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Photo Credit: Elvert Barnes/Flickr

Police Militarization Doesn’t Actually Reduce Crime or Save Officers’ Lives

In 2015, in response to law enforcement’s heavy-handed repression of Ferguson demonstrators outraged by Michael Brown’s death, then-President Barack Obama chose to curtail Bush-era programs that provided military equipment to police departments across the country.

While the policy change didn’t wholly demilitarize the police, it did put an end to the use of armored, tracked vehicles and .50 caliber munitions.

Unfortunately, one year ago, President Donald Trump — at Attorney General Jeff Session’s behest — signed off on an executive order which rolled back these changes.

Obama’s reforms primarily aimed to curb the use of excessive force by local law enforcement officers, and criminologists have since discovered the true extent of harm that comes from military-style policing.

Sessions, in his push to resume the Bush-era programs, argued that he didn’t want to “put superficial concerns above public safety.” Instead, he claims to be only interested in “getting the job done and getting everyone to safety.” Unfortunately for this country’s top law enforcer, such conclusions have little if any basis in reality.

As recent science shows, police militarization, such as the use of SWAT teams, actually has a negative impact on law enforcement.

After a wide-ranging data survey, a new report from Princeton’s Jonathan Mummolo finds no statistically significant evidence to suggest that militarized police departments are any more effective at stopping or preventing crime when compared to their traditional counterparts. Just as interestingly, these findings debunk another common argument used to defend police militarization: the claim that it saves officers’ lives.

The report also examines the disproportionate militarization of certain local police departments and where SWAT teams are most frequently deployed. As it turns out, both are more common in neighborhoods with more black residents — even when adjusting for factors including poverty, unemployment, education and crime rates.

In fact, even when neighborhoods are not necessarily majority black, a correlation exists between militarization and the number of black residents. In other words, the more black people that live in a neighborhood, the more likely it is that militarized policing will be utilized.

Even putting aside the undeniably biased and ineffective aspects of this strategy, Mummolo’s analysis finds that militarization can actually hinder a police department’s reputation — and, by extension, foster distrust and contempt for law enforcement officers. This shouldn’t be particularly surprising — law enforcement officers decked out in camouflage fatigues, sporting assault rifles and driving around in treaded vehicles are understandably alienating.

Originally published at

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