One of the most obvious and interesting aspects of the strife between the police and the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri, is the military equipment being used by police forces. This is equipment that some think to be highly unnecessary in the residential community where citizens had been protesting the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Should people be genuinely scared of the hired officials that are supposed to serve and protect them from danger? I think Ferguson will help us answer a few of these questions.I cannot remember a time that the police have ever needed to utilize military grade equipment to get their job done. As far as I can tell, we do not have rebellious insurgents or constant horrific crimes that need help being quelled. Now, in Ferguson, we have police forces using tank-like vehicles and ballistics-grade body armor to try and dispel groups of angry, unarmed citizens.
President Barack Obama addressed the concern over police being overly equipped, saying that many local police around the country were, “ill-equipped for a potential catastrophic terrorist attack.” This sounds like a fair point, but it still doesn’t answer why police were using military-grade equipment to control groups of frustrated civilians. The need just wasn’t there at all. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said last week that he was “thunderstruck” to learn about the over militarization of the police in Ferguson. However, Missouri takes part in the Department of Defense Excess Property Program (1033), which gives state and local police the option of buying surplus military equipment. To request surplus equipment, individual police departments must fill out a 1033 application.
An excerpt from the application states, “The Governor of Missouri has designated in writing with an effective date of January to implement this program statewide.” The application also has Nixon’s name on the top of the page. Either Nixon doesn’t know about everything he attaches his name to, or he was lying about being surprised over Ferguson. Either way, we have another example of improperly functioning government agencies in Missouri. With the rise of social media, as well as smart phones with high quality video recording over the last several years, more and more videos have started surfacing and going viral displaying police officers using overly violent tactics, abusing citizens and abusing their own title. Many of us have had an unpleasant and/or underserved negative experience with law enforcement officials. Michael Brown had the worst experience of all and was killed by police while unarmed. Thankfully, some good might come from this otherwise horrific injustice.
The Justice Department, apparently moved by the strife in Ferguson, has decided to conduct a broad review of police tactics across the nation. The Justice Department will examine the use of deadly force, interactions with the mentally ill and new police technology, such as officer body cameras, which could potentially keep a record of officers’ actions for later review.
With violent crime on the decline in the United States, officers are facing new challenges that do not always involve using force. Officers’ responsibilities are broadening, so new considerations must be made. They aren’t just here to shoot the bad or good guy anymore.
The shooting of Brown in Ferguson and the reaction of the overly militarized police has made many angry. It’s made me angry. Police are using tactics and technology that they couldn’t possibly find a use for. Nixon can’t even be honest about how the police had access to their new toys.
We can be happy, though, because the people of Ferguson made enough of a stand to be noticed. This won’t be the end of abusive cops, but with the nation watching, and the Justice Department thinking, it’s possible that change could finally be set in motion. I’m angry about the cause, but the results could be fantastic.
Ian Hagerty is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]