It is hard to not peek at the police violence situation that has been happening in the US. Even for those who do not agree on systemic racism or want to defend police use of force, it is becoming hard to not acknowledge that there is a problem. And this problem is not only attached to narratives like racism, but it is attached to how the police work. The problem in the US police force is twofold, on one side it is one of the most well-funded institutions in the states. On the other side, it isn't.
The claims that police is the most funded sector of the states is a claim that only looks at half of the problem. Due to the complex way of governing in the United States we can be misled by budget proposals. For example, the proposed unrestricted budget for the Los Angels' city points the spending on police as 50%. But if we take in attention to both state and county spending those 50% are dropped to 23%. The fact that budgets overlap leaves us to analyse several budget proposals and opening more space for misinformation pushed by only analysing at one side of the investing of a geographical area. Having into consideration how much goes into payroll we could argue that a margin of this 23 % is funding the police gear. Richard C. Auxier in the Urban Institute went into deeper detail about the complexities of overlapping budgets and what it means to defund police. It is important to highlight that the majority of this funding goes directly into payroll, having little gone directly into equipment and the majority of non-salary funding goes into maintaining equipment, but this equipment furthers divides into vehicles, gas, office equipment, ammunition and even extra-contractual services. Having in consideration that we are talking of maintenance expenses there is two option for budget-cutting inside the police department, maintenance cuts that will lead to deterioration of equipment or cutting in salaries or overtimes.
What is the danger of the cuts? The danger is that if the officers get the general impression that their salaries are being cut because of public opinion than we can expect police officers not wanting this to happen. Their reaction can range from protests for their salaries to become more aggressive in their duties. This would just be fuelling an aggressiveness in the police force that already exists.
The root of increased police violence in the United States can be traced to the War on Drugs era started by Richard Nixon and accelerated by Ronald Reagan. The funding of police and police training with the military was increased with the pretext of the War on Drugs. Acts like the Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement or the National Guard Drug Enforcement Assistance have militarized the police, and lead to what is known as the 1033 program or the National Defense Authorization. The 1033 programme aimed to transfer excess military equipment to be used by law enforcement in drug-related law enforcement. This programme was created in 1997 and expanded on the same year since police officers were concerned for their lives on the aftermath of the Bank assault in North Hollywood in which the criminals were carrying assault rifles and body armour.
So due to several factors and fear over the War on Drugs many police departments had access to excess military equipment. This push leads to the more regular deployment of special SWAT teams to situations mostly involving no-knock warrants. The increase of no-knock warrants leads to mistakes like the José Guerena case in which an ex-us marine was shot down by the SWAT during a no-knock warrant operation to his house that revealed no drug traces nor criminal activity, Guerena had no criminal record and has served the U.S. in two Iraq tours.
Mistakes like these are more and more prevalent in American society and the fact that American police is now more effective in killing creates an even worrying situation in their modus operandi.
The withdraw of troops from Iraq in 2011 just lead to an even more increase of the 1033 programme with many military pieces of equipment from guns, to anti-vehicle weapons like bazookas and military transportation; being brought to police departments. But does the equipment make a police officer more aggressive? As a study written by Delehanty, Mewhirter, Welch and Jason Wilks concludes, it is hard to correlate police violence with the equipment they use but it is known that if that equipment isn't available than police violence won't have a lethal degree. On the other side, it is important to notice that police training with the military does shape the police officer like a soldier, and this may increase the violence.
Police officers and soldiers have very different modus operandi, police officers work on a base of innocence, in which every individual involved in a situation is innocent until proven guilty. While a soldier in war works with trying to identify two groups, the enemy, and the non-enemy, with the final objective of eliminating the enemy and try to not kill the non-enemy.
There is the argument that cooperation between police and military is necessary for the War on Terror, but this is a tricky argument because it does not specify what is the role of police if they train with the military.
If the cooperation is between handing over control of a terrorist situation to the military than this argument has some power inside the assumption that the war on terror brings more good than harm. But if the cooperation is to make the police do the work of the military in these situations than the training will be similar and thus the modus operandi will be similar as well.
If you are not convinced by this argument let me present you one of the most militarised police battalions of the world, the “Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais”, also known as BOPE. BOPE is the special operations battalion of the police of Rio de Janeiro, it is very restricted and has few members being essentially a battalion that is only called to intervene when the situation asks for killing. The battalion does training operations with various armies from around the world. The BOPE is known to intervene in the favelas in which the crime is usually armed with assault rifles. The battalion enters the favelas with assault rifles, body armour and MRAP style cars, totally prepared for war and with the modus operandi of killing the criminal and trying to keep the population out of the crossfire.
The behaviour of BOPE this past 10 year as changed with a progressive change to a more typical special operation police that prepares itself to deal with hostages and communication with criminals. But the old BOPE is the perfect example of how the US police can slowly evolve to, military trained and militarily equipped police force that will develop a military modus operandi.
It is then time to conclude that police brutality has many factors in favour of it instead of against it. It is necessary to stop programs that incentivise military training for the police force and provide military equipment.
The War on Drugs has presented itself has a failure in what it was supposed to combat, being inefficient and having similar, but out of proportion escalated, effects to the prohibition phase in the sates.
More crime has been created, the consume has risen and incarceration costs the US a chunk of 3% of all the spending of state and county money. And now it has given the US a militarized police force that instead of keeping the peace has a modus operandi of a soldier.
The solution is to separate police from the military, and make sure that if such military-like interventions are necessary we have a specialized force that has military and police training, a force that its sole job is to intervene in terror situations or bank heists. To expect the same police to oversee protests will lead to unwanted behaviour on both sides of protests, we cannot expect a soldier mentality to keep peace in a protest.