Over the last dozen years we have seen a major upswing in police shootings in the US. Last year alone we topped out at 986 people killed by a police officer. This does not include those shootings where the person survived. Compare that to other nations of similar social structure and you will notice a massive discrepancy. When in England there were zero shooting fatalities and only three instances of shots fired at all in 2014, the US reports an approximate of four hundred JUSTIFIABLE homicides by police during the same period, There is no government agency that actually tracks the number of police shootings or fatalities, so some of the numbers are vague.
Over the last decade the biggest change has been the increasing militarization of the police forces across North America. Companies that use to supply weapons and equipment to military units through the department of defense had to find a new customer base at the end of the cold war. They found it with local police forces, Where once our police traveled in cars and paddywagons, with maybe the occasional mobile SWAT command center in Metro areas, we now see scenes of Police in full military regalia, combat webbing, flak jackets, riding on armoured LAVs to crowd control. Instead of shields and batons or tonfas, we watch them deploy with M-16s and 50 Cal sniper rifles.
Tear gas as crowd control (an item forbidden on battlefields) is regularly launched into crowds, and random stops for identification are considered the new norm.
These are not the actions of a Peace officer, nor of a Police force as we understand it. It is the act of an occupying army. A military force patrolling a hostile environment, where citizen insurrection could be around every corner.
Perhaps in a way they are right, for just as our police have become more militant, so has the population. With America reporting record numbers of Police officer deaths just as the civilian death-toll mounts. In that same 2014 time period that showed the four hundred estimated justifiable police killings, over one hundred Police officers were killed in the line of duty as well, an increase over the last year of 24%. Based on this, the military style equipment and training does not seem to be having the desired effect of protecting police, and instead seems to be part of the cause for our changing attitude towards the police. No longer are they the friendly helpful uniforms that protect us. They have become a more sinister presence in our communities, and with the reports of so many shootings at domestic disturbance calls. Not as trustworthy as we once felt. The anticipation of violence that accompanies the arrival of police has driven some less stable members of our community, and it’s criminals to adapt a more deadly resistance then they once held. While there has always been a murderous element within our society that is a threat to police and civilian alike, there is a grey area that has shifted further to suddenly escalated violence, in anticipation of gunfire. Violence by it’s very nature, and humanity’s natural response, breeds violence.
When we use to call the police, they came to defuse a situation, but far to often of late, they come prepared to shoot, anticipating violence instead of confrontation. Danger instead of dispute. As their behaviour becomes more aggressive, the response of the public does as well. Trust becomes apprehension, respect becomes fear, and they can feel the mistrust and hostility that is becoming predominate in our encounters with officers, justifying their own mistrust and paranoia of a situation.
The Militarization of the police within the US especially, but also in Canada has changed our society from an organized cooperation between law enforcement and citizen, to the seething hostility of an occupied nation. It needs to change, and that change must come from the police first, setting the example that will allow the population to regain their trust.
The police forces must look again at their training, focus on defusing situations rather then confrontation, and actively weeding out the overly aggressive members of the force that are damaging the public perception of their role in society. Police union or not, those officers who cannot shrug off insults, or hostile attitudes in the performance of their duty, have no place on the streets of our cities. Respect is earned, Fear is learned. It’s up to the police to chose which they want.
(As of this post on the 7th of January 2016, the US has already reported 11 police related homicides this year. that is almost 2 a day so far)