“If people think that the police are looking like the military, then they assume that this perverted form of policing is what the military looks like. And it doesn’t look anything like what the military does,” says former Army officer Jason Fritz.
The fatal shooting of teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer in August not only sparked protests but a national debate on the rise of police militarization across the country. The term “police militarization” refers to the idea that the local police units are becoming almost indistinguishable from the military, both in tactics and equipment.
However, some military veterans point out that while many local police departments are using military-grade equipment these days, they haven’t been trained in crowd control and other essential tactics. Fritz, a West Point graduate who served six years as an Army officer, including three deployments to Iraq, says the police could learn at least five lessons from the military when it comes to crowd control, as outlined in the US Army Technique Publication 3-39.33:
1. Training Saves Lives
Leaders and police must have an understanding of how, when, and to what degree to use force, and this is only accomplished through extensive training. Buying equipment is just the beginning. Often having the equipment without training is more dangerous than not having any equipment at all.
2. Understand the Crowd
Crowds are composed of real people expressing a real grievance. Most protesters are law-abiding citizens exercising their fundamental right to assembly. They must be respected.
3. Openly Communicate with Protest Leaders
Using open dialogue with protest leaders as this often avoids misunderstandings and results in protesters policing themselves. Coercion of crowds, on the other hand, rarely results in good outcomes and often exacerbates the unrest.
4. Initiate a Graduated and Proportional Response
Police should negotiate their actions based on crowd behavior. A non-violent crowd warrants a non-violent police response. The unnecessary use of tear gas and guns tends to add to crowd panic and tends to increase rather than decrease unrest. If the crowd becomes violent, police should respond with the least amount of force necessary.
5. Record Everything
Recording everything in a civil disturbance helps hold everyone accountable for their actions — police and protestors alike. In addition to the police recording themselves, the media should not be treated as an enemy. Stifling and repressing the media only gives the impression that the police are trying to hide something.
By following these guidelines from the military, says Fritz, local law enforcement will be able to build communal relationships founded on trust instead of fear.
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