I am as disturbed as anyone over the verdict in the Kelly Thomas murder trial, but justice for Kelly is about more than punishing the cops who brutally beat him to death. To honor the legacy of the victim’s of police brutality, reformers should focus on protecting future victims over the punishment of past perpetrators. As such, there is no reason to react to the not guilty verdict by losing faith because there are numerous proactive measures cities can take so as to decrease the likelihood of another tragic murder trial. Above-all, policy makers should divert funding away from expensive superfluous equipment and towards lifesaving stress training.
On our behalf, law enforcement officers undertake a very difficult job. According to a researcher at the National Institute of Justice, “policing is a psychologically stressful work environment filled with danger, high demands, ambiguity in work encounters, human misery and exposure to death.” Cops struggling to cope with anxiety, stress, fear, and helplessness have a tendency to be easily excited, aggressive, angry, and violent. Giving individual officers the tools to manage stress, translates into a better relationship between the police department and the community. As such, police departments should place a renewed emphasis on training officers how to deal with long-term stress, as well as, highly stressful situations.
In order to pay for sufficient stress training, policy makers should look to the money being spent on policing equipment. In response to numerous actual and perceived threats, local police departments across the U.S. have been blurring the line between police officer and soldier. According to the Wall Street Journal:
“Driven by martial rhetoric and the availability of military-style equipment—from bayonets and M-16 rifles to armored personnel carriers—American police forces have often adopted a mind-set previously reserved for the battlefield. The war on drugs and, more recently, post-9/11 antiterrorism efforts have created a new figure on the U.S. scene: the warrior cop—armed to the teeth, ready to deal harshly with targeted wrongdoers, and a growing threat to familiar American liberties.”
Police militarization has accelerated in recent years as a result of federal funding. The Wall Street Journal continues:
“According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Department of Homeland Security has handed out $35 billion in grants since its creation in 2002, with much of the money going to purchase military gear such as armored personnel carriers. In 2011 alone, a Pentagon program for bolstering the capabilities of local law enforcement gave away $500 million of equipment, an all-time high.”
Within every law enforcement agency, it is safe to assume the existence of numerous big-ticket items that exemplify the trend of wasting resources on high-tech gear that does little to help ‘protect and serve’. In Anaheim, the City Council approved for its police department the purchase of a $2.2 million 14-seat Cessna airplane with a range of nearly 1,200 nautical miles. The Voice of OC reported that “city officials said the plane is needed to replace a helicopter that is 12 years old, which they say is its retirement age, and to serve as an aerial command and control center during major wildfires.” However, helicopter manufacturers and public safety agencies maintained that helicopters have a much longer operating life. The Voice of OC found that the Orange County Fire Authority uses two helicopters that are more than 40 years old. Amid a municipal bankruptcy, the city of Stockton purchased a $300,000 armored vehicle for its SWAT team.
Far from helping to further the mission of police officers, spending on superfluous high-tech gear makes our communities less safe by taking hard-to-come-by tax dollars away from policies that improve the quality of policing. Policy makers should divert revenue away from such equipment and towards stress training. Anaheim PD may not find the process as enjoyable as a personal jet, but the investment is sure to save lives and improve the quality of life among rank and file cops.
Daniel Lamb is a criminal defense attorney in Anaheim, California. A conservative activist born in Orange County, Daniel is driven by his dedication to fiscal responsibility and transparency in local governments.