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How States Can Fix the Police

December 9, 2014 in Economics

By Trevor Burrus

Trevor Burrus

The events in Ferguson, Missouri and the death of Eric Garner from a police chokehold have brought needed attention to the long-simmering problem of an increasingly militarized, militant, and distant police force that, for many communities, seems more like an occupying army than an institution tasked with protecting and serving. President Obama’s task force on police militarization has tepidly suggested increasing oversight. More oversight is not a complete solution, but reviewing existing programs and practices, as well as providing funds for wearable cameras, can mitigate some abuses.

But there are no panaceas. The problems with our police are deep, and they can’t be fixed with top-down, federal oversight. States, municipalities, and communities should help fix our broken police forces by passing laws limiting how SWAT teams are used and by requiring departments to keep records of SWAT raids. Curbing SWAT team abuses is just one of many things that can help restore trust in the police and rebuild the vital link between officers and the community.

We must reassess the power and immunity police enjoy.”

The baton-twirling Officer Friendly is a thing of the past, replaced by assault-rifle wielding Officer Rambo. Throughout the country, SWAT teams violently raid houses over 100 times each day. Since 1980, the number of SWAT raids has increased by 15 times, while the violent crime rate has dropped by nearly half. Rather than being called out to quell an active shooter or deal with a hostage situation, SWAT teams mostly execute search warrants for drug offenses. These raids are as violent and confrontational as any carried out by the U.S. Army in Iraq. Police batter down doors, shoot dogs, and toss flashbang grenades, all while wearing body armor and brandishing assault rifles.

When Congress began funneling military gear to local police departments, few people considered that it would change how police behave. There seems to be a “if we have it we might as well use it” attitude, particularly when SWAT teams have been used to raid barber shops to check for licensing compliance, to raid Gibson guitar company to check whether wood was properly imported, and to raid bars to investigate underage drinking.

Yet states have the power to limit how and when SWAT teams will be used. Laws can limit SWAT team deployments to truly high-risk situations posing an imminent threat to public safety. States should also clarify the process by which SWAT …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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