Paramilitarization of Police

Death Dealer Cop T-Shirts Radley Balko wonders why a catalog selling off duty noveltywear to police officers is doing selling “Death Dealer” t-shirts.

It’s just another sign, I’m afraid, of the paramilitarization of our police forces. Cops have long emulated the military, aping their uniforms, haircuts, rank structure, and customs and courtesies. Often, to a rather absurd level wherein chiefs of small police departments wear the stars of a four-star general.

In many ways, the military is a good model of a professional bureaucracy. And bravery, sense of duty, and calm while in harm’s way are things we want our police to aspire to. At the same time, however, the military’s warrior ethos is antithetical to what we want from domestic law enforcement.

Soldiers are trained to kill without hesitation and adopt a macabre sense of humor as part of that transformation. Images of skulls and cutesy slogans about killing are often seen on t-shirts and bumper stickers.

  • Airborne: Death from Above.
  • Marine Sharpshooter: One Shot. One Kill.
  • Army Rangers: If we weren’t supposed to kill people, God wouldn’t let us be so good at it.
  • Special Forces – Mess with the Best, Die like the Rest.

And my personal favorite:

  • Join the Army: Travel to exotic distant lands. Meet exciting, unusual people. And kill them.

Cops, though, aren’t trigger pullers by mission. Desensitizing them to violence probably isn’t a good idea.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Military Affairs, Police,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Bithead says:

    Hmmm. To the point I was making yesterday, I wonder if this paramilitarization of our police, isn’t a symptom of the increasing perception that they’re part of the federal government, rather than a representitive of the local or state governemnts.

  2. Steve Plunk says:

    I would agree with Bit but add numerous other reasons.

    The fraternity of police officers had bred an us versus them attitude often reinforced by leadership. The availability of military style weapons and increased firepower. The inability of city councils and mayors to differentiate between real world and TV world law enforcement. All of these reasons and others are adding to this problem.

    The change is going to have to come from the top. A refocus to serve the public rather than see the public as all potential offenders. The acceptance of risk in the job and the understanding of how power can be abused. A complete unlinking of law enforcement action and revenue generation including the often abused overtime provisions for court appearances.

    The causes and many and the cures are many.

  3. PD Shaw says:

    Just anecdotally there appear to me to be a lot of former military in the police force. I assume that’s because of some similar interests, as well as preferential hires.

  4. anjin-san says:

    The general erosion for respect of the rule of law under Bush no doubt is also part of the problem. The president is not a respecter of the rights of citizens, and there is a trickle down effect from that…

  5. I guess it all depends on the meaning of the word “is” Anjin-san.

    Is there any subject on earth that doesn’t launch you into a diatribe on George Bush in under one sentence?

  6. Bithead says:

    Just anecdotally there appear to me to be a lot of former military in the police force. I assume that’s because of some similar interests, as well as preferential hires.

    That’s a factor as well, but it’s easy to understand why it’s so; such people have a level of discipline and the ability to work under pressure, and given the level of training the military gets anymore in handling people, they’re already several rungs up on the usual CJ student.

    I guess it all depends on the meaning of the word “is” Anjin-san.

    Is there any subject on earth that doesn’t launch you into a diatribe on George Bush in under one sentence?

    Well, you know how it is; a man with a hammer sees every problem as a nail.
    (Muffled laughter)

  7. anjin-san says:

    Is there any subject on earth that doesn’t launch you into a diatribe on George Bush in under one sentence?

    Jazz…

  8. An Interested Party says:

    Is there any subject on earth that doesn’t launch some around here into a diatribe on government in general and the federal government in particular in under one sentence?

  9. Andy says:

    Is there any subject on earth that doesn’t launch some around here into a diatribe on government in general and the federal government in particular in under one sentence?

    Why else would I be reading the comments section of a political blog? I have an axe to grind and, by God, you’re all going to know about it.