Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gauen: Police Militarization Is about Mindsets, Not Tools

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gauen: Police Militarization Is about Mindsets, Not Tools

Article excerpt

There were no ballistic helmets on the undercover drug cops who made national news one night in Collinsville. No vests labeled POLICE. No shields or armored trucks. Just a bunch of guys who thought they were in Belleville, broke into two wrong homes to arrest people who naturally weren't there, and were lucky enough not to kill or be killed in the process.

It triggered a national debate on no-knock raids, and may have put more attention on police tactics in the St. Louis region than anything until Ferguson.

This was in 1973, in an era when law enforcement was being tugged hard in multiple directions.

Police had been vilified often justifiably for oppressive spectacles at civil rights and anti-war protests. There had been the so-called "police riot" outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. A fresh initiative nicknamed the "war on drugs" drove a new wedge between cops and disaffected youths.

Some departments tried to look less provocative. They removed dashboard shotgun racks and moved their heavier weapons to patrol car trunks. Southern Illinois University Edwardsville went even further, barring its police officers from carrying sidearms when on foot on campus in the daytime.

But it also was a time when cops across the country were finding themselves targets of bombs and bullets from social extremists, of violent push-backs from drug dealers and of frightening encounters with people stoned beyond their inhibitions.

It was in this period that police in Los Angeles started a specialized unit called Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT, adopting military-style tactics and gear that provide some big advantages:

* Big-time firepower and body protection offer a form of life insurance for cops on the front line of major trouble. Look online for videos of the 1997 shootout with bank robbers in North Hollywood to see the havoc two well-equipped sociopaths could wreak against platoons of street cops who finally resorted to heavy rifles borrowed from a nearby gun shop to fight back.

* Police in tactical gear and armored vehicles provide a huge advantage to crime victims as well, as police are able to take the fight directly to people who may be spree killing or holding hostages. …

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