Sunday, August 31, 2014

On Police "Militarization" Part 1

Discussion about the militarization of law enforcement is everywhere right now after the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri. It can be a contentious topic.

On my Facebook page I posted a link to an ACLU petition calling for an end to the federal military equipment giveaway program to local police. A local police friend of mine took offense to the link saying he had enough of the "hate the police" rhetoric. I took offense at being accused of hating cops. Looking at it now though, the link says things like:  "[T]he police, armed to the teeth, treat us like the enemy, especially if we're black, young, poor or homeless. Tanks are rolling through our towns. What will it take for police to start protecting communities of color, not waging war on them?" That is "hate the police" rhetoric so, I guess I brought that on myself.

Despite all the racial language that came out of Ferguson, it seems that it probably wasn't as simple as the liberal media's narrative of another saintly black youth being wantonly gunned down by a cackling white oppressor. Whatever happened in Ferguson, the debate over the "militarization" of police didn't begin there and shouldn't end there.

In Defense of "Militarization"

Although I'm a libertarian with "concerns over militarization" of police, if there's an active shooter at my kids' school I want well-trained local cops to be able to respond with potent weapons and grease the bastard before he can hurt my kids. If there were violent riots and looting in my city I would want the police trained and properly equipped to quell it.

In the case of violent looting, I would be quite angry if my city government could support frivolities like municipal golf courses but not be able to protect my family and my property from bands of marauding pillagers, one of the chief reasons why governments were implemented among men to begin with. While I think any free citizen worth his or her salt should be at least somewhat prepared to defend himself and his community, the community will obviously be more productive if those who are skilled at building houses, programming computers, etc., don't have to spend all their time standing guard over what has already been produced, rather than producing more.

There is an obvious need for police and, when necessary, the violent use of force. As early libertarian writer Rose Wilder Lane said, "The need for Government is the need for force; where force is unnecessary, there is no need for Government." But in America we rightly have enduring worries about a standing army ruling over us. Therein lies much of the concern over militarization of our police. So, how do we even define "militarization?" recently had a good series of essays dealing with police militarization written by police officers that raise some valid points. In one,  Lt. Dan Marcou explains the definition thusly: "Apparently one person’s militarization is another person’s protective equipment. Kevlar, helmets, vests, and armored personnel carriers are not aggressive, but protective. They stop bullets. The defensive weapons law enforcement carries during the operations are no more deadly than what the criminals are carrying today. SWAT has been an ever-evolving, reactive response to the threats modern officers face."

In another, Don Deaton writes: "All too often, accusations of 'militarization' are based more on perception than facts (how police 'look' instead of what they actually do). Many critics never consider that the use of military-inspired technology and equipment has pervaded almost every aspect of American life. If law enforcement has become militarized, then the same is true for trauma medicine, aviation, video games, deer hunting, satellite television, GPS navigation, and those giant SUVs the soccer moms drive.

"The last time I checked," Deaton continues," my actions as a police officer — including those undertaken while using a helmet, body armor, rifle, and armored vehicle — were still governed by state law, case law, and department policy, all of which were enacted by lawfully elected representatives who were put in place by the citizens of a constitutional republic." Deaton may be a bit Pollyannaish here with the constitutional republic stuff. Recent academic study indicates what most people feel in their gut, that America is more of an oligarchy with We the People having little or no real influence (especially at the national level). Nonetheless his main point holds true.

Police Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D. brought up an interesting point about preserving the Posse Comitatus Act (which forbids Federal troops from conducting domestic law enforcement). He writes: "As counterintuitive as it appears at first glance, I contend that if local law enforcement cannot obtain and use low-level, military-grade assets for high-risk operations, we will open the door to federal military force as our first response to major threats." (I contend that active and decently equipped State Defense Forces would provide another buffer before federal military involvement, but that's another topic.)

So why do the police have all this interest in defensive equipment anyway? Sgt. Glenn French writes: "The fact is, more American police officers have died fighting crime in the United States over the past 12 years than American soldiers were killed in action at war in Afghanistan. According to, 1,831 cops have been killed in the line of duty since 2001. According to, the number of our military personnel killed in action in Afghanistan is 1,789.  Cops on the beat are facing the same dangers on the streets as our brave soldiers do in war."

Although being a cop is surely dangerous and stressful (and not something I want to do), the counter-arguments to Sgt. Frenchs' is that many of those police deaths came from automobile accidents that won't be prevented with machineguns or flashbang grenades. According to a recent article by the Foundation of Economic Education, "[p]olicing doesn't even make it into the top 10 most dangerous American professions" and policing would have a murder rate "comparable to the average murder rate of U.S. cities[.]" The 1930's and 1970's were statistically far more dangerous times to be an American police officer. The article concludes that police work "just isn't unusually deadly or dangerous—and it’s safer today than ever before. The data do not justify the kinds of armor, weapons, insecurity, and paranoia being displayed by police across the country."

Iowa police officer and trainer Corey D. Roberts writes in his own essay: "Law Enforcement has to prepare for and respond to the current threat not the 'threats' of a TV show from the 50s. The fact that law enforcement is better equipped and has more training is because we don't live in Mayberry anymore. The threats are greater than ever and it doesn’t take long on the street for an officer to realize that the dangers are very real."

Roberts also asked rhetorically on my Facebook page: "What liberties are being taken by a police force who has the same equipment or better than the gangbangers who are looting? How is a piece of equipment infringing on your rights?" This seems to be paraphrasing the old gun-rights slogan, "Guns don't infringe upon rights, people do." He has a point. Whether a policeman is carrying an old Brown Bess or a modern AR-15 is far less important than how he uses it.

The debate over specific equipment is less important than debating how it is employed. Sure there should be some limits on police equipment. I think even the most militant cops aren't pushing for main battle tanks or weaponized aircraft. Most of us probably agree that they don't need artillery or crew-served weapons. I don't believe the debate over individual weapons and body armor will be an intelligent one since it will largely be propagated by the media who makes the teeth itch of anyone who has even a rudimentary knowledge of weapons.

My main concern over the militarization of police is over how and why "militarized" police are deployed. Also, I have concerns about the federal government's role in arming the local police. I'll discuss these problems in the next post.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

What Would An Iowa State Defense Force Look Like?

Although I'm probably the only one in Iowa who cares about this, I'll keep banging on about the need for an active state defense force (SDF) or "state guard," such as 22 other states and Puerto Rico already have.
In previous writings I've stated that since SDFs are funded and administered entirely by the state, they would be immune from the inevitable federal cuts when the federal government teeters into bankruptcy.  Also there is no risk that they might be deployed overseas when a disaster springs up here at home. A state guard can tap into several pools of volunteers that the National Guard cannot. As unpaid volunteers, a state guard can be operated at comparatively little expense. Lastly it could be made to conform to the requirements for the state militia as laid out in the Iowa Constitution.

An active Iowa State Guard would provide Iowa a security and response force all its own into an uncertain future where numbers of it National Guard troops may be cut by federal austerity measures or deployed out of state on federal missions when a catastrophe strikes at home. It would increase the state's ability to fend for itself until (or if) outside help arrives in a catastrophic disaster as well as the age-old, though presently unlikely, roles of quelling insurrection and repelling invasion.

Historically, state defense forces were organized as light infantry or military police. Nowadays most state guard units are unarmed support units such as civil affairs or medical units designed to assist the state's National Guard in peacetime and provide relief during state disasters. While these are certainly important duties, the traditional role of the state militia, armed defense, is still important and may be more so in the future.

There are many local civilian relief agencies that do great work during a disaster but none of them  provide armed security to backup local and state police forces to maintain order. In a truly catastrophic emergency (think Hurricane Katrina, a nuclear detonation or long-term grid-down situation) police agencies can quickly find themselves overwhelmed. Iowa has a population of 3,000,000 and has about 8,000 cops statewide (most of whom are local police and couldn't be deployed where needed). The IANG currently has about 7,200 soldiers on the books (many of whom are no doubt support staff), minus those deployed elsewhere or eventually cut from service, and may take several days to mobilize. A state guard would provide a relatively low-cost force to help fill in the cracks.

But what would such a force look like? Below is one possible option for an Iowa State Guard company-size unit that could fulfill the disaster relief mission as well as the more traditional armed defense mission. One could be formed at Camp Dodge (HQ of the Iowa National Guard as well as Iowa's emergency operations center)  and if deemed a success, another one could formed elsewhere in the state. If that one succeeded another could be formed. Let's take a closer look at the company.
Table of organization for the author's proposed State Defense Force company.
(The word "Men" is used for space concerns. Soldiers might be either gender.)
Security Platoon:
Organized along the lines of an Army light infantry rifle platoon, this would have three squads of 9 to 11 soldiers. Each squad would have a squad leader and two fire teams of four or five soldiers. It would also have one headquarters squad consisting of a platoon leader, platoon sergeant and a radio operator as well as two machine-gun teams of three soldiers each. The platoon would train in the use of small arms, small unit tactics, riot control, first aid, and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense.

Weapons would depend on what the state could afford to scrounge up (and what they felt comfortable entrusting the SDF with). Normally, infantry squads would be equipped with M16s or M4s, as well as one M203 grenade launcher and one M249 light machine-gun per fire team (2 per squad). The two platoon-level machine-guns are normally M240 medium machine-guns.

If on a truly shoestring budget, state guard members could be required to provide their own rifles (although perhaps restricted to standard military calibers of 5.56mm and 7.62mm NATO). This was how state militias were originally armed in this country. Perhaps a cheap supplemental weapon would be to have one tactical shotgun per fire team. This would give a lethal close-quarters and guard duty weapon as well being able to fire numerous types of less-than-lethal rounds in a riot control mission. Platoon-level MG's could be replaced with 2 or 3 well-trained sniper teams.
Emergency Response Platoon:
This would be comprised of a three-person headquarters section and four Emergency Response squads modeled after the 10-person "Citizen Corps" volunteer Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). Each squad would have a squad leader, an assistant squad leader/safety NCO, as well as the following two-soldier teams: Fire Suppression Team, Search and Rescue Team, Medical Triage Team, and Medical Treatment Team. Unlike the community based CERTs, State Guard ER Platoons and Squads would be quickly deployable around the state.
Like in a CERT, all members would be cross-trained in all roles of the squad. Civilian CERTs receive about 20 hours in training and that curriculum could be used for the Emergency Response Platoon. In an environment of civil unrest the Platoon leader and senior NCOs could wear sidearms and/or a two-soldier armed Security Team could be added to each squad to guard supplies and personnel.
Engineering Support Platoon:

This platoon would have the equipment you might want see rolling into your town after a major disaster: light excavating vehicles, chainsaws, water pumps, or generators. More importantly it would have the men and women who could operate and maintain them. These wouldn't necessarily have to be former combat engineers, there are plenty of Iowa farmers, mechanics and construction workers who could lend their expertise. In a defensive mission the platoon could be put to work digging bunkers, trenches, or tank traps and building other necessary structures.

Headquarters Platoon:

This is the administrative center of operations for the company. In addition to the company commander and his senior leaders, this platoon would contain communications, clerical, and supply personnel, as well as an armorer and a nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) specialist.  A few medics and a field kitchen (for the militiamen as well as for disaster evacuees) would be great.  If the state could swing it, a couple of mortar teams would add huge combat capability to the company.

Thoughts on Training & Uniforms:

No doubt many people who would volunteer for an Iowa State Guard would have prior service in the active duty military. That training should be taken into account. For other enlistees a "basic training," perhaps as simple as an overnight weekend, might be required.

Active National Guard and Reserve units typically meet for drills one weekend per month and two weeks during the summer. For the unpaid volunteers of a State Guard, perhaps that could be cut down to four quarterly musters per year, with some additional training times available on nights and weekends to fit around their busy schedules. When you're asking people to do something just out of the goodness of their hearts it's best not to put too many obstacles in their path.

The State Guard Association of the United States (SGAUS), a non-profit organization advocating for the advancement and support of regulated state military forces, offers its "Military Emergency Management Specialist" (MEMS) certification. This is comprised of three qualification levels: Basic, Senior, and Master. Perhaps these could be required of officers and senior NCO's.

Necessary to secure Geneva Convention protections in a full-blown national invasion by another nation state, uniforms could be as simple as a distinctive armband. However, there's something attractive about the idea of putting on a nice-looking uniform. Just ask any military recruiter. Supplying volunteers with a decent uniform may be one of the few tangible benefits they'll receive for their service. It would no doubt be worth the cost not to scrimp on it.

While the unpaid volunteers of an Iowa state defense force would probably not be mistaken for the Marine Corps Silent Drill Team, they wouldn't need to in order to be a valuable asset in times of catastrophe.

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