The Corner

Law & the Courts

San Bernardino and the Police Militarization Debate: Sometimes, Cops Need Armor

If you listen to the recording of radio traffic during the shootout with the San Bernardino mass-shooting suspects, you’ll hear right away the police are clearly calling for “Bearcats.” They’re almost certainly referring to armored vehicles like those below — seen gathered around the suspects’ vehicle:

Yes, it’s controversial to “militarize” the police. And, yes, such equipment is subject to abuse. But when dealing with fleeing suspects who are allegedly armed with AR-15s, pipe bombs, and protected by body armor, a police officer on foot or in a police cruiser is agonizingly vulnerable. I can easily imagine a critic of the San Bernardino police department mocking the need for armored vehicles, sneering at the lack of a military threat. No one is sneering tonight.

In the wake of the Ferguson riots, the Obama administration has been confiscating surplus military equipment sent to local law enforcement. President Obama has argued that ”militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like there’s an occupying force, as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them. It can alienate and intimidate local residents, and send the wrong message.” While that’s true, he’s referring more to the use of the equipment rather than its possession. In the aftermath of Paris and now of San Bernardino, we see the value of armor. 

After all, when battling terrorists or heavily-armed criminals, the last thing we want is a fair fight. 

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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