“Nowadays, we’re much more likely to hear officers use the term ‘civilian’ to describe those who are not in law enforcement, as if the officers think they are somehow part of the military society.”

Sometime around the peak of civil disturbances in America in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, some wag penned an essay, which was (roughly) titled, The Vietnamization of Main Street. In it, the author bemoaned developing trends in law enforcement such as increasingly aggressive tactics, enhanced armament and a military mindset — things which, in the author’s view, were dangerous influences from the Vietnam War that had been brought home and recklessly applied to domestic policing.

I came across the essay shortly after it was written, and I quickly dismissed it as more of the typical propaganda being widely distributed by the socialists, communist revolutionaries and radicals of the age, particularly in urban areas and universities. At the time, there was no shortage of this revolutionary garbage to be found, and I figured this was just more of the same — yet another leftist who wanted to take a cheap shot at “The Man.”


Back in the day, the average cop carried a gun with a
couple of speed loaders, a stick, a communications
brick, handcuffs and a flashlight — they looked like cops.

A Physical Change

Fast forward another 40-plus years, and now I’m not so sure about that. More and more these days, I’m thinking concerns over the “militarization” of our police are legitimate. To be clear, I still think there are radicals among us who profit greatly from false, baseless attacks on law enforcement. These are the same types who planned and inspired the civil disturbances of the 1960’s and 1970’s, and propagated them with the help of “useful idiots” like the urban poor and left-leaning college students. These revolutionaries continue to spew their lies and propaganda, and many of them are now at the controls of government, unions, public schools and other institutions in our society. They’re “inside the system,” if you will, where they can cause maximum damage and chaos. These types hate law enforcement, and have been more than happy to co-opt “police militarization” as a new weapon with which to attack them.

Yet, even though the radicals have jumped on the bandwagon to achieve their ends, it doesn’t negate the underlying concerns about police militarization, which have some legitimacy. The truth is policing in America has changed a lot in a generation. The tactics, procedures, technologies and equipment are radically different today than they were in my dad’s day. A simple look at the modern Sam Browne will tell you that. My dad hit the streets with a gun, a stick, a Kel-Lite and handcuffs, but today’s officer can add OC spray, electrical discharge weapons, advanced communications equipment, lasers, collapsible batons and 100 other things to demonstrate how life for the modern officer has become much more complex.

When my dad got into policing, there was no SWAT, no armored personnel carriers, no sniper teams, no helicopters, no hostage negotiators, no gang units, no dash cams, no computer terminals, no light bars, no patrol rifles — none of that stuff. He wore a starched wool uniform with creases, a wheel cap and spit-shined chukkas, not battle dress utilities, a helmet, load-bearing equipment and combat boots. He hit the streets looking a lot more like Barney Fife than a Navy SEAL.


Armored/assault vehicles like this BearCat, and now MRAPs being picked up for next to nothing from the US government, add fuel to the belief of the militarization of police.

Attitude Adjustment

Yet, the most important changes have not been to the equipment, but to mindset. Back in the day, officers used the term “citizen” to describe people who were not in law enforcement, and it was widely understood law enforcement officers were citizens as well.

A police officer was nothing more than a citizen whose job was to serve and protect other citizens. He was a member of the community he policed, and it was clear the community he served, in accordance with constitutional principles, granted the power and authority with which he was entrusted. That mindset is largely gone from policing today. Nowadays, we’re much more likely to hear officers use the term “civilian” to describe those who are not in law enforcement, as if the officers think they are somehow part of the military society.

Domestic law enforcement officers are not members of the uniformed services, and are not subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, so they are part of “civilian” society as well, even if they don’t think they are.


Another reason there’s a perception cops have become militarized
is the sight of the shotgun/rifle rack in many police cars.

Regain Their Support

It appears many of today’s officers don’t truly comprehend the source of their power and authority, either. If asked, many officers today will tell you their authority is granted by their Chief or Sheriff, or by the government of their city, county or state. The uniquely American concept that government (and its officers) derives its power from the consent of the governed is lost on them. This is particularly strange given the emphasis this idea is given within the legitimate military society, which some of these officers are trying to emulate.

Many of today’s officers are likely to think a different set of rules and laws apply to them. A simple example of this is the “law enforcement” exemption for the personal ownership of firearms in many states, allowing officers to purchase and use firearms for their personal, non-duty use. These same firearms cannot be purchased or owned by their fellow citizens who are not law enforcement officers. This seems like an entirely reasonable proposition to many officers who fail to understand a system which grants some groups of citizens more rights and privileges than their fellow citizens is fundamentally flawed, unconstitutional and un-American.

Yes, there is a risk associated with having domestic law enforcement armed with BearCat vehicles, automatic weapons, explosives, remotely piloted drones, night vision goggles, .50-caliber rifles and other technologies more commonly associated with military forces.

The greater risk lies in fostering an attitude or mentality that law enforcement officers are a society unto themselves, subject to a different set of laws and standards than the public they protect and can disassociate themselves from that public. This is the most dangerous aspect of the “militarization” of our police, and if it’s not checked, it will lead to abuses and violations of the constitutional and natural rights of the citizenry.

We’ve already seen the leading edges of this development, in places like post-Katrina New Orleans and post-bombing Boston, where the relationship between the people and their police has been damaged. The police and the public they are drawn from should be natural allies, and have been for most of American history. We cannot allow the trend of police militarization to destroy this uniquely American relationship, and we must guard against it.
By Mike Wood

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