We get a new police for our New America, but prefer not to see these changes

Summary: Today we look at changes in American law enforcement, another aspect of the New America rising around us. We have been slow to see this, despite increasingly loud warnings during the past 2 decades. Now that the evidence has become too loud to ignore, many American respond with active denial. It’s a test of our ability to see the world and respond to it. No republic, no matter how powerful, can prosper with apathetic and passive citizens. Either it will fall, or others will take the reins of government.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

Police are our Standing Army



  1. Denial of New America.
  2. Mass incarceration.
  3. Shoot first!
  4. Spread of the SWAT teams.
  5. Militarization of police.
  6. For More Information

(1)  We’re changing, but deny it

By now everybody sees to some degree that a New America arises on the ruins of the America-that-once-was. Our reactions to this will determine our future. So far as I can see in the comments to my posts about this, the most common reaction is denial. We see this with the people on both the Left and Right who refuse to see that the world has been warming for 2 centuries — due to both natural and anthropogenic causes, and to a score of other problems as or more serious. It’s obvious in the comments to yesterday’s post about the evolution of police in America.

It works well for us, defusing any need to act — and justifies our apathy and passivity in the face of otherwise terrifying trends. Such as the evolution of law enforcement in America, trends with few precedents in our history or western history — excerpt in nations facing outright insurgencies.

(2)  Mass incarceration

Perhaps nothing shows the scale of the madness in our dysfunctional law enforcement system as our incarceration policies. Notably the acceptance of routine rape in prison and the fantastic increase in the prison population.

For evidence of the latter see this brief report by the Population Reference Bureau, and especially these graphs. These 2 graphs tell the tale. Has anything changed in the past few decades? For more details see the links at the Wikipedia entry. Click here to see the incarceration rate over time in your State.

Number of people incarcerated in the US

Percent of population incarcerated by nation

(3)  Shoot first!

One driver of increased shootings by police was “How Close is Too Close” by Dennis Tuller in the March 1983 issue of SWAT magazine. His conclusion:

How long does it take for you to draw your handgun and place two center hits on a man-size target at seven yards? Those of us who have learned and practiced proper pistolcraft techniques would say that a time of about one and one-half seconds is acceptable for that drill. … {What is} the “Danger Zone” if you are confronted by an adversary armed with an edged or blunt weapon. At what distance does this adversary enter your Danger Zone and become a lethal threat to you?

We have done some testing along those lines recently and have found that an average healthy adult male can cover the traditional seven yard distance in a time of (you guessed it) about one and one-half seconds. It would be safe to say then that an armed attacker at 21 feet is well within your Danger Zone.

Since the legal doctrine for police use of force is the degree to which the officer feel threatened, anyone within 21 feet becomes a threat justifying shooting — no matter how violent he or she looks, the number of police present, or their armor and weapons.

The NY Times reports that recent events have forced police departments to reconsider this doctrine, and more broadly how police apply force. I suspect the pressure comes not just from the bad publicity and the protests, but as local governments (and taxpayers) realize the large sums being paid in legal settlements for excessive police violence. Baltimore paid $5.7 to 100 people over 4 years.

Excessive shootings are just one aspect of police racism and use of excess force. LA police chief Daryl Gates pioneered our new age of militarized policing. The 1991 “Report of the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department” documented the resulting horrific behavior by the LAPD, concluding that…

“There is a significant number of officers in the LAPD who repetitively use excessive force against the public and persistently ignore the written guidelines of the department regarding force. … The failure to control these officers is a management issue that is at the heart of the problem.”  {source}

Tolerance of brutal and corrupt police officers has been an expensive policy for Los Angeles. They paid over $125 million for incidents in the Rampart scandal, with policy brutality a key part — and that’s just on item on the ledger.

(4)  Spread of the SWAT teams, leading edge of militarization

First created by the infamous LA police Chief Daryl Gates in 1965, his concept of Special Weapons Attack Teams has spread across the nation (renamed for less accurate but better PR as Special Weapons and Tactics).  This NY Times article and video documentary tells the tale.

To see how we got here read “Militarizing Mayberry and Beyond: Making Sense of American Paramilitary Policing” by P B Kraska and L J Cubellis, Justice Quarterly, December 1997. Almost every city in America has a SWAT team. By 1996, 65% of small towns 25,000-50,000 people) had a SWAT team, with another 8% planning to get one.

We have little hard data on the use of SWAT teams. From a few hundred per year in the 1970s the number of SWAT “deployments” has grown to perhaps 80,000 per year. In two-thirds of these raids entry is forced (e.g., a ram or explosive). Where they suspect drugs, roughly 1/3 of the raids find none, ditto when they suspect weapons are present (this is important, as drugs and weapons often justify the search and forced entry).

To see the shocking results read Randy Balko’s 2006 CATO report, “Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America“. Also see this chilling interview with Balko, or read his Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces. To see SWAT teams in their full glory read his “Raid of the Day” column.

(5)  Militarization of police

SWAT teams are the cutting edge of police militarization, but money is its driver. Always looking for new markets, the defense industry teamed up with our domestic authoritarians to have Congress pass the 1033 Program in the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 1997.  By 2014 it had transferred $5.1 billion in military hardware from DoD to police since 1997; $449 million was transferred in 2013 (source here). For details see the links in the Wikipedia entry.

For a heavily documented description of the result see the 2014 ACLU report “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing“. Nobody can read this then deny we have a problem, or that policing in America has radically changed during the past several decades.

An estimated 500 law enforcement agencies have received Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles built to withstand armor-piercing roadside bombs.

(6)  For More Information

For a deeper understanding of what’s happening on our streets I recommend “The New Age of Counterinsurgency Policing” at TomDispatch.

For more about this see Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces (2014) and John T. Whitehead’s A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State (2013). Also see The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010) by legal scholar Michelle Alexander. For good about life on the streets of America see Arrest-Proof Yourself by Dale C. Carson and Wes Denham.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about the police, especially these:

  1. We are alone in the defense of the Republic.
  2. Do not talk to the police (important advice in New America).
  3. Police grow more powerful; the Republic slides another step into darkness. Can cellphone cameras save us?
  4. Shootings by police show their evolution into “security services”, bad news for the Republic.
  5. News good & bad about the fantastic growth of America’s security services.
  6. We can’t fix police violence because we don’t know the cause.

Evolution of a local police officer.

11 thoughts on “We get a new police for our New America, but prefer not to see these changes”

  1. Pingback: The "I'm Just Going To Leave This Here" Thread - Please Add Your "Finds" - Page 6

  2. Why do you blame the police for the incarceration rate? In our country we have judges and juries.
    In Britain and my own country South Africa the public prosecutor will only prosecute if they know that they stand a chance of getting a conviction.
    In America it seems every one has a gun (more guns than citizens) if I was a cop there I would also take a proactive approach.

      1. Sorry, you did not say that the police were responsible for the incarceration rate but …
        Your whole article was about the police. You never mention the judges, juries or public prosecutors and the charts and tables were about incarceration rates if there is no connection between the two then why did you quote them?
        My argument is that police do the arresting and investigating not the prosecuting or the sentencing so why quote the incarceration rates for all the states when they don’t have a thing to do with it.

      2. Zander,

        “You didn’t mention…”

        This post discusses what is happening, and that many Americans do not see this. It does not present the Cosmic All.

        There are many other aspects of this problem, most of which are more complex. What are the causes? What are the secondary effects — on Black families, on police officers as individuals, on society, etc. What is the past history of these matters in the U.S. And other nations around the world, for comparison. What are trends in these things? What are forecasts? What are so.utions.

        I could write a million words and still get comments saying that I did not mention some vital aspect.

  3. Fabius Maximus,

    The problem here is one of over correction and failures on the part of the American electorate. I believe that 40 years ago, you could find politicians in one or both parties that would in fact stand on a platform that included something other than “tough on crime” policies. That’s no longer the case. This is due to the fact that Americans have elected none of them back into office. And the political establishment has noticed this and now takes it for granted that in order to get a majority of the vote, you have to establish your “tough on crime” “sheriff” mentality and demeanor.

    For national politicians, this bleeds into our foreign policy as well, where boneheads look like heroes for never compromising the tough guy position and counterproductive aggressiveness can still be seen as weakness if you aren’t sufficiently mean spirited and ready to attack.

    The reason these positions have stabilized is because they were/are popular. Americans today don’t have the energy or care to differentiate between bad guys and just want a moral option that lets us do what we want. We can torture and kill and allow rape because they’re bad and bad people get what they deserve. That was true for Nazis and Communists and is now true for gang members, Al Qaeda, and drug cartels.

    This, though, has become an over correction as we label larger and larger groups of people evil for lesser and lesser crimes and activities. I am hopeful that the authorities seem unable to see how large a problem this is for so large a group of Americans. I don’t think they’ll adapt to this. I think the cops today have grown up for so long in the climate of tough response that they won’t back off this position, and I think that if played correctly a coalition arrayed against aggressive police brutality and the drug war could arise.

    PF Khans

    1. PFK,

      I agree 100%. I have said similar things, but not so concisely or so well. This goes back to my primary observation: we are the weak link in the Republic. As an explanation it works well, but is operationally almost useless.

      Hence the difficulty of writing about ways to reform America. Most conventional reform theory assumes that we are good, but have an enemy (foreign or domestic). The problem here is more similar to that of evangelists seek to start a reformation or revival. Unfortunately the methods of doing so are less developed than those for political reform developed during the past few centuries.

    2. Fabius Maximus,

      I think that the seeds of this new “tough on crime/war” Republic are born already. The media does duty by parroting the official line but they also run for profit and so “if it bleeds, it leads.”

      Interestingly, this hits the cops where it hurts. While it is true to an extent that everyone wants to be a tough guy, as Yuval Noal notes here: “The theatre of terror“, The Guardian — ”
      Terrorists have almost no military strength so they create a spectacle. How should states respond? The author of Sapiens, a history of humanity, reflects on the past, and alarming future, of the fear factor.”

      the reason we respond to a small terror attack the way we do is because the state’s legitimacy is tied up heavily in the elimination of violence.

      What the cops are doing now is actually generating regular displays of violence on America’s TV screens. That can’t stand. I believe that we roll deeper down the hole of excessive force at home and abroad only when it costs us nothing (in return violence) to do so. The riots, while not an effective political response, threatens the legitimacy of America’s state and thus requires the state to react intelligently or actually suffer damage.

      The solution here might be to turn the state’s counter-productive attempts to provide security on its head. Thus demonstrating its illegitimacy and generating momentum towards its reform.

      PF Khans

      1. PFK,

        That’s an interesting interpretation of events. The next Gallup poll on Confidence in Institutions — or other similar polls — will tell us how these events have been absorbed by the different peoples in America. Predicting such things is something I have no skill at, and so will make no guesses.

  4. Excellent Post and list of links. I also like the discussion alleging that the citizens actually sanction this growing excessive force. Similarly the idea that we use this type of force and sanction it tacitly because it costs us “nothing” in the sense of no counter actions of force is spot on and symptomatic of the so called passivity and lack of moral outrage in the citizenry.

    Americans as a silly generalization but as a befuddling rule, just basically could give a spit about almost nothing that does not directly impact their little world. There is an unwillingness to move beyond a very elementary level of abstraction in this Land.

    To wit….in the prior post, someone offered a very glib “Reply” that went something like….Don’t break the Law and you won’t have any trouble with the Cops. But it was not glibness for them.
    That was just about as far as they could take the subject!

    Good luck out here,

  5. Pingback: Reforms are coming to America’s police, either with them or over them. Which? | Occupy The Bronx

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