Just Say ‘No’ To Grenade Launchers

And bayonets. And tanks. These are not the tools of community policing, or what use to be known as . . . policing. Whatever happened to “peace officers” and “to serve and protect?”

At the end of August the current president reversed restrictions on military hardware for police departments that had been instituted by President Obama by executive order. He was responding to the general consensus, on both sides of the aisle, that the over-militarization of local police departments was actually making us all less safe. (NYT 8.28.17)

Police departments will now have access to military surplus equipment typically used in warfare, including grenade launchers, armored vehicles and bayonets, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Monday, describing it as “lifesaving gear.”

Really? Did the tanks we all saw rolling down Commonwealth Avenue following the Boston Marathon bombing save one single life? And how would a cop get quickly in and out of a car with a bayonet? The ACLU adds,

It also leaves law enforcement’s federally provided drones, explosives, and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs) without oversight.

Having an MRAP with a gun turret is not going to stop the lone wolf extremist from plowing through a crowd with a rented truck. Further, that pointless tank parade in Boston proved that when you give these toys to cops — they can not NOT use them.

Yes, it is hard to turn down free goodies, but how “free” are they? There will be huge maintenance costs, oil, fuel, bayonet polish, and ammo. Lots and lots of ammo. Because if you think those grenade launchers aren’t going to be taken to the range on a regular basis — just to make sure they work — then you don’t know cops.

And it is as a former police officer, and a concerned citizen, that I am begging our local public safety officials to refuse to turn our local police into a standing army.

And maybe we got lucky here in Rhode Island: The state’s two top law enforcement officials are not the fear-mongering, law-and-order cartoons one sees so frequently on the news. Providence Police Chief, Colonel Hugh Clements, and the Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police, Colonel Ann Assumpico, both seem like calm, reasonable, and open-minded people. When interviewed on the local news, their comments are measured and thoughtful. Clements has even been recognized for his community policing efforts. (His opposition to the Community Safety Act did not stem from hard-bitten ideology, rather he thought the force was already in compliance and that the paperwork seemed burdensome.)

By giving weapons of war to local police departments we are turning municipal peacekeepers into a military force. I hate seeing police officers executing search warrants in riot gear, with assault rifles and flashbangs. By escalating the level danger, mistakes can be fatal, which is just bad police work.

One voice of reason belongs to Retired Major Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP) an organization that I, as a former Providence police officer, also represent. Major Franklin is a 34-year veteran of the Maryland State Police and the Baltimore Police Department. (If he doesn’t think grenade launchers are needed in Baltimore, then why would we need them in Providence?) Franklin, whom I admire to excess, subscribes to the Sir Robert Peel’s philosophy.

My philosophy is instead guided by the Nine Principles of Policing set forth by Sir Robert Peel and his commissioners nearly 200 years ago, which have set the standard ever since. The very first principle is “to prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force….” I support replacing the 1033 Program with one in which officers must demonstrate competence, be trained in proper equipment usage, and may only use military equipment for hostage, active shooter, and barricade scenarios.  I believe this because I became a police officer to protect people. When people fear the police more than they fear crime itself, the legitimacy of the career I loved so much becomes meaningless.

Another consideration for taxpayers everywhere — why is our government purchasing so much superfluous military equipment?

So, Colonel Assumpico and Colonel Clements, nobody says you have to accept this evil windfall. Please lead the way for all of Rhode Island and just say NO!

[For how we got to this place, read Kurt Andersen’s opinion piece in The New York Times, “Hands Up. It’s Showtime.” (NYT 9.8.17)]

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