Steyn on Ferguson and police militarization: “You’re doing it wrong.”

August 17

Mark  Steyn is not to everyone’s tastes. (Just as Michael Mann.)  But I suspect many who otherwise dislike Steyn’s work will find much with which they agree in his latest: “Cigars, But Not Close.”  Here’s a taste:

The most basic problem is that we will never know for certain what happened. Why? Because the Ferguson cruiser did not have a camera recording the incident. That’s simply not credible. “Law” “enforcement” in Ferguson apparently has at its disposal tear gas, riot gear, armored vehicles and machine guns …but not a dashcam. That’s ridiculous. I remember a few years ago when my one-man police department in New Hampshire purchased a camera for its cruiser. It’s about as cheap and basic a police expense as there is. . . . In 2014, when a police cruiser doesn’t have a camera, it’s a conscious choice. And it should be regarded as such.

And, if we have to have federal subsidy programs for municipal police departments, we should scrap the one that gives them the second-hand military hardware from Tikrit and Kandahar and replace it with one that ensures every patrol car has a camera.

It’s not just the lack of dashcams, which serve both to document potential police abuses as well as to protect police officers from false accusations.  It’s also how too many police forces relate to their communities, which can be a problem even in the absence of racial disparities.

when the police are dressed like combat troops, it’s not a fashion faux pas, it’s a fundamental misunderstanding of who they are. Forget the armored vehicles with the gun turrets, forget the faceless, helmeted, anonymous Robocops, and just listen to how these “policemen” talk. Look at the video as they’re arresting the New York Times [sic] and Huffington Post reporters. Watch the St Louis County deputy ordering everyone to leave, and then adding: “This is not up for discussion.”

Really? You’re a constable. You may be carrying on like the military commander of an occupying army faced with a rabble of revolting natives, but in the end you’re a constable. And the fact that you and your colleagues in that McDonald’s are comfortable speaking to your fellow citizens like this is part of the problem. The most important of the “nine principles of good policing” (formulated by the first two commissioners of the Metropolitan Police in 1829 and thereafter issued to every officer joining the force) is a very simple one: The police are the public and the public are the police. Not in Ferguson. Long before the teargassing begins and the bullets start flying, the way these guys talk is the first indication of how the remorseless militarization has corroded the soul of American policing.

Which brings us back to the death of Michael Brown. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that everything the police say about this incident is correct. In that case, whether or not the fatal shooting of Mr Brown is a crime, it’s certainly a mistake. When an unarmed shoplifter in T-shirt and shorts with a five-buck cigar box in one hand has to be shot dead, you’re doing it wrong.

And it’s not just in Ferguson. As Steyn noted in another column a few months back: “in America 120,000 or so full-time law enforcement officers rack up the same number of homicides as about 24 million Canadians.”

Jonathan H. Adler teaches courses in constitutional, administrative, and environmental law at the Case Western University School of Law, where he is the inaugural Johan Verheij Memorial Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Business Law and Regulation.
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Jonathan H. Adler · August 17