Letter to the editor
Arming the Police: Tell both sides of the story
Editor’s note: The following letter is in response to an Aug. 27 editorial called “Tear gas and terror in the heart of America.” It has only been edited for grammar and clarity.
The conflict between police and citizens in Ferguson has highlighted numerous questions surrounding police procedure, action and the equipment police deploy. There is no question that over-militarization of local police forces is unnecessary, but in most cases, only half of the story is told. I believe this is true in the editorial piece: Tear gas and terror in the heart of America. I support the police, and believe that the use of military equipment is not only necessary, but allows police to serve and protect even better than before.
Military-grade equipment is capable of doing things that regular vehicles and equipment that are normally associated with police simply cannot do. When I’m not at UB, I reside on Long Island, where local police utilize military equipment. A recent Newsday article highlighted the military equipment that the Nassau and Suffolk County Police Departments have and occasionally need to use. The cover picture is of the Nassau County Police Department’s MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush-Protected Vehicle). Newsday’s outraged commenters lament as to why NCPD needs a mine resistant vehicle. However, the caption explains that this MRAP has been modified to travel through deep waters up to at least 6 feet, which is especially important on an Island. Nassau County Chief of Department Steven Skrynecki said: "We're not patrolling the streets in a Humvee. We're very conscious about police response having the potential to aggravate crowds. We certainly don't want to present an image of having military equipment. We're a very service-oriented police department. We don't want to appear to be a threat to citizens."
On Aug. 13, a record 13 inches of rain fell in less than 24 hours on the Island. Roads were impassable and flash flooding caused numerous cars to be totaled, and even completely submerged in water. As nice as those 1999 Crown Victoria Police Interceptors are, they would meet the same fate as motorists who were out that day. Having a vehicle that can pass right through those waters enables police to do their job swiftly and effectively; the vehicle just also happens to be blast resistant as well.
Last winter, Suffolk County was hit by multiple snowstorms, resulting in huge amounts of car accidents, and motorists getting stuck on the road. Newsday also wrote an article last winter about the Suffolk County Police using military Humvees on the local roads. As with the recent article, residents questioned why police needed military Humvees. In this case, the Humvees were able to plow through snow to rescue stranded motorists, and get down roads that had not been plowed. Police cars are just that - cars. They are subject to the same occurrences as the every day motorist. This equipment is not being used to suppress the people. It is being used to save them.
The editorial Tear gas and terror in the heart of America paints a picture of police officers on normal patrol carrying rifles and wearing full-riot gear. This equipment does not make daily appearances. University at Buffalo Police, like a city or county police department, have AR-15 rifles for certain situations. These rifles (which are not automatic), serve a distinct purpose. In the event of an active shooter event at UB, it is imperative that the police stop the shooter as quickly and effectively as possible. An AR-15 is an efficient rifle that, with the right training, is easy to load and fire in order to do a police officer’s job effectively. They can fire more rounds per minute than a regular service weapon, and they can pierce light armor that an assailant may be wearing. These rifles only come out in times of emergency. While I am not a resident of Ferguson, I can say with confidence that before the police involved shooting, officers were not walking around in full riot gear wielding rifles.
I am also in full support of peaceful protests. It is a right of the people to assemble, so long as it is done legally and peacefully. There have been reports from Ferguson of riots, looting, Molotov cocktails, throwing rocks and other violent acts that would warrant the use of riot gear. Even UB Police has full-scale riot gear. Riot gear is not for the people protesting. It is to protect the police so they can enforce the law with less of a chance of injury while doing so. Just because it may look scary to the average person, does not mean it isn’t necessary. The police ARE protecting those who wish to protest peacefully. Officers from the NYPD were reportedly handing out free water bottles to those who were a part of Al Sharpton’s recent march against the NYPD for Eric Garner – something that the event coordinators should have thought of themselves. The same is true in Ferguson. Once those protests turn violent, the police need to respond to maintain order so that peaceful protestors are allowed to continue.
This letter is not to say that the police are infallible, because they are not. Mistakes have been made on the police side as well as the civilian side in Ferguson, and across the country. However, police officers are constantly portrayed as aggressors or bad guys, and the police reputation is in shambles. Editorial pieces such as this one, that only portray one side of the aisle, only make things worse. There have been many positive results from allowing police agencies to purchase surplus military equipment. Should police roll around in tanks and armored trucks without cause? Absolutely not. But normal police equipment is vulnerable in large-scale riot situations, and armored trucks and riot gear do have a time and place to be used. In the words of Chief Skrynecki: "If you were shot and bleeding, would you want to wait for the police to be able to get in there, or would you want the heavily armored truck to get there in two minutes and rescue you?" It is time to find a medium, and repair the police reputation, so they can continue to serve and protect.
William Krause is a junior political science major.