From John Guilfoil:
Arlington Police Chief Frederick Ryan, Concord Police Chief Joseph O’Connor, and Tyngsborough Police Chief Richard Howe today sat down with WCVB’s Kelley Tuthill for a discussion on the assertion in some circles that police have become “militarized.”
Massachusetts police chiefs believe that it is important to properly educate the public on why police have specialized equipment, and how/when that equipment is used. As importantly: the chiefs discussed the training that police undergo before they are cleared to use specialized equipment.
Because of how important it is to show transparency and get this message out to the public, JGPR set up this interview after receiving a request from WCVB’s assignment editors.
In Massachusetts, the Law Enforcement Council model actively prevents the so-called militarization of police by keeping specialized equipment in the hands of one highly-trained unit that, in the example of NEMLEC, serves nearly 60 communities north and east of Boston with one SWAT team. The public understands, in this day and age of mass shootings, school shootings, and the Boston Marathon bombings, that police need to have special equipment and training. Groups like NEMLEC ensure that only a small amount of officers, who train together constantly, are using this equipment, and that it is only being called upon when absolutely necessary.
In addition, since the 1999 Columbine High School Shootings, police nationwide have changed their strategies. Rather than have first-line patrolmen surround an active shooter situation in a perimeter and wait for a SWAT Team to arrive, they are now going forward to engage these dangerous suspects. Police therefore need to be equipped with equipment matching what they might come up against.
However, most of this equipment is defensive in nature. A Bearcat vehicle, for example, is not something you would ever see on a battlefield. It is designed to prevent police and others from being killed during a critical incident. There’s no artillery cannon or rocket launcher built-in. It’s not a tank. Equipment like this is designed to allow a SWAT team to enter and exit a situation safely.
By contrast, military equipment is designed for offensive operation, such as taking ground or destroying an enemy. Specialized police equipment, even SWAT equipment, is designed specifically for law enforcement, and even if some agencies purchase some surplus equipment from the military agencies, it is being re-purposed to fit a law enforcement role.
In Massachusetts, our State, Transit, and Law Enforcement Council SWAT Teams are extremely well-trained, and their primary objectives are live-saving, not life-taking. They are generally not used for crowd control. If we are going to expect police to engage active shooters in malls, schools, and workplaces, which are unfortunate facts of life in modern society, they need to be equipped to handle the task.
Finally, that’s not to say police should be carrying machine guns on the streets, during their beats. Specialized equipment is just that, and it should only be brought to bear when a situation specifically requires it. We saw the deployment of SWAT teams in April 2013, during the manhunt for the Boston Marathon terrorism suspects. In this case, these individuals clearly showed that they were willing to murder police and civilians alike, and specialized police equipment and specialized police teams were activated. No additional people were harmed.