The war on terror sparked on September 11th, 2001. When the U.S. was attacked on its own soil it opened eyes of police forces to upgrade equipment prior to becoming a liability to save lives of citizens and LE in an armed conflict. The public expects law enforcement to intercede in armed conflicts and stop the threat as they should. Typically, police are not the most popular of the public servants – except when needed to stop a violent threat. Similarly, to the military during peacetime, the public does not seem to think police departments need such equipment until a crisis occurs. After the crisis is handled, the public quickly forgets the needs of the police. Police are a part of government that is often criticized. Citizen speculation plays a major part of criticism of the police. An objective analysis of a police department is necessary to determine its needs. However, trusting the same public that does not understand use of force and realistic measures to neutralize a threat to determine the needs of a police department is a dangerous precedent. Public expectation (that lack of understanding again) versus realistic results needs to be considered during an analysis.
The terror watch has expanded to include foreign and domestic threats from political and religious groups and violent gangs. Currently the unfortunate drug war has fueled some needs for upgrades. Mexican drug cartels have influenced violent crime within the United States through gangs. Norteños and Sureños are two examples of gangs influenced by cartels. Those two gangs also associate with the Bloods and the Crips. Cartel-influenced gangs are heavily armed, and patrol officers are outgunned. Additionally, the cartels have influences with Mexican governmental entities and have attacked U.S. police overtly.
International incidents such as the attack at Beslan, Russia involved terrorists who, armed with rifles and explosives, murdered the citizens and children caught in the middle of the incident. The event concluded in Close Quarters Battle (CQB) by military and LE. The Mumbai, India incident involved multiple staged terrorist cells who were well armed, funded, and had communications support. The initially responding poorly equipped and trained LE were no match for the terrorists. If the officers had proper training and equipment the event likely would have ended the terrorist murderous acts quickly. These events further solidified the need for well trained and equipped U.S. police to be able to respond quickly without the immediate need of S.W.A.T. If precautions are not taken, when an event like those mentioned above occur stateside and officers wait for S.W.A.T., many innocent lives will be lost. The public outcry will be deafening. Having a properly outfitted police department speeds up the tactical response to high priority threats at the lowest level of the police department. Many of these upgrades are intended to be used in only extreme incidents which are not likely to occur. This special equipment does require maintenance and further training for proper use. The use of such equipment does not turn the police department into a department of S.W.A.T. officers. This equipment allows the patrol officer to respond to the most critical incidents effectively and safely. An armored vehicle is used to save lives of citizens and LE, they have been used to evacuate citizens from locations while under rifle fire and of course it is needed for parades. Armored vehicles provide officer safety in armed conflicts, they can transport injured from armed conflict, and they provide transport of officers to armed conflict.
A public concern of these updates is militarization of U.S. police. Militarization is the process by which a society organizes itself for military conflict and violence. Many people view militarization of police as: a change in uniform to a more functional tactical type of uniform, upgrading duty weapons, issuance of patrol rifles, upgrading patrol vehicles to SUVs, armored vehicles, externally worn armor, helmets, earpieces -basically any change from the appearance of a Mayberry type department to a more functional department. Many of the upgrades only to be used when needed. There is a significant difference between what the military does versus what the police do. The military conducts war operations overseas, while police serve the public stateside. They are not interchangeable. There seems to be confusion as to the intent of upgrading police equipment. This belief seems to only be a concern of the extreme right and extreme left in the political realm.
Law enforcement in general is resistant to change, though some changes are reactionary from lessons learned. The needs of the officers are eventually acknowledged and fulfilled, especially after citizen and officer deaths. Public outcry over upgrading equipment sometimes hinders progress regarding efficiency and effectiveness of our local police forces. A means of lessening the public’s dismay is good public relations. Good public relations help the public remember the police department’s values and commitment to public service. This helps negate concerns of the police turning militarized or against the public.
With proper equipment, officers can breach target zones and neutralize suspects far faster. These new abilities are noticed by the public and public outcry due to the new equipment lessens. The continual upgrading of police equipment is a necessity to the ever-changing work. Cost saving measures for police departments are available through federal programs. These programs are also something the public should be aware. The downside of letting the public determine the police department’s needs sacrifices safety and effectiveness for appearance which puts both officers and citizens at risk. Not having the right equipment/weapons/vehicles could turn an incident from scary incident to mass murder or terrorist strikes. Terrorist entities (foreign and domestic) are currently probing our infrastructure and stateside defenses. The public understood the need to bolster our domestic defenses with 9/11. Unfortunately, this understanding fades the further we are from a tragic event.
*This does not even touch on training needs which are a remarkably similar issue.