A reader emailed me the other day, concerned about some of the changes he’s seen in law enforcement since he retired four years ago as a county constable in Mississippi. His letter appears below.
Recently I have read several articles talking about all the military-type equipment and high-powered weapons that local law enforcement is getting as a result of federal grants.
Many local police forces are starting to look very intimidating and militaristic in their everyday appearance, wearing BDUs with Kevlar helmets and soldier-looking ballistic vests on the outside of their uniform shirt. I even saw video of officers wearing ski masks at a driver’s license/DUI checkpoint while having thigh-holstered handguns and an M4 slung over their shoulders. Basically, the SWAT look has gone to everyday officers on patrol.
Some departments, including small rural departments where the threat of terrorism is very slim indeed, are getting Army tanks, armored personnel carriers, and Humvees with .50-cal. automatic weapons inside rotating turrets.
Many newly-hired officers are war vets who have recently experienced combat in the Middle East and may have developed a mind-set far from that of the traditional local peace officer in middle America. In some cases I fear they might be operating with the “us versus them” mentality where the citizenry in general is seen as the enemy instead of as the people they are supposed to protect and serve.
As a peace officer I always remembered that my job was to protect the citizens of my county physically and to protect their civil rights while doing so. But now I see so much changing.
Granted, the world has changed in the last decade. But at what point is the line drawn?
At what point do we say enough military equipment and military uniforms and military mindset?
When do we as private citizens remind the police that they are police officers and deputies and not soldiers?
At what point do we tell our elected officials that we as citizens do not want to feel like we are living under martial law?
I live only a hundred miles north of New Orleans and I was still in law enforcement during Hurricane Katrina. I went to New Orleans and rode along almost a month after the hurricane and I saw first hand the martial law in place and the gun confiscation where police went door to door disarming everyone.
The militarization of local law enforcement across the nation reminds people of New Orleans after Katrina. Good, honest people are afraid that next time it will be them having THEIR guns taken away. That is very scary stuff down here in the South where most all people own guns.
The question must be asked: Why does the federal government want local police to be equipped with the same equipment as the military and to have training like soldiers?
Are my concerns founded or am I and many others overly concerned?
Cst. Scott Enlow (Ret.)
Pike County, Miss.
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