Policing Evolution or Revolution? The New Military Urbanism
Authors Stephen Graham and Radley Balko both argue in their respective books, “Rise of the Warrior Cop:The Militarization of America’s Police Forces” (Balko) and “Cities Under Siege:The New Military Urbanism,” (Graham) that a shift is underway, where military doctrine, battlefield tactics, and methods of population control are increasingly being integrated into urban police forces. These developments, according to Graham, “dramatically blur the juridical and operational separation between policing, intelligence, and the military; distinctions between war and peace; and those between local, national, and global operations.” The end result of this process is what he calls the “new military urbanism.”
Aggressive police practice, while not new, is getting increased attention due to the proliferation of social media and organizations dedicated to calling attention to high profile incidents of police crime and violence.
Normalizing Police Violence: Order Maintenance Policing
As we have discussed in class, the military equipment associated with SWAT operations and the military mentality that the use of such equipment apparently breeds is not confined to those special operations units. Increasingly, they’re permeating all forms of policing.
In the recent time period, since the turn to the 21st century, the two dominant models of policing have been the Community Policing Model and the Order Maintenance Policing Model. In terms of what we see put into practice (despite a lot of “happy talk” to the contrary) the Order Maintenance Model has apparently won out. This has occurred despite overwhelming research and evidence that demonstrates community policing models are more effective – Order Maintenance models potentially create more problems than may have existed in the first place. The Order Maintenance Model is a model that appears to be built for police militarization, with its emphasis on harsh counterinsurgency tactics.
Community Policing – officers wear traditional uniforms on foot patrol in Philadelphia
Karl Bickel, a senior policy analyst with the Justice Department’s Community Policing Services office, observes that police across America are being trained in ways that emphasize force and aggression. The dominant model in police training today is a stress-based regimen that aspires to mimic military boot camp. This model has replaced the more relaxed academic setting that a minority of police departments still employ. The result, in his view, is that young officers become acculturated to an idea of policing that privileges “kicking ass” rather than working with the community to make neighborhoods safe. Likewise, we increasingly see police departments adopting different versions of the military battle-dress uniforms (BDUs) for patrol officers. These militaristic, typically black or olive-drab jumpsuits, according to Bickel, make them less approachable and possibly also more aggressive in their interactions with the citizens they’re supposed to protect.
Oddly enough, the authoritarian approach stands in opposition to the dominant philosophy that distinguished twenty-first-century American police thinking: community policing. This model of policing was intended to emphasize “keeping the peace” by creating and maintaining partnerships of trust in the communities served. The community policing model, which also happens to be the official policing philosophy of the U.S. government, sees officers as protectors that are also problem solvers; they’re supposed to care who lives in their community and about how their community see them. According to this model, officers don’t command respect, so much as they earn it. Rather than aiming to instill fear, officers are supposed to work to foster trust.
Police recruiting videos (like those from California’s Newport Beach Police Department and New Mexico’s Hobbs Police Department) don’t play up the community policing angle, but rather emphasize military adventurism and aim to attract young men with the promise of Army-style high-tech toys. Policing, as depicted in videos like the one shown here, isn’t about calmly solving problems; it’s about the boys “getting their war on” and breaking down doors in the middle of the night.
Now compare this video to a recruitment video produced by a New Zealand police department. Can you see a difference? Compare and contrast the two approaches. What themes do you see being are emphasized in American and New Zealand videos and how are they different? How do you think the two approaches might result in different types of people being recruited and hired for police work? In which of the two examples do you see future officers being taught to operate as a domestic occupying army, where citizens are potentially viewed as enemy combatants? Which police force would you rather work for?
A small research project at Johns Hopkins University appears to back up Bickel’s claims. People were shown pictures of police officers in their traditional uniforms and in BDUs. Respondents in the survey indicated they would much rather have a police officer show up in traditional dress blues. Perhaps like this?
Summarizing the survey findings, Bickel writes, “The more militaristic look of the BDUs, much like what is seen in news stories of our military in war zones, gives rise to the notion of our police being an occupying force in some inner-city neighborhoods, instead of trusted community protectors.”
This is consistent with other research undertaken by researchers in criminology, who have concluded that the order policing model is deeply implicated in the rise of the new military urbanism. This model stands at odds with the community policing model – the “serve and protect” model – that many assume to be the dominant policing model.
Research on the interaction between police departments and children is presently lacking. Judging from the photos below, efforts to instill a military mindset appear to start early.
Drill Instructor, Asbury Park NJ Youth Police Academy
Summer camp for kids run by the Cumberland, MD police department.
Police Militarization Doesn’t Affect Me
Unfortunately, despite the torrent of photo/video evidence that has become commonplace in today’s fluid media environment, this is not enough to foster meaningful change in the way we deploy police officers in our communities. Absent action at the policy level or the grassroots level, where individual citizens organize and agitate for change, we are left to continue to speculate how long it will take to remove what we are told are simply “a few bad apples.” The images have become almost an entertaining source of “outrage” consumption, but again it’s not bringing about changes in practice.
For many of us (perhaps college students in particular), the brutality depicted in the video clips is not likely to touch our lives (or so we think). Police violence is quickly becoming normalized in U.S. culture and this is a problem. The vast majority of citizens don’t have regular police encounters, given that the focus of policing tends to be in poor minority communities, where the residents are poor, assumed to be violent, and are judged as deserving of the added police attention.
In light of all this, if you are still not disturbed by any of this, if you are not concerned about socializing children into a culture of violence (not simply firearms used for hunting) but more, and/or you simply don’t think police militarization is a problem for society, then it’s unlikely additional evidence or research will convince you otherwise. Perhaps at some point in the future, if you are subject to an accidental no-knock raid on your home that kills your dog or maims your child (it’s okay, it was an innocent mistake), you might arrive at a different understanding. But until then, you’re good.
Okay. Let’s take a different approach, since caring about the physical, emotional, and inhumane trauma inflicted upon your fellow citizens is not a priority; let’s look at how this hits you in your wallet. Consider the following statistics as a taxpaying citizen:
- San Diego paid $5.9 million to compensate for sexual assault against multiple women by one officer.
- A city southwest of Tucson AZ spent $3.4 million to pay for one deadly SWAT raid.
- Boston settled a single case of police brutality for $1.4 million that left a man with permanent brain injury.
- Scottsdale AZ paid $4.25 million for the fatal shooting of an unarmed man.
- Baltimore paid $5.7 million in private settlements plus an additional $5.8 million in legal fees for police brutality.
- Minneapolis paid close to $21 million since 2003
- Oakland CA paid $74 million from 1990 to present
- Los Angeles paid $54 million in 2011 alone; recently they paid $1.5 million on a single case of a California Highway Patrol officer beating a homeless woman senseless at a traffic stop.
- Chicago paid $521 million over the past decade; $84.6 million in 2013 (includes court and legal fees).
And the King of them all ……
The New York City Police Department spent nearly 1 billion dollars on settlements in connection with police brutality; 964 million from 2000 – 2010; $765 million in 2012. The New York figure is expected to reach $815 million by 2016.
Keep in mind, most of these city-wide figures do not always take into account the legal costs of cases that are processed through the “justice” system, where violent police officers are excused and victims are left with nothing. It doesn’t count the money individuals who are not compensated must spend to take care of medical expenses (like the parents of the baby hit by the flash-bang grenade, who were recently told by their local municipality that there was no evidence of wrongdoing and that no damages would be awarded).
What do you think about concerns as this pertains to the militarization of police? Do you think this is a problem?
Do you think police forces should patrol their neighborhoods like soldiers or should they interact with the public in a different way?
What if lawsuits and settlements were taken directly out of police budgets (instead of taxpayer funds)? Do you think that would have an impact decreasing police violence and brutality?
What if individual police officers were required to obtain the equivalent of malpractice insurance? [this is a standard practice for attorneys, medical doctors, and other professionals]
When you reflect on your own encounters with police, do you think of them as civil servants who “serve and protect,” or do you see them as agents of repression and/or “revenue generators” whom you regard as potentially hostile?
Do you think there may be links between socio-cultural factors, where people raised in a culture that glorifies gun ownership and violence may be prone to see police violence as a natural and just response to crime?
Do you think violence is “normal” within police culture (not a simple matter of a few bad apples) or do you think we can easily weed out the bad actors through disciplinary action?
How do you think police training might contribute to the problem of police brutality and violence?
When you see videos like the ones depicted here, do you think incidents of police violence are increasing, or are we finding that social media combined with aggressive reporting has simply increased visibility of a problem that has always existed?
Italian Police. Not bad.
Some of the content for this post appears in an article written by Matthew Harwood, entitled “To Terrify and Occupy: How the Excessive Militarization of the Police Is Turning Cops Into Counterinsurgents.” You can find the full content of the article posted here.