The Consequences of Militarized Police Forces
On Thursday 7 July 2016 during a Dallas protest of the killings of Philando Castle and Alton Sterling an attack on officers tasked to watch left five dead and an additional seven hospitalized. Politicians offered up meaningless platitudes and appear to use the attack as a method to gain exposure, offering up little in the way of understanding or real solutions. Additionally, media outlets are also missing the boat, claiming this attack is caused by racial tension.
However, the truth is far deeper than this and is, in fact, a natural consequence of the militarization of American police forces which in turn is the natural progression of police forces operated by the state. The state, with greater concern of protecting its own power base and its own agents, have begun to outfit small rural towns with heavy military equipment, such as hotbeds of violence like Ames, Iowa, homicide rate of 0 last year and Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, homicide rate 0. This is not including the rapid expansion of such military ordinance in larger cities around the country. The Department of Defense has looked to distribute 13,000 Mine Resistant military vehicles around the United States.
Additionally, the 21st century has seen the rapid expansion of SWAT tactics, leading to abuses such as blowing up a man’s house just to capture a shoplifter armed with a single pistol. There are scores of these abuses, from no knock assaults on the wrong address to excessive use of force to capture people holding an ounce of marijuana.
Further, officers who engage in these activities, from killing unarmed men to excessive abuses, are practically never prosecuted or are found not guilty by the judicial system. Only 41 officers out of over 6,700 cases in a seven year period from 2005 through 2011 were ever charged with any crimes. The State itself has shown little interest in understanding what its own agents are doing, with the most recent major study of police misconduct covering just 5% of all jurisdictions and 26,000 offenses and last performed 14 years ago. A mere 8% of them were involved any form of discipline.
What the State has developed in America is a police force, whose mottos are frequently “To Protect and Serve”, that views the public not as a customer or a body to protect but as an entity that is hostile and that the streets of peaceful Beaver Creek is viewed no differently than the streets of Fallujah. When police hire military training advisors we will expect them to begin to behave like seeing the public as an enemy.
The perception of targeting African-Americans itself is just a result of the nature of the legal system, which has heavily targeted this demographic for decades. Whites, Blacks and Hispanics are all targeted and frequently killed by police. Statistics are spotty, which is unusual for the data-obsessed Federal Government, with estimates at around 400 per year.
So, when police are trained to view going out on the job as walking into a combat zone, a level of paranoia is bound to exist. A reasonable person doesn’t immediately pull a firearm and shoot another person because they catch a glimpse of a weapon in a holster. If this were the case, gun shows around the country would be immensely dangerous places. Concealed Handgun License owners, who regularly carry their weapons, have a homicide rate that is just 1/12th of that of the questionably low rate amongst police officers. There are approximately 12.6 million concealed carry permit holders in the United States we just about never hear about a nervous CHL holder shooting someone in a convenience store.
This tension was inevitably going to lead to a violent backlash and such events in Dallas are likely to continue if the standard State response plays out, usually involving expanding policing and becoming more aggressive with enforcement. It is expected that the public, who only have negative, annoying interactions with law enforcement and are exposed to the great lengths their employers go to cover up their misdeeds, will develop hostility toward the institution despite the fact that law enforcement is, by and large, not a threat. How the institutions are trained and used is the underlying cause.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Murray Rothbard laid it out quite plainly:
Free-market police would not only be efficient, they would have a strong incentive to be courteous and to refrain from brutality against either their clients or their clients’ friends or customers. … A free market in police would reward efficient and courteous police protection to customers and penalize any falling off from this standard.
A free-market policing system would create minimal incentives to use force and violence against what are paying customers. Contact would be minimalized as customers of protection services would have little to no interest in a police force that impedes their daily activity over broken tail lights or pester people over marijuana consumption. If the public views protection services as just that, a beneficial service they seek out with their business, growing public backlash against such agencies would be limited.