Letters: Police don’t need military mentality

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Baton Rouge Police Department's new Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle which is a surplus military armored fighting vehicle. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Baton Rouge Police Department's new Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle which is a surplus military armored fighting vehicle.

Our family is troubled by the recent decision of the Baton Rouge police to acquire heavy military assault vehicles. It’s a troubling trend because the military has a different and distinct role than our civilian police departments. The military’s job is to annihilate a foreign enemy. The police are supposed to protect us while upholding our constitutional rights. It’s dangerous to combine the two.

Baton Rouge is not a lawless Third World city-state that requires military-grade semi-automatic weapons, armored personnel vehicles, helicopters, drones and all manner of other equipment for use against American. However, our Homeland Security Department is encouraging and funding this trend at thousands of police departments across the country. This trend goes well beyond the use of SWAT teams, which were created to be used in violent, emergency situations such as hostage takings, acts of terrorism or bank robberies.

Paramilitary police actions are extremely volatile, necessarily violent, overly confrontational and leave very little margin for error. The frequent use of paramilitary SWAT police actions often create violence instead of defusing it. If you’re an innocent family startled by a military SWAT police invasion, it arouses the basest most fundamental instincts we have in us — those of self-preservation — to fight when flight isn’t an option. However, police now appear to be relying more on heavily armed SWAT teams when conducting routine search or arrest warrants or even when responding to marital disputes.

During my career in the local petrochemical industry, my wife and I had the opportunity of working several years in South America. As with most of the local population we learned to fear city police patrolling streets with their military-style vehicles and weapons. It created an “us versus them” mentality and any contact with police often turned ugly. People had become intimidated and too afraid of retaliation should they complain of heavy-handed police methods. When we returned to Baton Rouge, the presence of uniformed and professionally trained city police officers or sheriff’s deputies again provided us a sense of security rather than fear. Let’s not erode this respect and trust by following the national trend of militarizing our police.

Lincoln Widmer

retired petrochemical executive

Baton Rouge