With Rand Paul’s call for “demilitarization of the police” (a longtime preoccupation of libertarian writers, as Paul unsurprisingly noted), we’re about to see a welcome bipartisan effort to look into why cops in Ferguson and elsewhere are tricked out with military equipment and weaponry. That’s a good thing.
But let’s don’t forget that having such equipment and weaponry and using them on peaceful (if angry) demonstrators are two very different things. Attorney General Eric Holder underlined that important point by deploring the deployment of military trappings in Ferguson, and offering to help local communities adopt better policing strategies. Why does that matter? Because even with conventional weaponry (indeed, probably more so since the outrages in Ferguson might not have attracted so much national attention if not for the Fallujah imagery), the shooting of Michael Brown and the handling of the whole situations would have illustrated a systemic problem that all the tanks and tear gas and riot gear made worse but did not create.
I noted sadly that Holder’s offer of training assistance was via what is still called the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office at DOJ. That office is a legacy of the Clinton administration’s interest in “community policing” strategies, something I used to write about a lot back in the day. I haven’t followed the issue much in recent years, but it’s reasonably clear “community policing” never much caught on in Ferguson, Missouri.
So let’s pay attention to how police are doing their jobs, not just what is in their armories.