Police: Militarization and Excess

United States President Barack Obama imposed gun controls and banned the delivery of weapons and military equipment to local police authorities yesterday, before there might be the “substantial risk of misuse or excessive use” of objects such as armored vehicles with articulated wheels, high-caliber firearms and camouflage equipment, whose use in riot operations could, in addition, undermine the already battered public confidence in law enforcement agencies. The provision also applies to armed aircraft and armored vehicles, grenade launchers, bayonets and ammunition of caliber .50 or higher. The decision, although late, takes place after a sequence of police killings of unarmed citizens in several locations in the neighboring country of the United States, that have generated riots of varying intensity in several counties and states.

Also yesterday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (SRE) asked U.S. authorities to revise protocols governing lethal force used by police forces, whose abuse has cost the lives of several nationals, the last being Rubén García Villalpando, murdered on Feb. 20 in Grapevine, Texas, by agent Robert Clark, who was acquitted by a Texas jury.

Such facts show the dangerous distortion that has been developing for several years to date in the purpose and tasks of any police force faced with militarization in all aspects that are wrongful and counterproductive. In effect, civilian police officers should be devoted to ensuring the safety, integrity and property of individuals, preventing the commission of crimes, preserving public peace, insuring the compliance of laws and regulations, as well as investigating, identifying, locating and arresting alleged criminals to bring them to court. Recourse to procedures, equipment and military weapons should, by this logic, be limited to small special police forces in charge, for example, of confronting and resolving hostage-taking and other dangerous, violent and exceptional situations.

Nonetheless, both the United States and Mexico have normalized images of police officers equipped with assault rifles, helmets and bulletproof vests, armored personnel carriers, or officers equipped with heavy machine guns and other instruments of the armed forces. This reflects an improper transfer of military thought processes that advocate the necessary preparation for confronting and annihilating an enemy force. And to the extent that the only enemies the police can keep an eye on are members of the population – be they innocent or suspected criminals – this proliferates, in both countries, each in their own circumstances, the killings by law enforcement officials.

Certainly in our country, the advance of organized crime and its equipment and firepower forces police officials to resort to using the army’s police weapons. But it would be more appropriate to professionalize, intensify and improve intelligence work to dismantle criminal organizations in the least violent way possible, to avoid provoking confrontations that turn shooting into fighting and to avoid endangering the lives and property of innocent people.

Concerning the neighboring nation, it would be enough to ban the sale of military grade weapons to civilians in order to substantially reduce the risk that weighs on law enforcement, which, in view of the numerous murders that have been recently committed, would re-educate communities about the reputation of police for service rather than for killing suspects. And in both nations it is necessary to confront and eradicate the widespread impunity that legally benefits police each time they commit an abuse.

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