Militarization of Law Enforcement Began in the 1960s and Shows No Sign of Slowing Down


Radley Balko discusses the problem of the militarization of police in his book "Rise of the Warrior Cop." If you haven't read it, you may wish to do so. In the meantime, you can also find many valuable and irrefutable sources on the 'Net that provide a very detailed look at how too many within law enforcement have become judge, jury, and executioner. The most tragic part of many of these situations is that they take place because the police tend to see average citizens as enemy combatants.

Balko has a lot to say about the militarization of America's law eforcement

Balko has a lot to say about the militarization of America's law enforcement

Over the decades since the 1960s when SWAT was first introduced to American society, we have seen a transition from using tactical teams only for situations where the incident has a real possibility of becoming violent or already is violent to using tactical teams for just about everything. For some police departments, it appears to be their first method of response. Yet, the problems that are often created because of this are innumerable and many times, the lives of innocent people are snuffed out because police who are armed to the teeth acted based on what they thought was going to occur.

When treating just about every 911 call as a life or death struggle, it's clear that law enforcement officers (LEOs) are going to make sure they go home when their shift is over. More than this though, there is a growing militancy within the minds of many police officers who don't like it when they are questioned, or when they say "jump" and the person they're speaking to doesn't reply with "how high?" immediately.

There is not enough space here to highlight all the tragedies that have occurred and even Balko can't do that in his book, but I would like to highlight a few situations so that we can gain a better understanding of what seems to be happening in society and how average citizens are increasingly seen as criminals or enemy combatants. The fact that over the past few decades, more police departments have been hiring ex-military people explains in part, why this mentality exists.

A 16-year-old boy in Georgia - Andrew Messina - had a very rough day at school. He came home and got hold of a .357 magnum and promptly threatened to kill himself to his mom. She called 911 stating she was concerned for her son's safety. Because a gun was involved, SWAT team arrived. "Within an hour, the police sniper killed Andrew with a shot to the head because he felt officer lives were in danger." It is ironic that the police were called to save the young man's life, but instead took it.

In the state of Washington, police barged into a home where Dustin Theoharris was asleep on the couch. Being abruptly awakened out of a sound sleep, he reached for a flashlight and police opened fire. He was shot 20 times and though he survived, one can only imagine that his life will never be the same again.

In yet another incident, Andrew Scott was shot to death by police who knocked on his door but failed to identify themselves as law enforcement. He answered the door with a handgun at 1:30am.

What I'm not trying to do is paint all police officers with a broad brush, somehow implying that they are all bad. I'm simply pointing out that too often, due to the fact that at least some officers tend to escalate situations, people are injured or hurt. This happens too often and needs to be stopped. Some of the mainstream (leftist) media has even noticed the problem and begun calling attention to it.

James Palermo

Mug shot of Officer James Palermo

In one case in Texas, a police officer has actually been charged (and jailed) with assaulting a woman, knocking her teeth out. Apparently the officer - "Cpl. James Palermo of the San Marcos Police Department had stopped a car at about 1 a.m. for driving the wrong way on a one-way street." He began to question the pedestrian about why she had stopped to watch. When she couldn't produce the ID that the officer demanded, the officer became more intense and acrimonious. The victim then said a few sarcastic things to the officer and called him a name and then the officer took her, slammed her against the back of the car that he had just stopped, then slammed the woman to the ground and sat on her back. He put her in handcuffs and said she was being arrested for "obstruction."

Obstruction is a very general term and can mean just about anything. If you don't answer an officer's question fast enough, you can be charged with obstruction. If they think you're lying to them, you can be charged with obstruction. There are many cases of people being arrested for obstruction and the circumstances are questionable at best.

The woman wound up having two teeth knocked out and also sustained a concussion. Medical personnel told her she may require surgeries for it. How did the officer respond? "Palermo took Alpha to the jail and slapped on two more charges: resisting arrest and public intoxication."

Unbelievably, the female victim did not file a complaint. The situation came to the attention of the police when they reviewed Palermo's dash cam. He was then arrested and charged with "aggravated assault with serious bodily injury by a public servant — a first-degree felony that carries a possible maximum sentence of life in prison." Palermo was actually scheduled to be arraigned today - August 2 - and you can view the affidavit for his arrest at this link.

The tide began to change for Americans in the 1960s. Since that time, police have increasingly reacted toward civilians as though they are enemy combatants - guilty, until they can prove their innocence. Too many times, poorly training officers use their authority to undermine or eradicate our rights. Not sure what can be done at this point, but surely something needs to occur.

In Mexico, a person who is arrested is assumed to be guilty. It is up to that individual to prove their innocence. The system in the U.S. is the exact opposite. Unfortunately, too many LEOs act as though this is Mexico and they have a right to threaten, physically abuse, and even kill innocent people for what they perceive to be a lack of respect. Respect is earned. It is not simply assumed. If police officers want respect, they need to prove - with their attitudes and demeanor - that they deserve that respect.

There are many, many LEOs who are worthy of our respect. You would think they would be the first ones to want these rogue cops to go. Maybe they don't want to buck the system or become blacklisted. What they fail to realize is that eliminated the bad cops helps them all look that much better. It's something they need to seriously consider.

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About Fred DeRuvo
Fred DeRuvo is the author of numerous articles and a growing number of Name Your Linkbooks related to conservative theology and politics. Fred received his Bachelor's degree from Philadelphia College of Bible and his Masters from Tyndale Theological Seminary. Fred received his Th.D from Northwestern Theological Seminary in Florida. Listen to Fred’s program and on MPR 105.3 FM in the Philippines. Fred began Study-Grow-Know Ministries several years ago where he fights the scourge of Leftist politics and policies that seem to be gaining a foothold in America. His blogs include Study, Grow, Know and Politically Correct Morass.
  • Ray_Downen

    When I was a young man living in Illinois I learned of an officer like those here spoken of who that early (the 1940s) "threw his weight around" simply because he could do so and wanted to do so. He just made life miserable for his victims rather than threatening their lives. He gave police a bad name in our county.

    Today it seems police are often enemies rather than protectors of liberty. Considering the people they sometimes must deal with, this is understandable. Many citizens nowadays are crooks and bullies and need harsh treatment. We who are good citizens feel we shouldn't be pushed around or insulted by people whose salaries we pay.

  • A. Levy

    After having spent 34 years with the NYPD, ('65 -'99) from patrol officer to First Grade Homicide Detective, sadly, i can tell you what this article is warning you of, is quite true. And, i believe, i can explain why it's happening with just two words that we are all very familiar with. (Political correctness) In the NYPD, and unlike what the article claims, i didn't see this trend beginning until the mid 90's.

    Unlike when i started, all of today's law enforcement officers have college educations. That means, they have been (indoctrinated) in places where we can find some of the most radical-thinking Leftists this country has, and the (virus) they spread is being absorbed by our young.

    Then, there is TV, the media, video games, etc. all of which help to distort, and whenever possible, eliminate reality. That's why so many of these young officers, even the ones who are in obscure and almost irrelevant govt. agencies, often see themselves as SWAT or Navy SEALS. They are aggressive, (and IMO, overly aggressive) when that type or degree of aggressive response is not warranted or needed. I've also seen many of them exhibit a zero-tolerance for "anything"!

    When armed people with authority are wrapped that tight, things can quickly get out of control. And sadly, sometimes do.

  • HistoryNut60

    I observed this trend second hand during my career in EMS. LAPD SWAT started from the 'barricaded suspect' incident involving the Simbionese Liberation Army. It was exacerbated by the War on Drugs. The early SWAT officers were very competent and proud men. They considered it a 'failure' if someone died after they took over an incident. They have slowly become more aggressive and 'militarized'. I understood, in the early days, that the theory was by using 'overwhelming force' they would prevent resistance and save lives on both sides. Some of the problem lies not with the officers but with administrations that don't take a harder look at incidents and proceedures. This article was good but the grammar errors make me wonder if Mr. DeRuvo has an editor or proofreads his copy. Still it is a subject that is long overdue for serious discussion and action. I read a few weeks ago about some lawyers attempting to apply the 3rd Amendment to a case basing their argument on the fact that Police, when operating as SWAT, are soldiers. That is an odd but encouraging argument to make in such a case.

  • Doc

    LEO's have brought upon themselves an air of mistrust. They can clean their own house or fall with it.

    • matism

      The time for dead pigs is here.

  • Richard Gibbard

    Is it any wonder that certain segments of society have a ''f--- the police'' attitude?