I am an increasingly frequent visitor to DC, and am increasingly struck by the ever-offensive posture of the law enforcement entities in the nation’s capital. However, in the face of broad generalisation, there are stark contrasts between the practices of various agencies.
Three incidents spring to mind: the obvious use of armed response personnel in some convoys, the lack of manners displayed by the personnel on duty outside the White House, and the imminent arming of the Metropolitan police with rifles for patrol.
The use of force by the state, in any guise, must be professional and appropriate. Professional in that it achieves the aim in the most effective manner possible, using the best personnel, training, culture and equipment possible to service the needs of the community they serve, and appropriate in that it provides the necessary levels of protection and response given the range of threats, while balancing the rights of the individual.
There has been a recent spate of protection personnel in convoys riding with the windows down. The likely assertion will be that this is the most effective platform for response, and also acts as a deterrent. These arguments are open to significant challenge, but I will not enter into a discussion revealing personnel protection tactics and techniques. This practice inclines one to see Georgetown as Baghdad, or Belfast in the late 1980s, rather than the secure city it purports to be.
I have taken to running around the capital’s impressive buildings. Returning from a run a couple of days ago I went to walk on the White House side of the street immediately North of the House. In a particularly assertive and aggressive tone one of the uniformed personnel told me to, “Go around.” No please, no thank you, no sir, not even a madam. This might appear to be a petty complaint, but let me explain why it is not. Law enforcement serves the population, not the other way around. When the culture, which should strictly espouse those values and police them rigorously, loses sight of that, an air of entitlement begins to grow. An air of entitlement that begins to infiltrate other thinking; one day it’s, “Go around,” some time later a young man is dead in a hail of bullets because the police felt that they have every right to do so.
It was reported on Friday that the Metropolitan Police are going to begin patrolling with rifles. The Chief asserts that they need to be ready for an increased criminal capability when it comes. The possibility is created that by escalating, the Metro PD will encourage the use of heavier weaponry by criminal elements, and then assert that they were right when that increase takes place.
The deployment of heavier weaponry must be placed in context, a context which has not been widely disseminated thus far. Is the Chief intending to deploy the weapons on foot patrols, or to be held secure in patrol vehicles until needed by professionally trained officers? The former would be wildly inappropriate, the latter is be a sensible, controlled response to an increased threat, provided that, as promised, the weapons will only be used by appropriately trained officers.
Questions have been asked to explain when the rifles would have been used in a recent incident in DC. Such questions are either self-aggrandising, exploitative or naïve – by that logic New Orleans’ levees were just fine the way they were before Katrina, because the levees had never been broached thus far.
The Chief’s intention is clearly to have in place the capabilities to deal with any threat that arises; whilst the manner in which that protection is going to be provided is still open to description, she is acting in a proactive and responsible manner that speaks well of the thought process underpinning the Metro PD’s choices at the strategic level.
One can only hope that a policy of stricter thought processes be applied by the agency using Suburbans with rolled-down tinted windows that display their heavily armed personnel; if there is really a credible threat to the convoy occupants, rolled down windows in vehicles in that convoy position does not offer substantial tactical advantage; take the appropriate measures rather than half-hearted ones.
Finally, the uniformed personnel outside the White House are the face of the State, and all I saw last week was uniformed officers shouting at the visitors to stay off the road, showing no regard or respect to the citizens, and taxpayers, they serve.
Law Enforcement is both a career and a calling – we must be very careful that there exists and is maintained mutual respect between the serving and the served; the Use of Force policies and stances play an integral part in that relationship, and must be treated with the appropriate importance.