Humble Cop Not So Humble in Denying Police Militarization
by Justin 165
About a week ago, PoliceOne.com, which touts itself as “revolutionizing the way the law enforcement community finds relevant news,” published an article titled, “Police militarization and one cop’s humble opinion” (1). I read this article with a mix of assumption and curiosity. I falsely assumed the article would be an exercise in apologetics; it is more denial than justification. On the other hand, I was curious about what I might learn from the justifications. Again, there were virtually no justifications, only denials and attacks on writers who warn Americans of the growing militarization of police forces and tactics.
I am not here to debate whether or not American police forces are increasingly militarized. You can read about it everyday, SWAT teams being sent out to handle code violations (2), to raid (3), and to arrest other non-violent suspects. A recent article (4) in The New Yorker details a SWAT raid to confiscate cars through civil asset forfeiture due a lack of permits for a party hosted by the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit. No, I am not here to convince you. If you follow Oregon Cop Block (5) or any other police accountability groups then you need no convincing. I am here to explain why Officer Doug Deaton’s article is such a pathetic attempt at denial by the very police state whose existence he would deny.
The problems with this article begin with the title and Deaton’s claim to be just a “humble cop,” perhaps of the Andy Griffith variety. He makes this claim to humility then takes a thickly pseudo-academic tone throughout the article. Presumably writing from his most humble ivory tower, Deaton accuses Balko and Kraska of logical fallacies, for example, throwing around terms like post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning and confirmation bias while making vague references to “the available literature.” Meanwhile, he never cites any of that literature to back up his many accusations and claims.
That is, of course, the real problem here. Aside from his hypocritical lack of humility, Deaton accuses of cherry picking facts those who are writing about the militarization of police, yet Deaton himself makes spurious claims without offering any supporting evidence from “the available literature.” The fact that he says things like, “Police in the 1950s could — and did — use serious force much more often than modern officers,” without offering any supporting evidence for that claim shows Deaton betrays Deaton’s pseudo-academic tone. It is as if he expects us to just believe him on his own authority because he is a cop, and we all know anything a cop says must be true and trustworthy. Nice try… you almost slipped that argument ad verecundium (6) by us unawares. Very sly Officer Deaton, very sly indeed. You are a cop, not historian or a philosopher.
Further evidence of Deaton’s humility is the condescending tone he takes throughout his article. You can detect the stench as early as the first sentence with his cute use of literary finger quotes, which I have tried to reproduce in plenty throughout this response. The smell gets stronger in the second sentence where Deaton refers to “anger-filled” bloggers in some innocently modest attempt to paint his opposition as whiney armchair activist kids living in their parents’ basements and eating too much pizza. Surely this is the literary style of one with but a humble opinion to offer. Not to mention that the tactic of attacking a person rather than their argument is a logical fallacy called an argument ad hominem (7).I thought you would find that interesting Officer Deaton, since you are clearly fond of throwing around logical fallacies to show what a humble cop you are.
There are more concerning issues with Deaton’s denial of the growing militarization of American police forces, issues that are more serious than his hypocritical lack of humility. One of these issues is Deaton’s accusation that writers like Balko and Kraska ignore final court rulings regarding police abuse and misconduct in favor of “preliminary and anecdotal reports,” and that they therefore rely on “incomplete source material” when claiming that police forces are becoming increasingly militarized. Deaton is operating under the assumption that our system of “justice” is completely flawless and never makes mistakes in its omniscient judgement. He assumes, or hopes we assume, that from incident to courtroom police officers are always honest and never lie in the interest of preserving their paycheck. This is a dangerous assumption. It is precisely this widespread belief that cops are necessarily upright and honest that allows them so frequently to get away with breaking laws, abusing people, and lying about it under oath (If you have any doubt as to whether or not cops lie on a regular basis, Former San Francisco Police Commissioner Peter Keane wrote this article (8)for the San Francisco Chronicle, giving us important insight into the police culture of lying).
Officer Deaton continues with this line of disconcerting false assumption when he claims that court rulings about the right to have guns, and limiting search and seizure mean that police could not possibly be militarized. Again, he offers no evidence that this is the case, citing none of these court cases or the research that proves these cases have had the effect of preventing the militarization of police forces. But that is not the point. The point is again trust and honesty, that argument from authority of which we should always be wary. Are we really supposed to take Officer Deaton at his word that because court cases exist limiting search and seizure and affirming the right to gun ownership, that this means police are not finding loop holes to exploit, that cops do not ever break the law and then lie about it, that there is no massive increase in the use of SWAT teams and tactical force to serve warrants for non-violent offenses and code violations, that there is no increase in the stockpile and use of militarized weapons (9) and vehicles (10) among American police forces? I personally have witnessed cops lie under oath frequently enough to know better than to have such blind faith in the trustworthiness of tools for an institution who’s primary objective is not to serve the public, but rather is social control and the maintenance and preservation of a systemic status quo that inequitably distributes wealth and power to a small few(11).
Mention of the increase in militarized weapons among police departments brings us to one last claim made by Deaton that needs to be addressed. It is a strange turn of the screw, but after spending an entire article trying to deny the militarization of police forces, he then claims that all the militarized, or rather “specialized equipment” police are buying up is just protective, and actually isn’t really a big deal anyway because many industries use “military-inspired technology.” Deaton does give us some examples of such industries including trauma medicine, aviation, video games, GPS navigation, and SUVs but again, given his humbly drab academic tone I’m surprised he doesn’t cite any academic sources that show in exactly what manner these technologies are actually military-inspired.
The claim is flawed regardless of the tone. For one, most of these are products not industries, and police departments are not, nor should they be, industries. Therefore the analogy is flawed (since Officer Deaton likes to play school…). But the analogy falls apart for other reasons as well. People may drive SUVs and use GPS to find a route from home to the grocery store. People may play video games with war-inspired narratives or Air Force flight simulator-inspired graphics. However, the difference between these examples and the militarization of police is one of power and force. On the one hand we have games and cars. On the other hand we have tear gas, pepper spray, and mini-tanks. A family is not driving an SUV, a child is not playing video games, and a doctor is not performing surgery with the purpose of controlling and subduing people through force.
The only reason for police to use military-inspired technology is to increase their weapons capability and their ability to exert force on the communities they are tasked with patrolling and controlling. The whole purpose of a police department’s equipment is to impose violence, whether that violence is in the name of “justice” or not, and to protect themselves if and when people actually get fed up enough to fight back against state oppression. Domestic warfare is the purpose this technology serves, and that is the difference. It better equips police to surveil, track, engage, and exert power and force over undesirable communities because they, law enforcement agencies in general and not doctors or SUV driving parents, are granted a monopoly on the state-sanctioned use of force and violence.