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Tools for Policing Changing Quickly

Comment

Ingrained in our national DNA from the outset has been the idea that the police and military are separate parts of the government apparatus intended to provide security, stability and defense of lives and property.

The Founding Fathers, rubbed raw by the often ham-handed and brutal tactics of British troops, who confiscated what they wanted whenever they wanted through the use of court-issued warrants, specifically wrote into the Constitution the Third and Fourth amendments, designed to shield civilians from intrusive armed forces.

That concept of limiting the use of the military against civilians was reinforced through the enactment of the Insurrection Act of 1807 and the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which originally mandated that "anyone" deploying U.S. troops "for the purpose of executing the laws" faced a $10,000 fine and two years in prison, if convicted.

The system worked fine for nearly two centuries. In more recent years, however, the foundation of the wall separating the two is eroding. One reason has been 50 years of police, through the development of SWAT units, adopting and utilizing military-style tactics in dangerous situations — and some not so dangerous. Another has been the work of the Defense Department's Law Enforcement Support Office, created under a 1997 law authorizing the military to transfer its gear to local law enforcement.

The latter trend has been accelerating in recent years.

According to the Defense Logistics Agency's website, the Pentagon, via section 1033 of the National Defense Authorization Act, has distributed $5.4 billion worth of military equipment to police agencies since the law was passed a generation ago. Of that amount, $980 million — or 18 percent — was handed out in 2014 alone.

The Pentagon, perhaps trying to make us feel at ease about this initiative, which has enrolled more than 8,000 law enforcement agencies across the country, notes that while the program involves everything from office supplies and tools to automatic weapons and quasi tanks, just 5 percent of the surplus equipment entails weapons, and less than 1 percent are "tactical" vehicles.

The presence of equipment slated for the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq in our communities can be attributed to two wars, albeit different ones from the actual combat in the Middle East: the war on drugs and the war on terror.

Section 1033 states plainly that the secretary of defense "shall give a preference to (law enforcement) applications indicating that the transferred property will be used in the counter-drug or counter-terrorism activities of the recipient agency."

But this equipment, used appropriately, can save lives — of the police and, in turn, the public. We understand the concerns and constant vigilance against abuse is necessary. But the world can be dangerous, and so we support police having the tools, including an MRAP, they need to remain safe and to protect the public. We must be realistic about the society and times we live in.

REPRINTED FROM THE JACKSONVILLE DAILY NEWS

DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM



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