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As the Military Becomes More Police-like, the Police Hunger for Military Equipment, Action, and Glory

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, March 01, 2000.

It is an old canard of the Left that police by definition have fascist tendencies, and nothing in the paper of late defies that. Police now view themselves and treat themselves as military units dug in and surrounded. This is antithetical to the very point of police. But let us keep them happy and retain the military analogy.

For example, the big slam against aircraft carrier task forces in a major war is that they might be able to protect themselves for a while, but in so doing, they could not accomplish any offensive mission, which sort of defeated their purpose. This is old, the issue of projecting power. In the 1860's, among numerous historic examples, the United States Army put up a series of forts on the Bozeman Trail in Montana to protect it from the Sioux. The forts could barely sustain themselves, much less extend help to travellers outside the walls, and all they succeeded in doing was inflaming the Ogallalah to no end. In fact, after a few years, the forts were abandoned: the one war the US clearly lost to the aborigines. How different is it to send in emotionally and materially unequipped police who manage to kill the innocent, miss nabbing their man, and inflame the people? Worse, how often do the police end up defending themselves, in battle or in court, and fail in their mission? The Indian Wars of the last century, our first national police actions, need be studied more than they are, because they are not all that different from inner city police work today. We are repeating the same errors we made then.

There was a documentary on the Kosovo War last night, which raised the question in my mind, and I'm sure others, that the traditional branches of military service need to be rethought from the ground up. I say this, because it is now evident that peacekeeping, or however you want to phrase it, is going to be one of the main missions of the United States military. If this is true, the Marines, the Seals, the F20 fighter and most elements of the Army are totally unqualified for these long, sustained missions. Trying to assign these necessary missions to troopers who are not trained for it is, we know, dangerous and sometimes self defeating. What is needed is a branch of the military to act as police and be trained for it, just as police in this country concluded, with some reason, that what they needed was an elite set of military units to act as Seals. This theory evolved in Los Angeles, home to complete television coverage and, it turns out, a totally corrupt police department and, at least, an enabling and incompetent District Attorney's office where lawyers' careers profited from the fake evidence and forced confessions of the innocent. Again, like the Indian Wars. Here in the United States, police scandal - a polite word for murder and crime hiding behind a badge - is rending large departments in virtually all the big cities, especially Los Angeles and New York, but Chicago is a perennial contender and Denver has shown its big city aspirations with its own flubbed raids and resultant murders. Police in this nation have been trying to become more dramatically military while the actual military's mission has been to become more police like. Clearly, too many police departments are not trained sufficiently for either role, to put the best possible spin on it. Once you unleash a Swat team on a no-knock raid, for example, you have fired a bullet, difficult to recall. Therefore, you cannot be pretty sure you've given them the correct address, you are damned sure and willing to take the fall if you have erred. The Swat team in Denver is not at fault for the death of a man innocent of the issue before the Team: the officer - you hope it was an officer - who unleashed them is guilty of the murder. It cannot be otherwise.

And in New York, four officers who played by the book are judged not guilty of killing a totally innocent man who reached for the ID in his wallet. There are a number of horrors about this. In that mission, those four undercover cops were looking for a black serial rapist, we are told. The young black man, Mr. Amadu Diallo, was in enough light that the four men thought he resembled their quarry but not in enough light that a leather wallet could be distinguished from a gun. The officers were part of an elite unit. Yet, with a man fifteen to twenty feet away, standing straight up, over half of the shots missed. This was by the book, accomplished by an elite unit, so-called, but if that is the book, the book is not only wrong, but as incompetent as the badged marksmen. Remember the aircraft carrier and the fort? The point of police is not to protect police, but to accomplish their mission for social benefit. On television, police are celebrated as local military heroes, without any consideration of the fact that this is opposite of police work, which is the messy keeping of the peace, and not of military goals, which are, on paper, clean and easy. Because television likes clean and loves easy, it has nudged police and the public's perception of the police towards military plot lines and purpose. In real life, it is police work needed now, not the army, and we have forgotten what that means when we need it most.