Militarizing police 
is a slippery slope

What lessons does Ferguson hold for us?

There’s no reason to believe that racial tensions could ever boil over in such extreme fashion in Grand Junction. We’re not sitting on a powder keg of pent-up hostilities that built up over decades as they did in St. Louis.

But that’s only half the story. Ferguson may have been ripe for social unrest, but it was how the police department handled a white officer’s fatal shooting of an unarmed young black man that sealed the city’s fate.

The cautionary tale lies in the heavy-handed police response, and that could happen anywhere ordinary citizens dare to protest police action.

We’ve heard Grand Valley citizens express concern for the militarization of the local law enforcement and events in Ferguson did nothing to quell fears about what happens when police are armed with military weaponry and equipment.

After the shooting, the police in Ferguson immediately began escalating tensions instead of trying to ease them. The chief initially refused to name the officer who shot Michael Brown. As soon as people began demanding justice and staging protests, the cops in Ferguson cracked down on law-abiding demonstrators as though they were enemy combatants.

A Washington Post reporter was arrested and jailed by an officer dressed like he was part of a NATO peacekeeping force in Kosovo. His crime? “Trespassing” inside a local McDonald’s, though he was never formally charged and eventually released.

The Ferguson police force flexed its muscles with gas masks, riot gear, tear gas, smoke bombs and two armored Humvees — until it was stripped of its law enforcement authority. Now the Missouri governor has activated the National Guard to help maintain order.

It doesn’t appear that things are going to quiet down until the U.S. Department of Justice comes to some kind of conclusion about the shooting.

Meanwhile, the Ferguson Police Department’s actions have led the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee to request a review of a Pentagon program to outfit police with surplus gear from the U.S. Defense Department.

“There needs to be a robust policy and some stringent oversight” governing the use of such equipment, said Matt Lewis, the Republican candidate for the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office.

The sheriff’s office is in possession of an armored LENCO Bearcat SWAT rescue vehicle, which was acquired in 2008 with $250,000 in drug forfeiture money.

We’re not saying armored vehicles and riot gear have no place in modern police stations. But we agree with Lewis that they cannot be used indiscriminately. Using them in the course of apprehending suspects is one thing. Using them against the people law enforcement officials are sworn to protect and serve is another.


COMMENTS

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Not Freida Cook - Am a Relative - Patrick Rodgers - Ferguson, Missouri has been the classic “Chinese Fire Drill” of law enforcement incompetency since long before the day of the shooting. 

First, with a population of 70% minority, the Police Department should have been using Community Policing philosophy in dealing with all stakeholders of the community.  Community Policing in it’s simplist definition is nothing more than Police and Citizens working together to build a partnership for problem identification and solving.  If that partnership exists, the direct result is a level of trust that can withstand negative incidents.  The people would have trusted their partners (Police)and been patient while a thorough investigation of the shooting was conducted.  Instead, in Ferguson, there was no partnership, no trust and widespread dissention and concern by the public. 

Second, was the infusion of outside agitators, local street hoods and the have not element, which attached themselves to the legitimate protest group.  They then broke away and rioted, looted and burned. 

Thirdly, was the failure of law enforcement to have a Strategic Mutual Aid Agreement in place for a disaster event, natural or man made.  Had such an element existed, a Standard Operating Procedure would hae been in writing and have been practiced in annual exercises.  This Plan would determine whih agencies would respond, with what equipment and who would be in charge (Chain of Command).  A central staging area would have been located at the Incident Command Post and specific assignments and geographic areas of responsibility would have been given to the responders.  All of the responders would have had previous training in mob and riot control tactics and know exactly what to do in various types of encounters which presented themselves.  Logistic arrangement would have been established at the Command Post as well as regular media releases to keep the public appraised of what was happening.  A dusk to dawn curfew should have been declared from the moment the riot started.  Anyone on the streets who failed to disperse after an unlawful assembly order was given would have been arrested on the spot.  The standing by and watching businesses being looted would never have happened. 

Moral of the story is, there is adequate blame to go around in Ferguson.  Regardless of how the shooting investigation turns out, after the politicans and media leave Ferguson, the Police and Citizens will still be there.  It will take many years of hard work by both side to heal the wounds, that is if the town wants to heal them.  It should be noted, there are many communities across the country where similar discord exists and much work remains to be done in resolving those issues and assuring safety and security for all citizens.

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