Law Enforcement Agencies That Acquire Military Gear Are More Likely To Kill People
from the what-a-surprise dept
Correlation is not causation, but if you gear yourself up like you’re going to war, chances are you’re going to treat the people you’re supposed to serve as enemy combatants.
This is what police departments have been doing for years. The federal government’s 1033 program allows local PDs to help themselves to military surplus, which includes armored vehicles, armored vests, assault rifles, and grenade launchers. Cops have stopped looking like cops and started looking like combat units. The end result appears to be deadlier police forces more interested in shock, awe, and escalation than defusing tense situations.
A study of 1033 program use in Georgia by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows the more law enforcement gets from the military, the more often it uses deadly force.
A new AJC analysis of a decade of records across 651 Georgia police departments and sheriff’s offices found departments that took more than $1,000 in 1033 money, on average, fatally shot about four times as many people as those that didn’t. The newspaper’s analysis used the military’s database and paired it with a database of fatal police shootings from across the state, controlling for statistical variables like community income, rural-urban differences, racial makeup, and violent crime rates.
The results paint a troubling picture: The more equipment a department receives, the more people are shot and killed, even after accounting for violent crime, race, income, drug use and population.
Only 7% of Georgia’s law enforcement agencies obtained military gear through this program. But that 7% was responsible for 17% of the state’s killings by law enforcement officers.
As the AJC points out, this correlation is only a correlation. It doesn’t prove the 1033 program is responsible for increased deadly force deployment. It only suggests a relationship between obtained military gear and increased killings. Getting more gear does not increase the number of killings by cops, but the fact remains agencies that have used the program are involved in more killings than agencies that haven’t.
Whatever link exists is partially psychological. Acquiring war gear instills a war mindset. Citizens become “civilians.” Criminal suspects become enemy combatants. Neighborhoods become war zones. And the rhetoric used by officers and officials reflects this mindset. None of this warfighter mentality reflects what’s actually happening in Georgia. The flow of military gear has remained steady, even as criminal activity declines.
From 2009 to 2018, police departments in Georgia received $43.5 million in firearms, vehicles and other gear from the military, a figure that experts believe is deeply discounted because the material is used. All that equipment has been requested despite the fact that violent crime rates in Georgia have dropped by one third over that period, according to FBI crime statistics.
Some may suggest the flow of military equipment to law enforcement agencies has resulted in a better-behaved populace. But there’s no correlation between armored vehicles and lower crime rates.
A newly published article by a group of scholars with the Emory University Department of Political Science found no relationship between the presence of surplus military equipment and lower crime rates.
Fortunately, there are some in the law enforcement community who recognize the damage the acquisition of military gear can do to community relationships, even if those items may be occasionally beneficial. Calhoun Police Chief Tony Pyle says he’s limited his acquisitions and has worked at reverting the war-like mindset in the department since he took over two years ago.
Pyle said he turned down the offer of a $750,000 armored vehicle, despite the fact that there are dozens of them in departments around the state.
“It was basically a tank with wheels, I said, ‘Absolutely not. We do not want that thing rolling down the streets of Calhoun,’” he said. “In my humble opinion, it’s more trouble than it’s worth.”
Pyle said he thinks military-style gear and clothing can have an impact on a department. Along with shelving the M14s, Pyle said he ordered officers to wear traditional police uniforms, instead of the navy blue combat fatigues they had worn in the city for more than a decade.
Unfortunately, there are still far too many agencies cultivating an “us vs. them” mindset. And the nearly-free equipment and weapons available from the 1033 program are too tempting to pass up. The streets are full of enemies. It only makes sense to prepare for war. If more “civilians” end up dead, that’s just the price they’re expected to pay for public safety.