August 1, 2014

Our Job Is More Than Special Tactics and Weapons

From "Call The Cops"
Pick up any police magazine, go to any police web page, the predominate images will be SWAT teams. The majority of stories will be about tactical readiness or will be breakdowns of recent shooting events. This so called “Tactical Porn” is bringing an end to police professionalism and heralding in police militarization.
When I joined the police department in 1974 our training emphasis was on service and community interaction. This was a result of the race riots in the late sixties - no one wanted a repeat. So as recruits and young field officers we were exposed to doctrines that sought to build trust with the neighborhoods we patrolled. Of course firearms and officer safety training was still a big part of our curricula, but we were encouraged to use our heads rather than our fists.
Years ago police publications were filled with articles about bike patrol, communication skills, and this new fad thing called the Internet. Images if Guns and SWAT teams were present but not to the level they are today. 
In the last decade coverage of topics out side of firearms, physical defense and SWAT have been drastically reduced. According to one magazine editor it is all about sales.
Our Chief of Police at the time, Tom Sardino, had used a grant to form the Crime Control Team, which received national attention. I was a part of this team which patrolled high crime areas until the concept was abandoned in February of 1979 due to departmental cuts in manpower.

We would field at least two or three cars within each territory; the least senior man was the service car who handled the daily grind, then there were the crime cars that basically were uniformed detectives who would also perform community relations tasks when they had the time. They were encouraged to get out of the patrol car and walk. Except for homicides and bank robberies, we did not forward our cases to the investigators in the Criminal Investigation Division as the regular patrol units did.

This was not a touchy-feely exercise. I worked in shitholes. But all that has changed. "Boutique Policing" is a politician's response to public pressure to respond to problems - creating small dedicated units which fragment the chain of command and rob the major patrol units of desperately needed manpower.

The emphasis on weapons and tactics is also disturbing. I see this in today's young cops, in their uniforms and equipment and their attitudes. And I am not the only one who is concerned.
“Look community policing is cool. I like that concept. But face it sex sells and SWAT teams are sexy as hell. I put a photo of a SWAT team on the cover and people open the magazine to read it. I put two cops having coffee with citizens on the cover and it never gets opened. I make money selling ad space, ad space only sells if people have a reason to open the magazine.” 
CallTheCops talked to multiple police administrators who agree that tactical porn is corrupting officers. Multiple administrators told us that young cops today don’t want to problem solve, they just want to run-n-gun. None were willing to go on record as they either write or aspire to write, for policing publications and fear burning bridges.
But today's ghettos are very different. The use of firearms to settle disputes has rocketed. Organized gangs present a very attractive alternative to a young teen living in a dysfunctional family. The sound of gunshots reverberates through our cities and minorities will not cooperate with law enforcement to stop the violence. It has become part of the popular culture.

One the other hand, do officers today face less of a physical threat nowadays than we did in the 1970's when the numbers of police officers killed in the line of duty were at their highest levels? Or has the phenomenal advances in medical science served to reduce these numbers? From the Officer Down Memorial Page:

For the decade of the 1970's, 2340 officers lost their lives, 1246 (53%) by gunfire.
For the decade of the 1980's, 1923 officers lost their lives, 816 (42%) by gunfire.
For the decade of the 1990's, 1663 officers lost their lives, 665 (40%) by gunfire.
For the decade of the 2000's, 1709 officers lost their lives, 535 (31%) by gunfire.
Thus far since 2010, 651 officers have lost their lives, 232 (36%) by gunfire.

The circumstances under which an officer can lose his life are many. Here are some of the ways:
9/11 related illness:
Aircraft accident:
Animal related:
Automobile accident:
Boating accident:
Duty related illness:
Gunfire (Accidental):
Heart attack:
Motorcycle accident:
Struck by vehicle:
Terrorist attack:
Training accident:
Vehicle pursuit:
Vehicular assault:

Many citizens are concerned by the types of military vehicles now being used by police departments all over the country. My hope is that these vehicles will meet the same end as the flood of used military equipment in the late 60's under the 1965 Law Enforcement Assistance Administration. And that end was this - they quietly rusted away in a police garage, hardly ever used except in parades. And this equipment is not cheap to maintain. We had an old APC that we stored in the State Armory, we finally got rid of it while we could still drive it away. I never saw it used.
Off the record one Police Captain said “Whenever I get an announcement about training for bike patrol, CSI skills, or leadership development I ask who wants to go. All I get is people looking at me like I am speaking an alien language. But the second an announcement for SWAT training comes out everyone comes to my office asking to be allowed to go.”
Eh - kids nowadays. Testosterone Oriented Policing.
The issue is even seeping into Criminal Justice degree programs. In December of 2013 the first college announced a degree program in SWAT Science. Now six months later a dozen other colleges are gearing up similar programs.
I tell the young kids to get a degree in anything other than police science or public safety. The police academy will teach you what the department wants you to know about being a cop. Get a degree in something that will set you apart from the crowd or provide a fall back in case you decide that law enforcement is not your cup of tea. Get a degree in forensic accounting, computer science, whatever...


LL said...

SWAT science....OMG.

We are raising a generation of police wimps that feel the best way to engage the general public is from behind iron and kevlar.

sig94 said...

LL - can you believe it? Blows my mind.

Doom said...

It isn't just the idea of getting a degree in a fallback position, it's also that colleges don't teach these things well. Watch those who get a degree in graphic arts or computer game programming, and see where they end up. Rarely in those fields. I wonder how many who go in for SWAT end up on a team, same with even public safety or police science. Very few, would be my guess.

sig94 said...

Doom - as most mature adults know, what they teach in skool ain't necessarily what happens in real life.