From “Down Under” but they speak on all the English speaking countries militarizing…. funny how YTs notice it now when it’s been an occupying army in the hood since slavery was ended….
Australian police are increasingly being “militarised”.
Front-line officers in Queensland and Victoria, and specialist units across the country, are being trained in military-style tactics and thinking.
Lawyer and former Australian Defence Force officer John Sutton describes this “convergence” as slow and worrying.
“Typically, a close ideological and operational alliance between the police force and the military has always been associated with repressive regimes,” he says.
“Australia has a very strong democracy and a very robust civic mindedness among its population.
“Nevertheless, these developments are certainly concerning.”
So just how concerned should we be? And what’s driving the shift?
The 1033 Program
Mr Sutton says it is part of a broader trend in English-speaking democracies, which began in the United States and accelerated after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
In the US, the militarisation of police departments is being actively encouraged by the Trump administration under what’s called the 1033 Program.
It authorises the US Department of Defence to distribute “surplus” military equipment to local police departments.
Criminal justice researcher Jeremiah Mosteller says it’s being conducted on an industrial scale.
“We’ve reached a point in America where a lot of police departments have become very akin to a military force in their local community,” Mr Mosteller says.
He estimates about $6 billion worth of equipment has so far been transferred to more than 8,600 law enforcement agencies across the country.
This includes night-vision goggles, gas masks, military aircraft, armoured vehicles, machine guns, grenade launchers and even bayonets.
Mr Mosteller says the issue first received public scrutiny in 2014, when rioting broke out in Ferguson, Missouri.
Police arrived at the scene in an armoured vehicle, dressed in military camouflage and carrying M14 assault rifles.
Public outrage over that incident led the Obama administration to scale back the 1033 Program. That decision has since been reversed by President Donald Trump.
Mr Mosteller says there are three justifications given by US authorities for the program: a rise in the number of gangs and cartels; the use of more sophisticated and deadly weapons by criminals; and a higher number of violent crimes within communities.
But only the first, he says, has any basis in fact.
He says a 2017 study found just 2 per cent of the guns used in crime in the US were assault weapons, while the FBI’s annual report on national crime has shown a steady decline in violent criminal activity.
“It has shown that homicides, robberies, aggravated assaults and all types of violent crime have declined significantly since the 1980s,” Mr Mosteller says.
“And that about 80 per cent of homicides in the United States involve a simple handgun or a non-firearm weapon other than explosives.”
Program 1033 has a “use it or lose it” clause specifying that all weaponry must be used within a one-year period or its ownership reverts back to the Department of Defence.
This encourages the use of military equipment that may not be appropriate for policing and risks escalating community tensions, Mr Mosteller says.
“Sadly, it just becomes too expensive for many jurisdictions to justify retaining the equipment if it’s not used on a frequent basis,” he says.
“This also creates an incentive to shift resources away from crime-solving to other things that may actually reap financial benefit, such as civil asset forfeiture or the seizure of property from low-level drug possession crimes that can result in some type of monetary funds that can be used to continue to maintain this equipment.”
Oversight by state politicians and local city officials has also been compromised, says Mr Mosteller, because the 1033 Program is federally-funded and organised directly between the Pentagon and law enforcement officers.
The ‘warrior cop’ phenomenon
Bond University criminologist Terry Goldsworthy believes the power of weapons manufacturers and the military-industrial complex is part of the problem.
Police services are now seen as a lucrative secondary market for military hardware, he says.
But he also believes the militarisation of police right across the English-speaking world reflects a pervasive “moral panic” over rising crime levels and increased terrorism.
“There is a fixation on it by the media or the state, et cetera, and then we get a response that’s out of proportion to the actual threat … responses that aren’t necessary and aren’t appropriate,” he says.
“We sometimes hear police unions saying: ‘We want to be in front of the game, we want to be preparing or future proofing.’
“But I’ve seen no commentary to indicate that criminal elements, or terrorist elements, are arming themselves with these type of high-grade weapons.”
In fact, most studies that look at terrorist attacks in Western democracies indicate that terrorists increasingly use low-tech weapons, like knives, he says, because they are easier to conceal and harder to detect.
A looming constitutional problemPHOTO: Police uniforms in darker colours have become a trend across the world. (Getty: Darrian Traynor)
Mr Sutton says Australians need to be concerned about the level of direct and ongoing cooperation between Australian police services and the ADF.
He says the states have “slowly and progressively” been creating anti-terrorism units within their police forces which run along military lines.
“Those units are trained by the ADF. They are armed with weapons systems very similar to what the ADF use,” he says.
“And in some instances there are lots of tactics, techniques and procedures which are given to those police units from the ADF.”
Each state police force now has at least one special operation group, he says, with some states having more than one.
Mr Sutton warns this development could eventually provoke a legal challenge, because Section 114 of the Australian Constitution prohibits state governments from forming their own militias or paramilitary forces.
“When you consider the special operations groups that are in each state, and what they look like when they are undertaking their particular job, there is certainly an argument that they look like a military force,” he says.
“We don’t see them doing patrols on the streets. We don’t see them doing RBTs or making arrests or investigating crimes.
“When we do see them in operation it’s generally highly rehearsed, they have weapons and armaments, and their appearance resembles that of the Defence Force.
“So, there may be an argument that particular elements of the police force are becoming more like a military force, and accordingly may be in breach of certain provisions within the Constitution.”
Moreover, Mr Sutton argues police militarisation risks damaging the bond of trust that exists in democratic societies between the population and those sworn to serve and protect them.
“The concern is when you start inculcating a culture which is militaristic into police forces,” he says.
“That particular culture reverts from being a culture of protecting and serving the population, to being put onto a footing which is more aggressive.
“It can profoundly alter the way the police force sees itself and the way it interacts with the civilian population, particularly when those cultural features percolate down to the general duties police officer.”
A 2018 study by Jonathan Mummolo at Princeton University and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found militarisation erodes the reputation of law enforcement officers.
It can also disproportionately affect vulnerable members of the community.
“The routine use of militarised police tactics by local agencies threatens to further the historic tensions between marginalised groups and the state with no detectable public safety benefit,” the study concluded.
Men in black
For Patrick Quill, anything that erodes public trust in policing has a personal dimension.
Police Chief Quill runs local operations in the Texas town of Combes. He’s researched and written about the changing style of police clothing.
He’s particularly critical of the militaristic appearance of modern police, where even ordinary duty officers now dress like members of a SWAT team.
“Besides the officer’s demeanour, the uniform is probably one of the most important pieces of equipment the officer has,” he says.
“The uniform really affects how a person perceives an officer, and in turn that will create an impression for the entire department.”
Prior to his police career, Quill served as an artillery specialist with the US Army and he’s adamant on the need for a clear division between both services.
“The first police uniform was introduced by the London Metropolitan Police (in 1829). It was introduced as a navy blue uniform because the British military of the day wore red, and they wanted to produce a uniform that was clearly and distinctly separate from the military,” he says.PHOTO: Police once wanted to look distinctly different to the military. (Getty: The Print Collector)
He says police officers dressed in black or in camouflage fatigues are viewed by the public as “untrustworthy, dishonest or aggressive”.
And he says the prominent display of weapons on police uniforms can also create a psychological barrier between citizens and police.
Chief Quill says numerous studies suggest the optimum colours for law enforcement uniforms are light blue and navy blue, as those colours produce “trustworthiness and give an appearance of strength and professionalism while at the same time being approachable”.
Mr Sutton argues the creation of special operation groups in Australia, and their promotion as elites within the police force, risks damaging recruitment by encouraging applicants with a more militaristic bent.
Chief Quill believes that also holds true when it comes to policing attire.
“The militaristic uniform may attract an individual that’s more aggressive, looking for excitement or something like that,” he says.
“So, I think it does directly affect the type of person that is attracted to the work.”
But he says the biggest problem is a practical one — police militarisation just makes the job of day-to-day law enforcement all the more difficult.
“The uniform influences how people view the police, and if they don’t trust us, we can’t work effectively,” he says.
“Police are members of their community, and they’ve been entrusted to serve and protect their citizens.
“We can’t let our communities feel like their police are an occupying force.”