Police militarization and the argument for armored vehicles
In PoliceOne "First Person" essays, PoliceOne Members candidly share their own unique personal insights on issues confronting cops today, as well as opinions, observations, and advice on living life behind the thin blue line
Editor’s Note: This week’s PoliceOne First Person essay is from PoliceOne Member Doug Deaton, who works for large, municipal PD in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. In PoliceOne First Person essays, our Members and Columnists candidly share their own unique view of the world. This is a platform from which individual officers can share their own personal insights on issues confronting cops today, as well as opinions, observations, and advice on living life behind the thin blue line. If you want to share your own perspective with other PoliceOne Members, send us an e-mail with your story.
By Doug Deaton
I’ve been a police officer for nearly 18 years. I was never in the military. Like cops everywhere, I have been second guessed and lectured by well-meaning citizens who had no qualms about sharing their opinions on tactics, procedures, personal equipment, vehicles, armor, and weapons that police:
• Should have used versus should not have used
• Should be allowed to have versus should never be allowed to have
• Do need versus don’t need
In recent discussions about armored vehicles, a couple of military veterans did the same thing without understanding the mission, organizing concepts, legal limitations, or standards of care to law enforcement.
I always keep an open mind and demonstrate respect when military veterans offer opinions on what cops “ought to be” doing. In some cases, we already practice [insert Suggestion X here] but we call it by a different name and do it in a way that complies with the law or policy requirements of our jurisdiction. Sometimes, we cannot implement Suggestion X because it is impractical or illegal. Other times, we would not utilize Suggestion X because we are subject to more stringent standards and the adoption of Suggestion X would be a step backwards.
Everyone Is Entitled to an Uninformed Opinion
One Army veteran told me that instead of being allowed to use armored vehicles, police should drape ballistic blankets over their patrol cars to rescue wounded citizens under fire. Forget for a moment that such blankets obscure one’s vision and cannot stop rifle bullets.
Patrol vehicle rescues are best conducted with a dedicated driver and two handlers. That doesn't leave much room inside your penetrable bullet magnet. It is incredibly difficult to drag "dead weight" into the back seat of a four-door sedan. It's almost impossible to drag two people back there, especially while wearing heavy body armor and a helmet. A single armored vehicle capable of transporting multiple wounded victims and rescuers is preferable to ten patrol cars.
At a recent public hearing about the purchase of a Lenco Bearcat, a man identifying himself as retired Marine Corps Colonel Peter Martino described the acquisition of such vehicles as part of “building a domestic army.”
It’s unfortunate when good people rely on their military experience to bolster ignorant and irresponsible statements. One can only imagine how irritated combat veterans must become with cops who express ignorant opinions on “best practices” for multi-faceted military operations.
Being an expert in one field does not mean that one is well-informed about the other. Colonel Martino may not fully understand that regardless of their issued equipment, state and local law enforcement agencies are firmly under the control of the citizenry, not the DHS, FBI, or NSA.
Armored Vehicles Are Nothing New
Oft-repeated claims that armored vehicle use by police with special weapons is a recent phenomenon are simply mistaken.
Police departments were developing highly specialized vehicles thirty years before the mythical Mayberry appeared on television. Most critics are completely unaware that American police once openly deployed vehicles and weapons far more offensive than anything in regular use today. Modern armored vehicle use is based on decades of trial-and-error during the rescues of wounded citizens and police officers.
Despite hysterical tales to the contrary, police are not fielding “tanks” or vehicles with working main guns. A Bearcat in police hands is no more hazardous to freedom or safety than a fire truck. A police officer who cannot be trusted with an armored vehicle cannot be trusted with a .38 caliber revolver.
Like fire trucks and ambulances, armored vehicles enable emergency professionals to respond to life-threatening hazards, prevent further injuries, and rescue innocent citizens. They are not “assault vehicles” any more than an AR-15 is an “assault rifle.”
I live and pay taxes in the same county (population 782K) where I serve as a police officer. My wife works in a massive business complex surrounded by corporate headquarters employing tens of thousands of people. My children attend typical suburban schools with hundreds of other students. Like every other taxpayer and voter, I have a vested interest in the preparedness of the police agencies throughout the county where I live.
Four agencies in my county (including mine) have armored vehicles. Speaking as a taxpayer, father, and husband, I'm glad these vehicles are available in case of emergencies. Should my family ever need to be saved while bullets are flying, I want the police to arrive with enough personnel, weapons, and armor to conduct an effective rescue.
We Are Not at War With the American People
The same Sheriff who wrote a letter defending the Second Amendment has also defended his agency’s use of an armored vehicle http://www.aspentimes.com/article/20091123/NEWS/911239983 . His positions on both issues are shared by numerous cops across the United States, including me.
We are not building a “domestic army.” The combined force and capabilities of every SWAT officer and armored vehicle in America would still be inadequate to “assault” or “occupy” even one medium-sized American city.
We don’t have the ability to make war on the American people, and we don’t want to.
We are the American people. You are us. We are you.