Maj Gen US Army (ret) John R. Hawkins III, JD, MPA is President and CEO of Hawkins Solutions Intl.
Many Black and other United States leaders believe the transfer of large amounts of military equipment to local police forces is ill advised and needs to be lessened since the violence in Ferguson, Missouri and places like it. The public was bombarded with images of armored M-113 military trucks with machine gun facing unarmed protesters who, if armed, possibly had rocks or bottles.
The underlying actions of the police during events such as the shooting of Michael Brown and Chicago police shooting of Laquan McDonald 16 times seems to be the bigger issue. If there is any problem with police departments having superior fire power than those they must arrest, it is not the presence of such equipment but the use of the equipment. Remember, the shooting was done by a “bad cop” with a service pistol, not by a crew served weapon on an armored vehicle. Further, clearly, what is termed in the military “…showing the enemy a sea of green”, as a way to frighten advisories is not the proper way for local police to deal with unarmed civil protesters.
Given the improper use by local police officers of transferred military equipment, what is needed from the military is not less equipment but more from the military in the form of training; particularly training in when not to use military equipment that may tend to heighten civil disobedience.
I am sure that we all appreciate the need for local police to have military type equipment given the recent terrorist caused violence in Paris and San Bernardino. There is a place for the over $450 million in military transferred equipment to local police forces. There is, however, a need for better training in the use of all equipment and, more importantly, better training of local police in proper behavior in when and how to use force. Training such as that used to train the behavior of military personnel and particularly in the training of military police warrants close consideration.
In military police training, as in most institutional training, what comes first and comprises a substantial percentage of the training connotes what is most important. In the US Army Military Police Operations Law and Order Course which is required of all military police, the first 3 blocks of instruction are: “Military Law, Interpersonal Communication Skills and Determine the Level of Force.” All of these are before and longer in duration than the section on operating crew served weapons. The emphasis on all military training centers on the principles of selfless service, duty, honor and accountability. It is made clear to all from the first day of training that all will be held accountable for their actions and that severe consequences await violators with open, notorious and transparent reporting of disciplinary actions.
Local police departments could benefit from this type of behavior emphasized training and discipline. The emphasis throughout is on the need to best determine how to use force, only using lethal weapons as a last resort. The building of self-confidence and reliance on training over fear is at the core of such training, while fear of those confronted seems to be a constant issue in recent shootings by local police.
As an example of what is different for local police officer issues involving behavior, the Maryland “Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights” review board of police actions consists only of police officers and outcomes can be classified as “personnel actions” and are hence not public records.
Further it seems improper when police do not act in keeping with the Department of Justice recommended “Use of Force Continuum.” Among other provisions, the “continuum” method of determining the level of force needed to perform police duties is the general principle that the level of force used should be tailored to the nature of the threat that prompted its use.
It is not lost on me having served in the streets of Kabul Afghanistan and Bosnia, that we often walked the streets and interacted with the people to garner their trust and to help them understand we were present to protect them – not harm them; another lesson local police can learn from the military.
More from the military can be helpful to local police. However, it should not be hardware, but good training with transparent discipline.
Maj Gen US Army (ret) John R. Hawkins III, JD, MPA is President and CEO of Hawkins Solutions Intl., a government relations and lobby company. His last military assignment as a “two star” was Dir., Human Resources Directorate for the Army world-wide and prior to that Deputy Chief Public Affairs for the Army, world-wide.