Letter: Proper police use of military equipment stifles violence

In response to Mr. Lincoln Widmer’s (Dec. 14) letter to the editor on the police and a military mentality, I disagree with him on some points and agree with him on others. I am both a Marine combat veteran and a former SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) platoon commander with over 13 years SWAT experience and 27 years of law enforcement experience. So I feel compelled to address his concerns.

I have been on many operations that included high-risk search warrants, high-risk arrest warrants, barricaded subjects and hostage rescue. All these situations involved guns and the risk to human life. I wanted any piece of equipment that would increase the survival odds for both my officers and the innocent people involved by overwhelming the armed perpetrator into a peaceful resolution. In these fluid and violent situations, using the “just enough force” strategy can get people killed. Surprise, speed and force are what make violent offenders peacefully surrender. Thus, certain agencies should have salvaged military equipment to solve violent problems.

On the other hand, I do not believe every agency needs free military equipment because the maintenance cost is not free. Thus, it may be less expensive for a small police department to enter into an interagency agreement with a larger department for such support than to maintain an MRAP or any other piece of “free” gear. Then, the saved maintenance dollars can be spent on such things as patrol services, which are the overwhelming bulk of police duties.

I can understand Mr. Widmer’s apprehension about the police in the land of the military juntas. However, there is a big difference between American police agencies and them. The difference is American police agencies operate under the U.S. Constitution to include the Bill of Rights. In the Bill of Rights is the Fourth Amendment, laws against illegal search and seizure. Under this amendment, before a police officer kicks down the door of your house, a warrant for probable cause must be signed by a judge, whether it be a district or a federal judge. If these guidelines are not followed, then the officers involved have conducted an illegal search or seizure and can be charged with civil rights violations, i.e. possible prison time. No officer in his right mind would want to go down this road. However, if the day comes where our police officers are not held to this standard, then you are correct, Mr. Widmer, the American police departments will be no better than the police of Third World countries. So, it is not about the equipment the police use, it is how they use it.

David Conaway

lieutenant, Louisiana State Police, retired

Baton Rouge