Prior to following Congress' lead and taking the month of August off, comedian Bill Maher on his program offered this observation on police departments purchasing military equipment.
I also have additional thoughts on this very subject and how it resonates with the current events in Ferguson, MO.
A year ago I was enrolled at the University of North Texas. One of the classes I took during the fall semester was American Foreign Policy. The reason why I took the class was because of this book.
I had read the book prior to taking the class and the professor was using the book along with six others to teach the class. I really enjoyed that class.
Rachel Maddow opens the book describing about how her small town in Western Massachusetts had purchased a brand new fire truck with funds allocated for combating terrorist attacks in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks. Problem with the fire truck, according to the author, was that it was too big for the firehouse. The town requested more money to construct a "Public Safety Complex."
I doubt that Hampshire County, Massachusetts is on the list of high profile targets.
After the events that took place in response to the Ferguson, MO protests, there does need to be a revaluation of how law enforcement are able to their jobs. Should cities purchase large military style vehicles or invest in training programs that improve investigative strategies?
I really think part of the problem has to do with that we don't invest in tangible things like we do anymore. We would rather go for the quick and easy fix instead of planning for the long term and thinking ahead. Every society needs some form of policing and law enforcement. Crime of various degrees existed when the first humans formed societies and it isn't going away anytime soon.
Like any sensible person I want law enforcement agencies to be able to do their jobs and have those tools necessary to be able to do their jobs. Not every job though requires overwhelming force. A traffic stop probably does not require a SWAT team and neither does serving a warrant. Searching for the suspected Boston Bomber probably did require the full force of the Boston Police Department to apprehend him. A political protest like the one we saw in Ferguson, MO probably required some uniformed officers as a presence to ensure that it happens in an orderly fashion.
I have participated in my fair share of parades and attended where there were uniform police to ensure that people attending were there to enjoy their time and if an emergency arose (medical, child separated from parents, drunk & disorderly) they are there to handle it. It goes back to that whole social contract theory that Locke proposed that when you enter into a society you give up some freedom. Because I belong to society (the United States, state of Colorado, Denver suburbs), I do turnover security to another entity. I (and many other people) place trust in that when something arises they will take care of it. Overall with what has happened in Ferguson, that trust has been violated.
The other issue is this as shown in this cartoon.
As I mention in this commentary and as Bill Maher points out, this was a real example of government overreach. The people who were involved in the Bundy ranch came heavily armed and were in tactical positions with firearms pointed towards law enforcement officials.
And you wonder why police have to have body armor and assault weapons.
So you had an incident where the government was legitimately exercising their authority as the federal government in enforcing grazing fees and where one of the sources of that authority came from an executive order signed by Ronald Reagan. Then recently you had an actually incident of a government overreaching their boundaries with police militarization and overwhelming force and the same folks who cry "government overreach" at town halls and Tea Party Rallies are nowhere to be found.
The takeaway that I took away from Drift was this: there are real threats in the world both internationally and domestically. But every answer to these questions do not rely on the same response. We have the tools at our disposal to keep some appearance of order, but we need to be smarter and wiser at using those tools.