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2015 Can be the Year of Criminal Justice Reform

February 9, 2015 in Economics

By Tim Lynch

Tim Lynch

Criminal justice reform appears to be one of the hot topics this year. Unlike most other policy areas, where President Obama and Republicans remain at loggerheads, criminal justice reform holds much greater promise since both political parties seem to agree that there are festering problems that need to be addressed.

Let’s explore some of the most pressing topics.

Militarized policing
The militarization of American policing has been under way since the early 1980s. Until recently, there has been very little debate about its profound implications. And then, all of a sudden, the images that emerged on the evening news from the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., brought scrutiny, at last, to the idea of militarized police. The Ferguson police looked like soldiers — helmets, camouflage, armored vehicles and M-16s. Since the equipment and weaponry came from the Pentagon, Obama found himself on the defensive when asked a basic question: Why do local police departments need weapons of war? In response to the growing criticism from both the Left and the Right, Obama ordered a “review” of the Pentagon program.

The police and the military have very different missions. The essence of the military mission is to kill the enemy. That’s what the rockets and bombs are designed for. The police, in contrast, are supposed to be “peace officers.” Their mission is to respond to disturbances and crimes and restore the peace. We should expect the police to avoid the use of force, if possible, or use the minimum amount of force necessary to bring suspects into a court of law where disputes can be resolved without further violence. When the police confuse their mission with the military mission, one finds unnecessary confrontations and unnecessary killings.

The original idea behind the Special Weapons and Tactics team was to have a unit available for extraordinary events, such as a hostage situation. As the years passed, several things happened.

First, SWAT units started to pop up all around the country — even in small towns where there was little criminal activity. Second, the mission of these units expanded to include ordinary policing assignments, such as the execution of search warrants in drug cases. In recent years, SWAT teams have been used to raid medical marijuana clinics, poker games, and to conduct regulatory inspections of taverns. Third, the Pentagon made surplus military equipment available to local police departments around the country, including armored vehicles, grenade launchers and even bayonets. …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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