by Robert Arvay, Contributing Writer
The topic of local police using military equipment seems too academic for most people to be concerned about. That is because most people have not been awakened at 3AM by a powerful explosion caused by a flash grenade thrown through their glass window by the police, followed by a door being smashed open …their barking dogs being shot dead on the spot … everyone in the home thrown to the floor, sometimes naked, then handcuffed, and threatened with more physical violence if they do not hand over the pet lizard that they did not know was on the endangered species list.
I didn’t mention that innocent people have been shot dead by police during these legal home invasions because in their confusion they flinched when a masked policeman told them to get down on the floor.
In one case, the police completely trashed a house in search of drugs, only to discover that they had the wrong address. Made aware by dispatch that they were at the wrong house, the police left without so much as an apology, and later declared that they had no liability for the many hundreds of dollars in damage that they had caused. Tough luck, homeowner.
There is a bit of good news about this. http://news.yahoo.com/u-court-not-block-lawsuits-over-connecticut-swat-233911169.html
[Begin excerpt] A U.S. federal appeals court has ruled that Connecticut police cannot claim immunity to quash lawsuits seeking millions of dollars in damages from a botched 2008 raid by a SWAT team that severely injured a homeowner and killed his friend. [End excerpt]
The bad news is that, despite the Fourth Amendment, which apparently protects you from the inconvenience of being frisked on the street by police in a neighborhood where criminal violence is rampant, it has taken until now for a court to affirm two Constitutional issues involved in these cases:
One issue is that we are guaranteed the right to be secure in our homes from unwarranted government intrusion.
The other is that we are guaranteed the right to redress our government for grievances.
While the court did not specifically frame the case in these terms, it has at long last set some reasonable limits that should have been enforced since the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791. I realize that justice is slow, but come on now, we fought a revolutionary war over such matters.
The other side of this coin is that every year, more than 100 police officers are killed in the line of duty. The “Officer Down Memorial Page” at http://www.odmp.org/search/year?year=2013 counts 105 policemen killed last year, 30 by gunfire and two by stabbing. A more exact breakdown of the gun deaths is not given, but clearly, police work is very dangerous, and therefore, the police should be given every reasonable protection available to them. If this includes military equipment, so be it, give them all the assault rifles, grenades and armored vehicles that will help them safely enforce the law.
As one pundit stated, it’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.
The question is not one of having, it’s one of using. Police departments have very clear guidelines on when to use force, when to initiate a car chase, how to interrogate a suspect, and so on. It is therefore entirely reasonable for those departments to provide clear policies on when military style equipment is to be used, how, and for what purpose.
If departmental policies are not enough, the next step is legislative.
This is not a merely academic issue, and not a soft-on-crime bleeding heart position to take. John Marshall, fourth chief justice of the Supreme Court famously said that “the power to tax is the power to destroy.” If his words are not an overstatement, then it is also no overstatement to say that the power to police is the power to kill. Perhaps more than that, it is the power to enforce tyranny.
Indeed, third world dictatorships commonly use their armies as internal police to suppress dissent. In the US, such use of military force is prohibited under the Posse Comitatus Act. That law does not, however, specifically prohibit substituting militarized police to achieve the same result.
I want the police to be safe when they are enforcing the law. I will even go so far as to say that they should use more than minimal force when the risk is great. They should get the benefit of any reasonable doubt. What I object to is using Special Weapons AssaultTeams (SWAT) to close down a child’s lemonade stand.
Law, devoid of common sense, is oppression.