Retired Lt. Harry Thomas Remembers (Update)

In light of the spotlight on police militarization following publication of Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop, there has been a good deal of discussion generated, even within the ranks of the police.  At Police State USA, a retired Cincinnati police lieutenant offers his perspective.

The post begins:

This past week I was over on Officer.com trying to convince some hot-headed, patriot-hating young cops that the Constitution is actually the law of the land. I failed. One of them refers to open carriers as “attention whores.” I was denounced as a traitor to law enforcement for insisting that gun owners actually have rights that LEO’s are legally and morally bound to respect.

It got me thinking about the great gulf that separates the law enforcement profession that I knew as compared to the one that exists today. I never thought I’d be one of those geezers that says, “I just don’t understand this younger generation today!” But the fact is, I am, and I don’t.

One of the most significant aspects of Thomas’ post is his discussion of “command presence,” that thing cops do when they scream at people, talk over them, ignore their questions or statements, and generally persist in making inane assertions to control the situation that come off so poorly in videos.

For those who never got the idea of why police behaved in such a bizarre way, it offers some explanation, although it similarly suggests that cops today are doing it very wrong and in a substantially counterproductive manner. Still, it helps to better understand how and why police behave as they do, as offensive as their conduct often appears to everyone else.

Please give Harry Thomas’ post a full read, as it offers a great juxtaposition to the views of many cops on the job today who were weaned on military weaponry and armored personnel carriers.  For those of you in a mindless rush to hate all cops, to turn them all into objects of derision because of what some do, bear in mind that there are cops like Harry Thomas, and Neill Franklin, as well.

Update: And as day follows night, the young bucks challenge the old guard for hegemony with arguments like this, from PoliceOne:

We trainers have spent the past decade trying to ingrain in our students the concept that the American police officer works a battlefield every day he patrols his sector.

Cops on the beat are facing the same dangers on the streets as our brave soldiers do in war. That is why commanders and tactical trainers stress the fact that even on the most uneventful portion of your tour, you can be subjected to combat at a moment’s notice.

What is it with this growing concept that SWAT teams shouldn’t exist? Why shouldn’t officers utilize the same technologies, weapon systems, and tactics that our military comrades do?

Because those are Americans you’re killing, the same ones you swore to protect and serve.

H/T Radley Balko (what a surprise)

14 comments on “Retired Lt. Harry Thomas Remembers (Update)

  1. ShelbyC

    “Why shouldn’t officers utilize the same technologies, weapon systems, and tactics that our military comrades do?”

    Sure. Because a police force and an occupying army, that’s pretty much the same thing, right?

  2. Onlooker

    That quote from PoliceOne is the essence of what is wrong with policing these days. And it’s chilling. And the fact that they don’t recognize it is quite scary.

    There must be a complete change in the culture, that has to be driven by the citizenry. But they have to wake up to this fundamental change from “Protect & Serve” to “We’re at war” that has taken place. Only when they are hit close to home will it matter to them.

    Unfortunately it’s going to take more death & destruction that spreads to the doorsteps of the middle class before such a change takes place. It’s already starting, but how far from the tipping point are we?

    In the meantime good folks who already recognize it are starting to avoid calling the cops for fear of becoming victims of “the war.” Wonderful.

  3. Ken Bellone

    The testimony before the Joint Sub-Committee Hearing on Waco by Victor Oboyski, then-President, Law Enforcement Officer’s Association was telling of the mindset that existed even 20 years ago:

    “The days of a couple of agents, or a couple of detectives, walking up to someone’s front door and knocking on a door in a three-piece suit to execute a warrant of any kind is over. And that’s where we stand. We stand between the Koreshes of the world and everyone here. We stand there. Law enforcement”.

    “A warrant of any kind”. That is a scary statement coming from a man who represents law enforcement as a whole. It’s indicative of the “us vs. them” mentality that persists, and has even deepened.

    It was not my intention to deviate from Mr. Thomas, or the topic. I admire Mr. Thomas and pray that outspoken men like him can turn the tide, or at least change a few minds, that the present methodology is deeply flawed and will continue to lead to needless deaths of innocents and increase the gulf between the people and the LEO community.

  4. BL1Y

    At least the first two comments on that PoliceOne post were people disagreeing with the author. …And then I read this gem, “I make the assumption that I’m stepping into a battlefield everyday I walk out of the station and get into my patrol vehicle. I view every person I encounter as a potential threat to me until I know otherwise.”

    I can’t imagine how that mindset could possibly lead to a tragedy.

    1. SHG Post author

      The commenters at PoliceOne tend to be big mouthed yahoos, all full of machismo while typing anonymous internet comments. But it does reveal a certain pathology as they talk to (what they believe to be) each other. That PoliceOne chose to publish the post reflects the broader perspective. It’s not just us, outsiders, who see the change.

      And by the way, notice the difference age, experience and some institutional memory makes in perceiving the “new normal?” Maybe kid lawyers could see how it might apply to them as well.

      1. BL1Y

        The author of the article does police training. I bet there’s a lot more money in military style training than there is whatever you want to call the more zen approach to policing. Cops will find it more fun to learn to repel out of a helicopter than to learn active listening, and it’s harder to scare people into fearing violating the 4th Amendment.

  5. Nigel Declan

    To my mind, a police officer who considers himself a soldier in a war on crime in which the people are the enemy is as much a vigilante as the citizen who considers himself a soldier in a war against the government. What makes the police officers even scarier in this case is that they are able to carry out their personal war with the tacit consent of both the citizenry and the government.

    I can only hope that someday the leaders in the police force, with the knowledge and support of the government, will tell all officers and new recruits that anyone who wants to be a soldier and shoot people should go join the armed forces, since they aren’t welcome in law enforcement. And that they will emphasize that this is non-negotiable, regardless how many officers have to get fired or criminally charged for their conduct in order to ensure the message sinks in.

  6. Pingback: 8-19-13 Links » What's Pissed Me Off

      1. Alex Stalker

        It’s still not working for me. In case I was unclear, it’s the link titled Police State USA and gives a 404 Not Found error.

        I searched their site and found the article that I think you’re linking to.

        1. SHG Post author

          Thanks. Others are having problems as well, and I’ve changed the link to the one you provided, so hopefully it works for everyone now.

  7. Hunter

    A “routine” car stop, erupts into gun fire as the two occupants thought they were being stopped because of the store they just robbed. The Patrol Officer had no idea, but soon the suspects and Officer exchange gunshots, and the suspects flee in a hail of bullets.

    This type of situation has happened many times through the years. With the ongoing and growing “militarization” of policing though, could we see “routine” patrolling done by armored cars and SWAT attired Cops? Is this really a stretch to think so?

    I agree whole heartedly with Thomas, and we seem to attack every policing issue as a hammer looking for a nail. Even search warrants for “paper crimes” have been executed with SWAT tactics. EVERY call, has the potential of turning deadly. But do we resort to SWAT tactics for everything? There are times and circumstances where SWAT tactics are a must, but where does it end?

    Policing is a dangerous occupation (and yes, I’ve been there). Proper training, situational awareness, and common sense will avert most dangers, but the ones we can’t know, are a fact of the business. While I want every LEO to go each day to their families, one assumes the dangers when they take the oath. Our Law Enforcement Officers should work in the spirit of “To Protect and Serve” the citizens in their respective communities. It’s really what they’ve been hired to do.

    1. SHG Post author

      Nobody enjoys an anonymous yet authoritative restatement of the obvious more than me, but next time, do it on your own dime.

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