sniper

Lose the Camouflage, Please

I am in agreement with much of what Claire Berlinski and Jon Gabriel wrote in their earlier posts on the events in Ferguson, Missouri.  For the last fifteen years, much of my writing has been devoted to the cause of explaining — if not always justifying — police actions that have come in for criticism in the media.  While I know little of the incident that precipitated all that followed, if it is indeed true that the officer was 35 feet away from Michael Brown when he opened fire, I cannot imagine a set of circumstances that would justify him.

That said, like Claire and Jon, I have been troubled by some of the images broadcast from Ferguson.  And while I’m comfortable to be in their company, it’s strange to also find myself agreeing with the likes of Rachel Maddow, who on her program on Tuesday, showed a picture of police officers in camouflage aiming rifles at… I’m not quite sure.

police

Before anyone accuses me of turning on my fellow officers, I hasten to say that — in the wake of the Brown shooting — the rioting demanded a swift and decisive response from the police, including a show of force.  The citizens and merchants of the town have a right to expect the police to defend their lives and property from those who would use Brown’s death as an excuse for robbery, theft, arson, or what have you.

But images matter, and pictures of officers in camouflage, aiming rifles from the turrets of armored vehicles, diminish public support for what the police are trying to accomplish.  Keep in mind that I have stood on many skirmish lines in my police career, including in the Rodney King riots of 1992 and many smaller incidents, and have no sympathy for those who turn a peaceful protest into a melee; but nor do I have sympathy for police managers who bring discredit to a just cause by failing to grasp how public perceptions are shaped by their choices.

Some might find it surprising that, in the Aug. 19, 2013 issue of National Review, I gave a positive review to Radley Balko’s book, The Rise of the Warrior Cop.  There is sometimes a need for armored cars and heavy weaponry in police work but, if I were running the police operation in Ferguson, I would keep them at a command post nearby and out of sight until circumstances demanded their use.  And I would lose the camouflage.

Image Credits: NPR and The Independent.

  1. Kim K.

    Regarding armored vehicles and heavy weaponry, at what point would you say circumstances demanded their use?

  2. Bryan G. Stephens

    Thanks for weighing in. We should not see police dressed as combat units. Whatever happened to the blue riot gear?

  3. Seawriter

    No police officer should ever be seen in camouflage – ever - at least while on duty .  (If they want to wear camo while duck hunting or deer hunting, knock yourself out.)

    The purpose of camouflage is to hide you.  The purpose of the police is to be seen. A police officer in camo is subliminally sending the message that he or she is trying to hide something.  That is not a message any officer should want to send.

    Seawriter

  4. Franco

    Bryan G. Stephens:

    Thanks for weighing in. We should not see police dressed as combat units. Whatever happened to the blue riot gear?

     Seconded.

    Those pictures reveal a lot of what’s actually going on in this country. Another aspect I’m not sure has been discussed is how the USA is perceived around the world with these pics. It doesn’t look like “home of the free” and it also doen’t look much like “home of the brave”  when it comes to all the armor and weaponry. 

  5. Percival

    Ace had a pretty good post yesterday on intimidation as a police tactic.  He raises an interesting point.

    …I’m not really disagreeing with those who criticize this on a general level. I’m only attempting to suggest what the cops would say about this matter: It is better to have a Yelling Cop than a Shooting Cop.

    In fact, there’s a scale of preferences:

    An Intimdiating Cop is better than

    A Tasering Cop, who in turn is better than

    A Grappling/Chokehold Cop, who is in turn better than

    A Shooting Cop.

    All of these, note, implicate Coercion, and that should be a concern for any conservative (and naturally, any actual Libertarian).

    And yet: Coercion is an unavoidable bedrock necessity of a police force, isn’t it?

     

     

    I’d say the answer to Ace’s last question is “yes,” but it is important to remember that tactics can fail, and if your plan was to look big and scary, and things turn violent anyway, you will now appear big and scary and violent.  The revolution may or may not be televised, but the riots are almost sure to be.

    Definitely lose the camo.

  6. Seawriter

    Another thing:  why would any peace officer wear combat boots?  What function do boots serve in an urban environment?  

    Could you picture Joe Friday wearing combat boots, even when he was a beat cop in a blue uniform?

  7. Fake John Galt

    Funny how everybody was sneering at the conspiracy guys saying that the government was purchasing large amounts of ammo and practicing plans against the public and were dismissed as paranoids. Now this stuff starts happening and you have to wonder if maybe they are smarter than they have been given credit for.

  8. Fake John Galt

    Question of the day. You go to the supermarket and notice a tank sitting in the handicap zone. You take out your phone to take a picture for your kid. Do you really care it the LEO beating your head in is wearing a blue uniform or a camo uniform?

  9. Penfold

    Fake John Galt:

    Question of the day. You go to the supermarket and notice a tank sitting in the handicap zone. You take out your phone to take a picture for your kid. Do you really care it the LEO beating your head in is wearing a blue uniform or a camo uniform?

     You also politely ask for a tour of the beast because you’re fascinated by the technology.  “Just look at them bogies. Awesome suspension!”

  10. skipsul

    Seawriter:

    No police officer should ever be seen in camouflage – ever – at least while on duty . (If they want to wear camo while duck hunting or deer hunting, knock yourself out.)

    The purpose of camouflage is to hide you. The purpose of the police is to be seen. A police officer in camo is subliminally sending the message that he or she is trying to hide something. That is not a message any officer should want to send.

    Seawriter

     I would also add that it horribly blurs the line between a Soldier and a Cop.  A Cop is there to keep the peace, a Soldier is there to wage war.

  11. Jack Dunphy
    C

    Kim K.:

    Regarding armored vehicles and heavy weaponry, at what point would you say circumstances demanded their use?

     I think this would qualify.

  12. Paul Wilson

    At the very least, it’s very hard to square with the “community policing” methods that just about  every police force claims it uses. (It’s clearly an empty platitude in some cases.) There is really nothing new about “community policing.” It dates back to the Metropolitan Police Act in the 1830s. The original “bobbies” were conceived as civilians who had the task of ensuring law and order. They wore distinctive non-military uniforms and were not armed. This was a departure from the status quo when troops were used to keep the peace if things got seriously out of hand, and the rest of the time the lower strata of society had no police protection at all from “ordinary” crime. In those days, only mob violence on a scale that warranted calling out troops elicited a response from the “authorities.” American police forces and their political masters might want to re-learn the lessons of history, but I have a feeling pols on both sides of the aisle are loath to lock horns with police management and police unions. They see only a downside of being accused of being “soft” on crime, on terrorism, and so forth.

  13. Fake John Galt

    skipsul:

    Seawriter:

    No police officer should ever be seen in camouflage – ever – at least while on duty . (If they want to wear camo while duck hunting or deer hunting, knock yourself out.)

    The purpose of camouflage is to hide you. The purpose of the police is to be seen. A police officer in camo is subliminally sending the message that he or she is trying to hide something. That is not a message any officer should want to send.

    Seawriter

    I would also add that it horribly blurs the line between a Soldier and a Cop. A Cop is there to keep the peace, a Soldier is there to wage war.

    I think the problem is that the politicos see very little difference between the two.  We send troops on police actions and peace keeping actions and we seem to be arming LEO with the same gear and missions as the soldiers.  Why wouldn’t LEOs not act like soldiers if they wear the same uniforms, use the same equipment, get the same training, asked to do the same things?

  14. Misthiocracy

    < devil’s advocate mode = on >

    Is it possible that camo fatigues are cheaper for police departments to purchase than blue tactical uniforms, because camo patterns are already mass-produced for military and consumer markets?

    I play paintball, and lots of the companies that make gear for paintball also make gear for police and security companies. It’s often pretty much the exact same gear, with a couple of minor aesthetic changes, if that.

    < devil’s advocate mode = off >

  15. skipsul

    Misthiocracy:

    < devil’s advocate mode = on >

    Is it possible that camo fatigues are cheaper for police departments to purchase than blue tactical uniforms, because camo patterns are already mass-produced for military and consumer markets?

    I play paintball, and lots of the companies that make gear for paintball also make gear for police and security companies. It’s often pretty much the exact same gear, with a couple of minor aesthetic changes, if that.

    < devil’s advocate mode = off >

     Any cost difference is minimal.  Uniforms are already mass-produced, so you’re far down the long tail of the cost curve.  

  16. Aaron Miller

    How do Ricochet’s police officers think police should respond to molotov cocktails in a crowd? Fire is a deadly weapon, is it not? If you see someone light a molotov, would you shoot him?

    If the firebomb is aimed at a store, don’t you have to assume that someone might be inside (so it is a deadly threat)? Would you assume the same if the target was a parked car? 

    Suppose that, like in the Muslim rampages in Paris, parked cars were being torched every night. What sort of force does this merit? Would you simply shoot tear gas and let the perps run away? 

    Also, do these looting parties occur only in big inner cities? I can imagine something like this happening in downtown Houston (that might be “uptown”, depending on your regional dialect). But here in the suburbs, we defend not only our own property but our neighbors as well with deadly force.

  17. Aaron Miller

    Along the lines of Paul Wilson’s comment (#12), is there any hope at all of returning to the tradition of self-policing (by and large)? Are there many police officers these days who appreciate the inherent limits of any police force? As we say in Texas, “When seconds count, the police are just minutes away.” 

    Shouldn’t the primary role of police be to track and catch suspects, rather than to intervene in on-going crimes? This of course refers only to normal circumstances, and not to riots or hostage situations.

    I suppose it can’t be helped so long as our judicial system supports frivolous lawsuits. Every retail business I ever worked at forbade employees from apprehending thieves for fear of lawsuits. And, as everyone knows, if you exercise your right to defend your property at home, government will try to put you in prison for daring to act of your own accord.

  18. Devereaux

    If you wear combat boots, camoflage uniforms, helmets, body armor (in excess of what the normal police officer wears in daily duty), carry real assault rifles, wear molle gear to carry all your “stuff”, have tanks and MRAP’s to drive about – ?would you not see yourself more and more as a soldier, not a police officer. And if you see yourself as a soldier – ?would you not then begin to view the “neighborhood” as a “battlefield”.

    There was real reason that the Founding Fathers worried about “standing armies”.

  19. Aaron Miller

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-police-armed-with-93763-new-machine-guns-9670107.html

    Does anyone know if the 90,000+ “machine guns” cited in this article are really just assault rifles that some ignorant reporter misidentified? Otherwise, I can’t imagine a legitimate use of these guns by police.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GgPfudirj_Y

  20. Paul Wilson

    Aaron Miller:

    Along the lines of Paul Wilson’s comment (#12), is there any hope at all of returning to the tradition of self-policing (by and large)? Are there many police officers these days who appreciate the inherent limits of any police force? As we say in Texas, “When seconds count, the police are just minutes away.”

    Shouldn’t the primary role of police be to track and catch suspects, rather than to intervene in on-going crimes? This of course refers only to normal circumstances, and not to riots or hostage situations.

     In fact the courts have repeatedly ruled the police have no specific legal “duty” to intervene in on-going crimes. Even appalling cases of dereliction or ineptitude are not actionable. Self-protection may be the only protection you can expect. There was a particularly gruesome case from the 1970s in DC (see Warren v. DC.) I won’t go into details. Those who are unfamiliar can look it up.

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