Another Voice Against Police Militarization

US-ATTACKS-BOSTONTravis Gettys posted the following piece last week on the website, “Signs of the Times.” It is a topic that I have been concerned about for some time — the growing militarization of our nation’s police.

Gettys interviews Thomas Nolan, professor of criminology at Merrimack College, who formerly worked with the Department of Homeland Security and was a police officer in Boston.

Nolan becomes yet another voice who has come to the conclusion that the focus of police work has shifted greatly toward an increasing and troubling militarization since that fateful day on September 11, 2001. (See more HERE and HERE and Radley Balko’s book on the subject.

I wrote this about police militarization in my recent book, Arrested Development (2012):

     Five years ago, when I started writing this book, there wasn’t much progress going on in policing. It seemed that police were once again in a rut left by that fateful day on September 11, 2001. That day changed just about everything in policing. It changed our nation’s police for the worst as they lost their essential role to protect their citizens and their rights. Rather, they became caught up in “homeland security,” outfitted themselves in robot-like body armor, and procured the latest chemical agents and military equipment.

     These technological advancements were not only to have been used to control violent people who resist arrest but also those who were not. Often they are used to punish those who are merely voicing what they think was wrong about our government and its policies—a right guaranteed by our Constitution. What many of us see is a slow but steady shift of our nation’s police toward militarization. In 2011, it was most evident in how many police departments responded to the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

It is about time that we begin to hear not just from those of us who have served in the police and have continued an interest in their development. It is now time for current police leaders to acknowledge what has gone wrong and to put their plan into action to fix this growing problem.

This is what former officer Pat Nolan had to say to Travis Gettys last week:

“‘I remember it being drilled into me as a police officer, as a sergeant and then as a lieutenant: partnership, problem-solving, and prevention – the three Ps,’ Nolan said Wednesday during a panel sponsored by the American Constitution Society.

He said police were heavily trained to form alliances to help them to better serve and protect communities, and he said those relationships clearly don’t exist in Ferguson, Missouri…

“‘In the early 2000s, particularly after 9/11, we saw a paradigm shift from community policing and problem-oriented principles to the war on terror, and we became Homeland Security police,’ said Nolan, who has worked in the federal agency’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. He said this shift toward ‘homeland security’ had quickly destroyed the relationships police had worked nearly two decades to build.

“‘I think what has happened as a direct result of that, is that those relationships that we forged, and worked so hard to attain and to maintain in the late 1980s and early 1990s, began to erode because the police were seen, particularly in communities of color, as an army of occupation,’ Nolan said. ‘If you dress police officers up as soldiers and you put them in military vehicles and you give them military weapons, they adopt a warrior mentality,’ he continued. ‘We fight wars against enemies, and the enemies are the people who live in our cities – particularly in communities of color….’

“The 27-year police veteran said officers make him feel unsafe when he walks around his own diverse neighborhood in Boston. I see the police conducting themselves in a highly militaristic fashion on routine patrol activities – and I know that’s what they’re doing because I come from that world,’ Nolan said. ‘What I experience and what people on the street experience is a palpable, tangible sense of fear, and that is that we are unsafe if police need semiautomatic rifles to protect us and to keep us safe…'”

To read the full article and video transcript CLICK HERE.