We need accountability, not militarization of the police

Zach Petroff | Opinions Editor

Jan. 26, 2023

The militarization of the police force is closer to Pittsburgh than you think.

This past weekend, three Pittsburghers were arrested during a riot in Atlanta and charged with domestic terrorism, arson in the first degree, criminal damage in the second degree and interference with government property, according to police.

They were protesting an 85-acre, $90 million training facility that is being referred to as “Cop City.” This comes days after the police fatally shot 26-year-old activist Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, who police said shot first and wounded an officer.

This is one of those events that requires a lot of unpacking and nuance, but the talking points have been centered around the same stale arguments to feed the always sensationalized hunger of divided politics.

The militarization of police is a run-away train that is headed full steam to violently crash into American freedoms, all while being cheered on by a growing segment of the population.

It has been my experience that bringing up criticism about the police is met with a quick and staunch resistance often accompanied by some anecdote on some loose relation to or affiliation with someone in law enforcement.

It’s exhausting.

When did respecting or supporting a group mean the void of accountability? I know we have become accustomed to swimming in the pool of male toxicity, but this blind allegiance to a group of people is dangerous.

It’s especially dangerous when that group of people have a lot of guns.

And we’re buying them more. Along with tanks.

There are some hard truths about the police. It’s time to recognize that law-enforcement has not been as efficient as efficient as the public may believe. This has led to a growing distrust from communities.

Police do not have to be good at their jobs because we the public, don’t require them to.

They don’t solve crimes, according to Shima Baughman, professor of criminal law at the University of Utah and the author of the 2020 academic study titled, “How Effective Are Police? The Problem of Clearance Rates and Criminal Accountability.” She found that about 11% of all serious crimes result in an arrest and about 2% end in a conviction.

“What I call the ‘criminal accountability’ rate – is very low,” Baughman wrote in the study.

Police are not obligated to protect the public.

In Warren v. District of Columbia, the D.C. Court of Appeals held that police have “general public duty” but otherwise “no specific legal duty exists.”

A theme the courts have upheld the past three decades.

The true obligation of law enforcement is to protect property. This is how they operate. You can wear all the “blue lives matter” paraphernalia you want, but when push comes to shove, the police department’s priority historically has been to protect the property of the elite.

They are not required to report their data to the FBI. There are massive holes in the informational flow of what occurs at the local police station and the national level. This has been a continuing complaint from heads of the FBI.

“It is unacceptable that The Washington Post and The Guardian newspaper from the U.K. are becoming the lead source of information about violent encounters between police and civilians,” James Comey, former director of the FBI, said in 2015.

A lack of transparency goes hand-in-hand with a lack of accountability.

The idea of training our police to essentially be better at violence can only create a state that is ruled by fear. The use of modern war weapons and equipment to monitor our communities is a dangerous precedent that mirrors occupation usually found in developing nations.

The encouragement along with the mindset that is accompanied with the militarization promotes an eagerness for violence. Infantry military personnel are not trained in crisis management, they are not trained to use warning shots, instead they are trained to put threats down as quickly and efficiently as possible.

If it sounds like I have disdain for the police, that is not my intention. The police deserve more than lip-service or blind allegiance. Social media posts do not stop bullets. To truly protect those that decided to pick up a badge for the betterment of our community, we need to hold them to a much higher standard along with providing them the proper support in a changing world.

Giving police more guns and higher budgets is not going to protect them from violence or outrage from our communities. The lack of standards, diversity, physical fitness requirements, continuing training and the integration of social worker and trained psychological professionals are leaving those in blue stranded.

We already put too much on the often under-trained police plate. They are forced to wear many hats while being both under paid and overworked.

Our police and our communities deserve better and that happens when we prioritize accountability over militarization.