An event in Trumbull County last year and the recent bombings in Boston bring to mind a question that all democracies must answer. How much freedom are we willing to sacrifice for safety?
Benjamin Franklin said: ''Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.'' Of course times are different; people wishing to harm us today have access to far more formidable weapons. Would Franklin feel different today?
Because the threats could be so varied today, law enforcement has to be prepared in many ways that couldn't have been envisioned in Franklin's time. In addition to dealing with common criminals, today's law enforcement must be ready to handle terrorists or large gangs of looters.
Because of the greater threats, it's not uncommon to see even small police forces equipped with tactical gear suited for the military. One could easily mistake some local law enforcement for our military, with camouflaged or black clothing, complete body armor, Ar-15 rifles or tactical shotguns, and helmets with flip-up night vision goggles. Many have armored vehicles purchased from our military as well.
While understanding the need to be prepared for any eventuality I worry about a militarized civilian police force. When an officer in a standard police uniform dons full battle gear, there seems to be a marked change in behavior. A cop with an automatic Ar-15 behaves differently than a cop with just a side arm. I think it's just human nature; dress someone formidable and they act formidable.
The other thing that I think comes into play is that the police seldom have a need for all the tactical gear they own, so when the need arises they jump at the chance to brandish all this capability.
I remember an incident a while back where a man shot his wife with a bow and fled to this father's house in Girard. The police had the area cordoned off and all the nearby people evacuated. From the news footage, there appeared to be around 50 law enforcement officers on the scene, all dressed in black combat gear. They even had a sniper on the roof of a nearby business. In the driveway they had a black truck that was as big as a bread truck that was the command center.
Apparently, when the suspect's father came out to talk to the police, they refused to let him go back inside. After hearing a single shot from inside the building and receiving no response from the suspect, they shot out every window in the house including the second floor and basement windows with flash bangs and tear gas.
As it turned out, the shot that was heard was the suspect taking his own life.
Was the force used excessive? Did the house need to be nearly destroyed? The father who lost his son was stuck with the repairs. Is that fair?
Then we have to consider the events in Boston. Granted, the terrorists committed a heinous act, and it was unthinkable to not deploy enough law enforcement to prevent their escape. But did it require virtually imposing house arrest on every citizen in Boston?
One of the terrorists was dead and the other was a 19-year-old who was not known to have any fighting skills. If the same response is to be expected for every dangerous criminal being sought in Boston, Bostonians will be spending most of their lives indoors.
Every police agency that decides to militarize needs to develop protocols on how these new capabilities will be used, and under what circumstances. This effort must include public input.
When, and under what authority will people be ordered to stay in their homes? Will the Second Amendment rights of the populace be honored? Will force be used to evacuate people who choose not to leave their homes? Who will pay for property damaged by police?
Law enforcement deals, on a daily basis, with things we only have nightmares about, so we should see that they have tools that are more than adequate to meet any threat. We should compensate them well and support them, but in the end, we should make it clear that they answer to us. We deserve to know, before hand, how they will react in any circumstance.
Moadus is a Girard resident.