Quantcast
Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

In our opinion: Avoid blurring the line between police and military

Deseret News editorial

Published: Wed, Aug. 20 1:33 p.m. MDT

 Contrast Ferguson with South Salt Lake, where an officer last week shot and killed a young man in the parking lot of a convenience store. The officer himself is a member of a racial minority, Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank said Tuesday on the "Doug Wright Show" on KSL. But that officer’s name has not been revealed, nor has a police video of the entire incident.

Contrast Ferguson with South Salt Lake, where an officer last week shot and killed a young man in the parking lot of a convenience store. The officer himself is a member of a racial minority, Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank said Tuesday on the "Doug Wright Show" on KSL. But that officer’s name has not been revealed, nor has a police video of the entire incident.

(Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Tensions are at a boiling point in Ferguson, Missouri. Police are rightly concerned about their safety and about maintaining law and order. There is plenty to suggest that law-enforcement tactics escalated problems, rather than solved them, in the wake of the shooting of a black teenager. But there is much to suggest that the situation has been exacerbated by the demands of unruly mobs, as well.

All the while, discussions around the country focus on the perception that police departments are becoming increasingly militarized, blurring the lines between local law enforcement and the military. President Obama addressed this Tuesday, saying those lines should never cross, and yet the Pentagon has been selling surplus military equipment to local police departments.

Ferguson may bring some of these issues to a head. But mob rule cannot be allowed to supplant justice.

Contrast Ferguson with South Salt Lake, where an officer last week shot and killed a young man in the parking lot of a convenience store. The officer himself is a member of a racial minority, Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank said Tuesday on the "Doug Wright Show" on KSL. But that officer’s name has not been revealed, nor has a police video of the entire incident.

A small protest took place in Salt Lake City on Monday. It was nothing near what has been occurring daily in Ferguson. It’s unfair to make that comparison, however, considering the racial makeup and history of tension in Ferguson, which is considerably different than that of Salt Lake City and South Salt Lake. And yet the official reaction in Utah seems far better than Ferguson’s as far as fairness and justice are concerned.

Burbank said the officer’s name and the video will be made public eventually. But as he noted on KSL, the incident is part of an ongoing investigation, and in no other situation would evidence be released to the public while witnesses still are being interviewed and facts gathered.

In addition, the privacy of the officer involved and the safety of his family need to be taken into consideration, especially while tensions are high.

In Ferguson, the officer’s name was released under pressure from critics. The results of an autopsy on the victim were released, as well, with the disturbing conclusion that the suspect was shot multiple times. Evidence seems to be running ahead of judicial processes.

There are indications, as well, that police in Ferguson inflamed the situation by donning riot gear, imposing curfews and releasing video of the suspect committing an unrelated robbery. Burbank said the use of helmets and riot gear seems like an invitation for people to throw bottles and other objects.

It does more than that, however. It dehumanizes the officers, making them all look alike and hiding their facial features. It reinforces the notion that police are at war with the public rather than that they exist to protect people.

There are lawbreakers among the protesters, but such criminals tend to look for opportunities, and the chaos that results from an out-of-control situation gives them what they desire.

Burbank said he has declined to buy any surplus military equipment, and he has his officers approach most situations dressed in regular uniforms. His efforts to diffuse some tense confrontations have won him praise nationally.

And yet we must acknowledge that police officers face difficult and dangerous situations that sometimes demand force. They face decisions daily that demand the best training available.

At the moment, there are no clear answers in either case. Above all, justice takes time and it takes care. That is something that should not be forgotten in Utah or in Missouri.

Related Stories
Recommended
1. SCfan
clearfield, UT,
Aug. 20, 2014

Disagree with the tone of this on many fronts. First. The police as military? Come on. The police all over America are essentially the local military. Their training, weapons, ect. are all military oriented. Just about every department has a swat team. To read this article, one would think that the writer has been watching to much Andy Griffith Show, where the Andy does not even wear a gun, and his deputy Barny Fife carries one bullet. Next, to say the video of the robbery had nothing to do with the incident is not yet a fact in evidence, and logic would say that even if the officer did not know Mr. Brown was a suspect in a robbery, Mr. Brown knew he was, and likely could have been reacting to the police because he figured the police officer knew too. And finally, talk about a rush to judgement going on here. From all experts I've heard from, a grand jury is not convened until all evidence if in. This is clearly jury by mob rule. Many have already convicted the officer even though there is a lot of conflicting evidence.

2. Midvaliean
MIDVALE, UT,
Aug. 20, 2014

The truth is, the police are prepared for a violent encounter. So HOW can they get protesters to stop when it just keeps escalating. This is the disadvantage of our police, who are trained to kill, none of them seem to know how to De-escalate anything.

3. JoeBlow
Far East USA, SC,
Aug. 20, 2014

This article is also germane to the situation on the border in Texas where pseudo militia members are dressing up in camo's and working on the border.

"How do they identify themselves? Do they have badges? How do we know who they are?" asked J.P. Rodriguez, a spokesman for the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office. "If they're all just dressed in camos, it's kind of hard to distinguish whether they're law enforcement or not. ... There's a lot of potential for stuff to go wrong."

4. Kralon
HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA,
Aug. 20, 2014

This isn't just local police, it seems like every Federal agency also has a militarized police force.

5. 2 bits
Cottonwood Heights, UT,
Aug. 20, 2014

Instead of telling Police to avoid blurring the line between police and military... How about we encourage criminals to avoid blurring the line between individuals doing individual crimes, and mobs???

Mobs of people doing blind-rage crime blitzes require a near military response to protect innocent people in the neighborhood from being victims to these crimes.

What do you want the Police to do... just sit back and let mobs burn down the town???

===================

When a mob is going down the street breaking out windows and steeling everything from each building as they go... at that point you kinda need a semi-military response. Or at least more than an officer with a note pad asking questions and taking notes.

The response needs to fit the threat.

If mobs stop roaming the streets at night, looting, attacking people, etc... then the police can probably tone-down their response.

As long as mobs are roaming the streets committing mass crimes... there kinda needs to be a mass-response (which some are calling "military" response).

This small town calling in the National Guard and the State Police was the right thing to do (IMO).