Recent events in Ferguson have prompted a national debate about "over-militarized" police forces that have acquired sophisticated, high-tech Pentagon equipment — including drones — through Homeland Security funding. But, how do actual military personnel who served in Iraq and Afghanistan assess the situation?
[Image: Department of Defense.]
Veterans who were interviewed by the Washington Post describe the Ferguson police tactics as heavy-handed, even by the standards of maintaining control in war zones. Broadly speaking, the former military personnel see a profound misunderstanding of what types of weapons, technology and equipment are best suited to specific situations — which leads to a cycle of escalation.
"I would hate to call the Ferguson response a military one," said one of the interviewees. "Because it isn't, it's an aberration."
As the Post reports:
"You see the police are standing online with bulletproof vests and rifles pointed at peoples chests," said Jason Fritz, a former Army officer and an international policing operations analyst. "That's not controlling the crowd, that's intimidating them."
Scriven King, a 10-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force's law enforcement component and a SWAT officer, attributed the initial spasm of violence to a lack of leadership and mismanagement of public perception on the Ferguson Police Department's behalf.
King added that, instead of deescalating the situation on the second day, the police responded with armored vehicles and SWAT officers clad in bulletproof vests and military-grade rifles. "We went through some pretty bad areas of Afghanistan, but we didn't wear that much gear," said Kyle Dykstra, an Army veteran and former security officer for the State Department. Dykstra specifically pointed out the bulletproof armor the officers were wearing around their shoulders, known as "Deltoid" armor.
"I can't think of a [protest] situation where the use of M4 [rifles] are merited," Fritz said. "I don't see it as a viable tactic in any scenario."
King added that if it were a military unit in a similar situation there would be a public affairs officer or civil affairs engagement team that would help bridge the gap between the riot control elements and the general population.
The Washington Post has also produced this brief video, identifying the types of military gear that the Ferguson police force has been using: