The soldiers in our midst

COLUMBIA, Mo 8/21/14 (Op Ed) -- Among the lessons of Ferguson, Missouri:  our leaders must stop militarizing our police.  

Militarized police are not police:  they're troops, soldiers, men and women of war.   The term "police militarization" is itself an oxymoron.  
Police are keepers of order, reducers of aggression, guardians of a demilitarized society.   Even in times and places of war, police come in AFTER soldiers leave, to do what police do:  KEEP THE PEACE

Make no mistake:  good police are peacekeepers.  The Columbia and Boone County police officers I've known and respected over the years -- Tim Thomason, Zim Schwartze, Tom O'Sullivan, Mike Hayes, etc. -- have emphasized crime prevention, detection, investigation, and mediation over the use of force. 

Tasers, guns, restraints, and so forth are a last resort to a peacekeeper.   

But since 9/11 and overseas wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, bulging military and anti-terror budgets have bulged stockpiles of "military surplus," a term that used to mean boots, canteens, and cool outdoor gear, for sale down the street. 

These days, military surplus has a more ominous meaning:  the weapons of war on domestic soil.  "Since President Obama took office, the Pentagon has transferred to police departments 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," the New York Times reported this week.
Police officers are not soldiers, despite the tools of war many now carry.   And militarized police are not real police.  Here are six reasons why: 

6)  Soldiers and police officers use different tools and have different training. 

By changing the tools of policing -- from Barney Fife's one-bullet revolver and Lieutenant Columbo's handy scratch pad -- U.S. leaders are changing the mission.  
I liken it to converting plumbers into carpenters, or electricians into roofers

Plumbers don't use hammers to crimp PEX piping or solder copper.  Carpenters don't use plungers to hammer nails.  Electricians don't use roofing tar to insulate wire.  

Would you hire a trained electrician to install a sink?    
The best police forces use investigation, detection, mediation, and public relations to keep the peace and enforce the law.  The idea they need machine guns, armored cars, and military aircraft suggests just the opposite:  that their mission as peacekeepers has failed, and that we are now at war here at home.
5)  Police officers have faces.  Militarized police officers do not. 
In this picture, recently-retired Columbia police officer Tim Thomason.  

In this picture, a militarized police force.  
Need I say more?
4)  Police officers work at home.  Soldiers work abroad. 
So why sell the tools soldiers use in overseas wars to police officers in Ferguson, Columbia, St. Louis, Los Angeles, or Anytown, U.S.A.? 

3)  We The People are NOT the enemy. 
We're not the enemy, We the People of the United States of America.   Or at least, we're not supposed to be.  Police officers realize this, while their militarized brethren may be losing sight of it. 

Even the most hard-core, bad-ass violent criminal on U.S. soil is not an enemy soldiers are trained to subdue.   Domestic terrorism has admittedly distorted this idea, melding "enemy of the state" and "lawbreaking criminal" into one persona:  terrorist. 

But it's our job -- and the job we hand our leaders -- to maintain the distinction between domestic criminal and foreign enemy.    If we don't, the terrorists win.

2)  Don't let the terrorists win.

If we militarize our police forces with the tools of war, partly to counteract terrorism, we will lose our peacekeepers -- our police -- and find ourselves at war within.  
If this continues, the terrorists win. 
They will have so ginned up our fears that we can no longer function without troops in our midst.   The police officers many of us grew up admiring and respecting -- from TV icons to the local beat cop -- will be no more.

1)  Police officers and soldiers have different missions. 

A wise Army colonel once told me the mission of soldiers is to "Kill people and break stuff."    He wasn't being facetious.  As a Navy veteran who married into a family of Army and Marine Corps officers, I can vouch for the Colonel's remark.

Police, on the other hand, Serve and Protect. 
Even in the military -- Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps -- police are distinct from soldiers.  Military police, or MPs, aren't in the trenches killing the enemy.  

Instead, "military police protect the lives and property on Army installations by enforcing military laws and regulations," explains the US Army recruiting site.  "They also control traffic, prevent crime and respond to all emergencies."

The mission of the troop is to Win Wars.   To win wars, troops kill people and break stuff. 

The mission of the cop is "To Protect and to Serve."  

Please, U.S. leaders -- let our police do that job.   Likewise, let our soldiers do their jobs.  

And stop trying to morph one into the other. 
-- Mike Martin