If you’re paying attention to the news these days you’ll hear the term “militarization of police” on just about every evening news program. Some reporters in the field have even started to refer to police officers in general as “the militarized police.” I thought I’d spend a few moments to bring some clarity to some pretty biased and uninformed reporting.
Police officers across the country are equipped with bullet proof vest, sidearm, rifle or shotgun, and ballistic helmet. I think everyone recognizes that this equipment has been standard issued equipment for several decades.
Modern SWAT teams started to form in the 1970’s out of a desire to professionalize responses to barricade and hostage situations. The days of simply storming a house or firing into it blindly were over. SWAT teams developed the modern tactics of containing the suspect, using trained negotiators to mediate a peaceful resolution, and using an incremental increase in force to motivate suspects to peacefully surrender. As a result, the vast majority of barricade and hostage situations are peacefully resolved without any use of deadly force. As a long-term SWAT commander, and having been in command of hundreds of high-risk incidents, I can say with certainty that our highly-trained and well-equipped police officers and SWAT teams have safely resolved many incidents which, in the past, would have resulted in needless injury or death.
Many of the images we’re currently seeing on TV show images of large armored police vehicles. News reporters and anchors, who apparently don’t know the difference between a tank and an armored car, are mistakenly identifying these vehicles as the same military weaponry that our military used in Iraq and Afghanistan. The truth is that most of these vehicles are simply large vehicles specifically built for police agencies by private companies here in the United States. Some surplus military vehicles are in use by law enforcement agencies across the country, however they are not tanks but simply armored cars for transporting officers and equipment.
The primary purpose of these armored vehicles is to transport police officers and equipment to active crime scenes where armed suspects pose a high risk to responding officers. The armored vehicle provides ballistic protection to SWAT officers who necessarily have to place themselves directly in the line of fire from armed suspects. These vehicles are also the only way police officers can move in to rescue officers or victims who have been injured and need to be evacuated from a dangerous and active scene.
The Clark County Sheriff’s Office has never viewed these vehicles and equipment as something that “militarizes” our law enforcement agency. In fact, as the commander of the SWAT team, I’ve made a point of making these vehicles and equipment accessible for citizens to view, touch, and climb around on. These vehicles are on display multiple times a year at our West Precinct open house, the 911 center open house, and many other community events. I bet many of you reading this now have pictures of your children or grandchildren in one of these armored vehicles or wearing a police officer’s vest and helmet.
As your Clark County Sheriff I am going to continue to provide my deputies with the equipment they need to keep themselves safe, and you and your family safe. I will not be a sheriff who passively reacts to uninformed media reporting and who makes decisions based on what is politically correct at the moment. Being sheriff requires maturity, experience, and the courage to do what is right for your deputies and your community. This equipment has saved lives and will continue to save lives.