Police Militarization Isn't Making Anyone Safer: Study
Thu, April 22, 2021

Police Militarization Isn't Making Anyone Safer: Study

Hong Kong protests have escalated since the last week of March—almost eight months now of citywide strikes and numerous clashes with the police / Photo by: Studio Incendo via Wikimedia Commons

 

Hong Kong protests have escalated since the last week of March—almost eight months now of citywide strikes and numerous clashes with the police. These violent events have come as a surprise not only to the locals but also to people across the world since the autonomous territory is long known as an extremely peaceful and stable place. Even the use of firearms by the police was traditionally highly limited. Its murder rate in 2016 was 0.4 per 100,000 people—a figure less than 10 percent of that of the US.

However, the eight months of clashes between the protesters and police have resulted in more and more deaths and escalating violence. While Hong Kong lacks the full-blown militarization compared to other countries, the basic dynamic of police brutality is extremely present. Foreign Policy, an American news publication focused on global affairs, current events, and domestic and international policy, reported that the Hong Kong police force seems to get training, advice, and equipment from China’s paramilitary force, the People’s Armed Police. 

The People's Armed Police are regularly used to brutally put down protesters, especially in ethnic minority regions such as Tibet and Xinjiang. Reports said that their techniques have been filtering down to Hong Kong’s police.

The increasing police militarization is not only very evident in the region but also in the US, Israel, the UK, Turkey, South Africa, Afghanistan, and more. While some may claim that this only aims to protect the country’s constituents, this is far from the truth that what the world is seeing right now.

Police Militarization Across the Globe

The police is set up, first and foremost, to protect its people from lawless elements. However, the growing police militarization across the world massively fails this goal. Most of the time, they become “tools” to maintain the unjust “status-quo” of power distributions in society. The police have dramatically amplified the use of violence against their communities, and signs point to this being far from ending. Many companies are continuously developing new weapons for several international trade expos specifically aimed at police and security forces.

Police militarization refers to a social and psychological process that views deviance as a threat and believes that the primary means of responding to a (perceived) threat is violence. People are usually treated in the same way state military enemies are treated. As a result, citizens feel more threatened instead of being protected. 

According to War Resisters’ International, a global network of grassroots antimilitarist and pacifist groups working together for a world without war, the lines between the role of the police and the military are often blurred during this kind of situation. Police militarization has several characteristics, including maximum escalation as the available solution always; police forces rely on control, use or threat of force, and culture of fear; the marginalized communities or political activists are deemed enemies and dehumanized. The police have extreme discipline, absolute hierarchy, anonymity, and patriotic hyper-masculinity.

Police militarization refers to a social and psychological process that views deviance as a threat and believes that the primary means of responding to a (perceived) threat is violence / Photo by: Gertrud Zach via Wikimedia Commons

 

During the years of Apartheid in South Africa, both the police and the military were used to maintain the oppressive status quo. The police had even far-reaching powers that normally they shouldn’t have. In Afghanistan, both the US military and US-backed Afghan police often use a tactic known as "night raids” as part of the ongoing military occupation in the country. These targeted homes in the middle of the night, with heavily armed troops barging into homes, detaining, assaulting, terrorizing, and sometimes murdering people.

In Turkey, the Özel Harekat Timleri, also called Special Operation Teams, is known for working alongside the military. It continues to be active since it was established by the military government in the 1980s. The government has given the police force far-reaching powers such as the power to detain, to conduct strip searches and car searches, and to have more autonomy on the use of firearms.

The practice and force used by police are indicators of a much deeper reason: state repression to maintain social hierarchies.

Police Militarization Fails to Enhance Safety

A 2018 study conducted by Jonathan Mummolo, assistant professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton University, revealed that police militarization is ineffective in decreasing crime and preventing violence. Phys.org, a leading web-based science, research, and technology news service that provides the most complete and comprehensive daily coverage of science, technology, and medicine, reported that the researcher used a combination of administrative crime and officer safety data to analyze several claims about the costs and benefits of militarized policing. 

The findings of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) revealed that militarized policing does not lead to less violent crime or less violence against police officers. Citizens also reacted negatively to the appearance of militarized police units in news reports. They are also less willing to fund police or want police patrols in their neighborhoods. 

Mummolo also compared the deployments of SWAT teams with the number of violent crimes and officers who were killed or injured to determine the impacts of police militarization on crime and officer safety. He found out that creating more SWAT teams and increasing SWAT deployments had little to no benefit in terms of crime reduction or officer safety. 

Police are slowly becoming a violent force to repress the communities and support a government that aims to control its people / Photo by: fuzheado via Wikimedia Commons

 

Also, he discovered that black residents face a more pronounced risk of experiencing militarized policing. A recent study conducted by Frank Edwards of Rutgers University’s School of Criminal Justice, Hedwig Lee of Washington University in St. Louis’s Department of Sociology, and Michael Esposito of the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research revealed that African Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white people while it’s 1.4 times more likely for black women. 

"The routine use of militarized police tactics by local agencies threatens to further the historic tensions between marginalized groups and the state with no detectable public safety benefit," Mummolo said. 

Police are slowly becoming a violent force to repress the communities and support a government that aims to control its people. With the growing police militarization across the world, citizens should unite to resist violence and oppression. Police should help in maintaining safe and stable communities without resorting to violence and to respect human rights at all times.