The ongoing situation in Ferguson, Missouri is volatile and probably dangerous for both police and protesters. This is mainly attributed to agitators from outside the community with a different, more violent agenda than the local protestors. Fortunately, as far as I know, no one else has been severely injured or killed in Ferguson in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death. The unrest, however, has highlighted a controversy over the recent militarization of local police in the U.S. One justification offered for the acquisition of surplus military hardware is the danger often faced by police in the line of duty. Yet the statistics cited in “By the Numbers: How Dangerous Is It to Be a Cop?” suggest that it has never been safer to be a police officer, and there are certainly occupations that are far more deadly. This undercuts assertions that the military gear is necessary for the safety of police. The author does not intend to minimize the difficulty and hazards of law enforcement:
“They’re required to have daily contact with drunks, the mentally disabled, and criminal suspects. Arrests can often lead to physical confrontation, assault, and sometimes injury…. But it just isn’t unusually deadly or dangerous—and it’s safer today than ever before. The data do not justify the kinds of armor, weapons, insecurity, and paranoia being displayed by police across the country.”
Perhaps we can leave the heavy armor and sophisticated weaponry in the care of the National Guard, for use only when the Guard’s involvement is judged necessary. (The Guard was called to Ferguson by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon earlier this week.) I noted several weeks ago in “Local Police or Local Military” that violent crime in the U.S. has fallen in half since 1991, deepening the mystery over the presumed need for heavy police armor.
We should also be suspicious of the militarization of federal regulatory agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Education, and the FDA, which apparently all employ their own SWAT teams. “Let’s Demilitarize the Regulatory Agencies, Too” discusses these developments and efforts to roll back the “warrior cop” trend via legislation:
“There has already been left-right cooperation on the issue, as witness the unsuccessful Grayson-Amash amendment in June seeking to cut off the military-surplus 1033 program.”