Backlash to CA police militarization extends across political spectrum

Backlash to CA police militarization extends across political spectrum

NoHo bank robbery (6)The acquisition of a mine-resistant armored vehicle by the city of Davis has drawn national attention and fueled a statewide outcry over the armament of law enforcement with military-grade equipment.

In a detailed history of the so-called militarization of California police, the New York Times interviewed critics and defenders of the Davis vehicle, which carries a price tag of $700,000. “All of this equipment is needed, and this makes obtaining such equipment affordable,” said Christopher Boyd, president of the California Police Chiefs Association. “Armored vehicles are extremely valuable. They are very expensive. Most police departments cannot afford to buy them.”

A traumatizing incident

According to the Times, analysts said that the popularity of heavy arms on the force traces back to 1997 and the infamous “North Hollywood shootout,” wherein two bank robbers clad in body armor outgunned cops for an hour before being killed. “The North Hollywood incident really was the catalyst that told us it was time to make sure that we armed our deputies in the field,” recalled Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown.

Although CNN reported at the time of the shootout that officers had to commandeer supplies from a nearby gun store to mount an adequate defense, none of the 10 police officers or 15 bystanders injured in the melee faced life-threatening injuries. As the CNN report emphasized, however, the LAPD cops who first arrived on the scene carried nothing more powerful than their standard-issue 9mm Beretta handguns.

Bulking up on the cheap

In the mid-1990s, California cops typically packed a shotgun at most, with few even carrying a rifle, according to a Contra Costa Times review. The suddenly alarming and embarrassing situation played a key role in shifting priorities and attitudes for state law enforcement agencies. But California’s police militarization kicked into high gear during a perfect storm of tightening state budgets and growing federal largesse. As the Times noted, cash-strapped state PDs jumped at the chance to exploit programs created by the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security as the war on terror geared up.

Militarization in Southern California, however, wound up spreading beyond the LAPD, which has long led the trend thanks to city concerns over gang violence. The Contra Costa Times report highlights the Baldwin Park Unified School District’s three automatic rifles and LAUSD’s three grenade launchers.

Officials said only rubber bullets would be launched from those devices. But civilian concerns over disproportionate force have mounted from Los Angeles to Davis and beyond, especially in the wake of the high-profile police response to recent unrest in Ferguson, Mo. Importantly, conservative, libertarian and liberal interests alike have begun to stake out a rough consensus on the issue. For Californians on the left, police militarization has been tied to social and criminal justice issues of central concern. For libertarians, the controversy has fallen squarely under the rubric of civil liberties and state coercion. And for conservatives, a deeply dispiriting sense has set in that the good old days of friendly neighborhood cops have given way to a time when police look too much like strike teams sent to fight the world’s worst terrorists.

Whatever the bargains law enforcement can find on army-grade gear, public opinion may have already turned against the deals.

A protracted conflict

Changing sentiments, however, haven’t changed more than a handful of notable police purchases. Last month, the city of San Jose had to apologize after its under-the-radar acquisition of a drone. But the vehicle has remained in city possession, and residents’ opinions have remained mixed.

In Davis, meanwhile, the City Council has required police to return the $700,000 armored vehicle to the Department of Defense, sparking an outcry from law enforcement themselves. “We have a genuine and job-specific need for the types of equipment that most people wish that they wouldn’t have in their communities,” warned Davis Police Chief Landy Black.


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  1. LetitCollapse
    LetitCollapse 17 September, 2014, 15:33

    The militarization of the cops doesn’t surprise me at all. Heck, we’re waging war on the world. They just voted to bomb Syria without going through legitimate international channels and contrary to the wishes of Syria’s soveriegn leader, President Assad. So we feel we can just move from nation to nation and bomb and kill at will. That sort of attitude always comes back home. Now the cops are waging a war against the citizery with all their modern military equipment. Semi-auto guns and rifles are not enough. Now they need fully automatic M-240 machine guns mounted on armored military vehicles!!! This country is out of control. We were not designed to behave this way. The nation has been hyjacked by a bunch of maniac bellicose jingoists. They hype the stories about the 2 journalists getting decapitated and all the sudden it’s worth going to war over!!! On any given weekend there are 10 people brutally murdered in Chicago but nobody seems to care. Our country is reported to have killed over 400,000 innocent Iraqi’s during the invasion over bogus WMD’s. But nobody on the news calls that ‘evil’.

    God help America!

    Reply this comment
  2. LetitCollapse
    LetitCollapse 17 September, 2014, 15:45

    To show you how bad things have gotten, even former hippie and pacifist dove Babs Boxer voted today to bomb Syria and arm the Syrian Rebels (many of whom are terrorists) with US military hardware and train them to use it!!!! ISIS and ISIL will no doubt use the wealth from the captured oil fields to buy our weapons from their brothers in the Rebels.

    Defense contractor lobbyist money must be waist deep on Capital Hill for Babs Boxer to beat the drums of war. Even the pacifists are selling out!!! 😀

    Reply this comment
  3. t Mind of Ted Your God
    t Mind of Ted Your God 17 September, 2014, 22:16

    The cops should wear nice blue blazers and ride ponies. Ahhhhh that’s better….mmmmmmmmmmmmmm

    Reply this comment
  4. Queeg
    Queeg 18 September, 2014, 12:34

    Donut shop owners must be scared too….never ever have a stale curler or a bear claw missing almond chips!

    Reply this comment
  5. Reality's a bummer
    Reality's a bummer 18 September, 2014, 13:17

    The whole mantra of the police being militarized is a bunch of non-sense, Way too much is being made of the surplus MRAP’s. Considering Davis has thousands of defenseless people gathering at the university every day, Having a bullet resistant vehicle parked in the back lot at the Police station in case of an emergency is common sense, Not some sinister conspiracy. Next time an incident happens in Davis i wouldn’t blame their emergency responders, If they sat back and stayed safe, This is just another example of how little support they receive from the ungrateful community and city government they serve.

    Reply this comment
    • Bill Gore
      Bill Gore 19 September, 2014, 08:51

      Yes, you are absolutely right! These Green Beret cop wannabees should quit immediately, give up their 20 year pension and amazing benefits, and make room for people that actually want to be cops, not make believe SEALs….

      Reply this comment

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