police may do and get away with.

  49. #49 |  CyniCAl | 

    Sorry for being so pissy last night, fighting a bad cold and had a rollercoaster ride in life lately.

  50. #50 |  Big A | 

    #43 Seannyboy- “God forbid all of us be judged by the worst that our peers have to offer. The officers in your examples are an embarrassment to all of us, and I have no defense for them. I share your outrage.”

    You may share the outrage, but many do not. As videotaping becomes more common and citizens learn how to stand up for their rights (and that they need to be stood up for against those who purport to protect them), we see more and more examples of unjust police tactics not only being swept under the rug, but also being stood up for. Cops that do bad things are not punished. Cops already have lots of power and when they are found using it incorrectly, nothing happens. Why would we trust them with more?

  51. #51 |  c andrew | 

    #46 | JSL | August 24th, 2011 at 1:01 pm
    “God forbid all of us be judged by the worst that our peers have to offer. ”

    Cops do this everyday when dealing with the public. They also lately tend to not be able to dial back the “dominate, control” attitudes when its clearly not needed.

    Good point JSL. How often have we heard that “a cop takes his life into his hands every time he makes a traffic stop.” If that isn’t the case, par excellence of “being judged by the worst that our peers have to offer” I don’t know what is. Do you think, Seannyboy you could counsel your peers to walk back that attitude just a wee bit?

  52. #52 |  JOR | 

    “Unless the law itself is wrong, which is fairly common regarding what police may do and get away with.”

    Well to be “fair”, cops fairly often flout written statutes and regulations and only suffer consequences for it when it doesn’t involve massive abuse, so even if it were practically possible (is it even logically possible??) to follow all the laws perfectly, you could still get fucked over by a cop.

  53. #53 |  Steve Verdon | 

    seannyboy,

    …but the fight probably would’ve stopped sooner if the FBI Agents had had access to a rifle or submachine gun.

    Read the account, they did. The FBI agents that were part of the rolling stake out, but weren’t with the 8 that engaged the known violent criminals were armed with H&K MP-5s and M-16s. It was bad planning to not distribute the fire power they already access to on a more uniform basis and not wait to engage the criminals until those with the better firepower were also in the vicinity of the shoot out.

    But there is a big gap between between agreeing to all these statements and then saying that police should never have any kind of military-style weapon.

    The problem is we give you guys those things and you abuse them. You’ve already stipulated to this. The problem is not us “civilians”, it is the abuse of power and weaponry that have been given to police officers.

    Regarding the 1986 FBI shootout in Miami, the Wikipedia page relays something I found interesting. One of the FBI cars rammed the suspects’ car. As a result of the collision, one of the agents had his gun — which was carelessly placed on the dashboard — fly out the window of the car; the other lost his glasses in the collision and was left effectively blind for the ensuing firefight. It sounds to me like these reckless tactics were what kicked off the fiasco.

    Exactly, part of the problem with the Miami shootout was piss poor training/handling of the situation.

    God forbid all of us be judged by the worst that our peers have to offer. The officers in your examples are an embarrassment to all of us, and I have no defense for them. I share your outrage.

    I understand and I’d be sympathetic if the “good” cops didn’t cover for the bad ones.

  54. #54 |  CyniCAl | 

    #51 | c andrew — “How often have we heard that ‘a cop takes his life into his hands every time he makes a traffic stop.'”

    Great point. We’ve heard it so much that it has become truth even if it is false, because all that matters is that cops are so fearful that they believe they are risking their lives with every traffic stop.

    Not to belabor the point, but it is this fear of death that is the foundation of police brutality. Every increase in police violence is attributed to officer safety. One way to eliminate the fear of death is to make cops invulnerable (another way is to eliminate cops, but the State won’t allow that). Then, if one is interested in limiting the power of cops, make it illegal for them to be armed in the line of duty, or armed only with strictly non-lethal weapons (remember, until quite recently, British police were forbidden to carry firearms).

    Will police powers still be abused? Sure! But what would likely result? I postulate that at worst there would be a dramatic increase in wrongful arrests and at best a dramatic decrease in police brutality and suspect fatalities.

    Anyone here want to argue that police brutality is not an out-of-control problem in desperate need of a solution? Anyone else have any bright ideas that haven’t been tried before?

  55. #55 |  Mannie | 

    #7 | hooglyboogly | August 23rd, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    Look at the police that have armed themselves with .50 cal automatic weapons and explain that they need them to combat the drug war. The semi-auto versions available to J.Q.P. are quite expensive and not likely to be owned by the Crips and the Bloods or whatever they call themselves now.

    A Barrett is singularly unsuitable for crime, other than the odd assassination, and I’ve not heard of one to date. You’re going to rob a convenience store with a rifle damn near five feet long that weighs over 30 pounds? You can’t exactly stuff that down your baggy pants. You can’t even shoot it out a car window. Hell, you probably can’t even maneuver it enough to get it out the car window.

    They want shiny toys, not because they need them, but because they are cool and macho.

    #32 | Seannyboy | August 24th, 2011 at 9:15 am

    EH- Not a shill, just a cop in a high crime jurisdiction. Nothing theoretical about this conversation to me.
    Matt I- The Miami Shootout was stopped by one cop with a .38, but only after two FBI Special Agents were killed and several other officers severely injured. All gunfights end, but it’s better if they end quickly. Counterfactuals are iffy without a time machine, but the fight probably would’ve stopped sooner if the FBI Agents had had access to a rifle or submachine gun.

    At what risk to the citizenry? I see no reason to ever give police automatic weapons. Limited use of marksmen with long range rifles, yes. Intermediate power patrol rifles in the cars, perhaps. They never need anything more powerful than a .30-30 Winchester or 7.62 x 39. The old model 1894, or maybe the SKS. No AK47s or AR15s. They pose too much risk of shooting up the neighborhood because they have ammunition to burn. There have been so many cases where they use their high capacity pistols to spray and pray; I almost want to take them away and make them carry wheelguns.

    #38 | Highway | August 24th, 2011 at 10:46 am

    What about an AR-15, or other ‘assault rifle’ or even high powered pistols and rifles allows that to happen. Are they easier to aim (from my limited knowledge, the answer is no)? Are they more accurate in a shootout?

    Any rifle is more accurate, has a longer range, and is easier to deliver accurate aimed fire with than any pistol. Large capacity magazines are probably more useful to the Citizen, as he does not have the luxury of backup officers and may have to move about with only the weapon he has in his hands. I think the ideal rifle for police use would be a bolt action or pump gun in 7.62 x 39mm or 5.56 x 45mm (The AK47 and M16 calibers respectively)

    More powerful pistol calibres are of little use in combat. The argument over 9mm Parabellum vs .45 ACP has been going on since 1911, and now we have the .40 S&W and .357 SIG. But more powerful rounds have not been successful. The FBI played with the 10mm (a .40 magnum if you will) but ended up downloading it to .40 S&W ballistics because the recoil was too much for rapid fire. Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum is a good bear pistol, but a lousy combat pistol.

    #41 | Seannyboy | August 24th, 2011 at 11:01 am

    I have no interest in a fair fight.

    Amen. If it’s a fair fight, you failed to prepare properly.

    It should be noted that having a high powered weapon doesn’t mean you have to use it. Overwhelming an opponent with shock and awe is a good way to not have to kill him. But the shock and awe seems to be used too damn often when patience would serve better and kill fewer Citizens. There would be fewer reasoned objections to police use of high powered weapons if they were perceived to use them responsibly.

  56. #56 |  sigh | 

    All the silly “arms race with criminals” nonsense aside, a .223 rifle is a hell of a lot safer to use in a built up area than either a handgun or a shotgun. It’s a lot more accurate and has less over-penetration in almost any material aside from steel plate. In other words, less chance of shooting someone you don’t intend to.

    Now all we need to do is get them to not shoot people they shouldn’t shoot in the first damn place… Good luck with that one.

  57. #57 |  JS | 

    CyniCal “Anyone here want to argue that police brutality is not an out-of-control problem in desperate need of a solution?”

    Nobody here probably but most Americans and certainly the media don’t act like they think it’s a problem at all. I’ve always believed that as soon as ABC news, CNN, Foxnews, etc. are as outrages about it as we are then the politicians will “suddenly discover” that our police are out of control and the problem will end overnight.

  58. #58 |  JOR | 

    “Not to belabor the point, but it is this fear of death that is the foundation of police brutality.”

    No, the fear of death (to the extent that it’s sincere, which probably isn’t much*) is a co-symptom. If cops these days are truly “in fear for their lives” in most of the situations where they indulge their thuggery, then they’ll manage to stay quite fearful even if you turn them all into robocop.

    *Cops are much more cautious and diplomatic when they really are afraid. If you hear a story about police brutality, 95% safe bet that the victim was no kind of threat at all and the pigs knew it.

  59. #59 |  Steve Verdon | 

    #51 | c andrew — “How often have we heard that ‘a cop takes his life into his hands every time he makes a traffic stop.’”

    Doesn’t this also imply that your average motorist also has his life put at risk during a traffic stop? I’m not a violent person, I don’t want to hurt anyone, but that cop doesn’t know that and might mistake a movement on my part as “going for a weapon” and shoot me.

    Is that fair? No. Should it be? I think I have the right to not have to worry about getting shot by someone who has been given a shiny badge that pretty much will give him a free pass or four for such behavior (and even more sickeningly be lauded as a hero who puts his life on the line for the rest of us…what utter fucking bullshit).

  60. #60 |  September 21 roundup | 

    […] “A Decade After 9/11, Police Departments Are Increasingly Militarized” [Balko, Hinkle, more] […]

  61. #61 |  The Daily Beast, Center for Investigative Reporting Take On Police Militarization | The Agitator | 

    […] Hollywood shootout. I’ve already addressed these arguments in the past (two examples here and here). And in 2007, I asked former LAPD narcotics detective David Doddridge about all of these heavily […]

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