Police force becomes overly weaponized

Jem Ashton and Jasper Ramirez

Tear gas is a chemical weapon that has been banned in warfare since 1993, but it is still allowed to be used against our own citizens by our overly weaponized police forces. There is no reason for an officer to be more weaponized than a soldier. They are not an army, and giving the police our surplus military supplies has only increased the rates of violence and murder in the United States. The Icelandic police forces have only killed one person since the foundation of their country in 1944, but the United States faces at least 400 deaths at the hands of police forces every year.

John Paul and Michael Birzer, two criminologists, pointed out in a 2004 paper that training police as soldiers and giving them military supplies changes the mentality of law enforcement officials. “Soldiers at war operate under a code of domination, not service … when police organizations look and act like soldiers, a military mindset is created that declares war on the American public.”

As the police become more militarized, they gain a sense of superiority. They are not superior. A police officer should not feel like they are above the citizens or above the law. They are not the law, they are not our leaders, but they are citizens. The law applies to them the same way that the law applies to us. They aren’t supposed to get away with murder. Their job is to ensure safety and equality in our communities, but as they become more weaponized, our communities become less safe and less equal.

Police agencies in Utah have some of the same weapons and vehicles that have been seen in Ferguson. Recently, state lawmakers have defended the use of military surplus weapons and vehicles in Utah police forces. “I don’t deny that the look and feel [of today’s police] can seem militarized. It’s a style we have embraced,” said Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder in a statement to Deseret News.

Many people argue that highly-equipped police departments make communities feel protected, however, According to an analysis by the Salt Lake Tribune on 300 homicides, law enforcement officers in Utah have killed 45 people between 2010 and October 2014, this accounted for 15% of all homicides during this period.

The protective abilities of the police are compromised when their self-entitlement and sense of superiority take over their lawful obligations. Weaponization leads to violence and unnecessary brutality, which is not the proper way to enforce the law.