One of the reasons that police have become a hyper-militarized occupying power is that police hiring increasingly draws from the military.
This means that rather than attempting to protect and serve, police increasingly attempt to, “Dominate the battlespace,” which is antithetical to proper policing:
Calls for the demilitarization of police have gained new prominence in the light of the latest wave of anti-police brutality protests sweeping the United States. But in a country where one-fifth of the police force is ex-military — including George Floyd’s killer in Minneapolis, Derek Chauvin, and Robert McCabe, one of the two officers responsible for knocking down Martin Gugino, the seventy-five-year-old protester in Buffalo — demilitarization won’t come easy.
Many police officers are themselves former members of the military who picked up a career in policing after returning from war zones. But this isn’t the only problem. Loaded down with cast-off gear from the Pentagon — body armor, bayonets, automatic rifles, grenade launchers, armored vehicles, and surveillance drones — police officers are more likely to regard peaceful protestors as enemy combatants, particularly when the Pentagon’s own top official refers to their protest scenes as “battlespace.”
But getting police officers out of the business of being an occupying military force —whether perpetually or in times of crisis — will also require much closer screening of job applicants who are veterans and elimination of their favored treatment in police department hiring.
Policing is the third most common occupation for men and women who served in the military. It is an option widely encouraged by career counselors and veterans’ organizations like the American Legion. As a result, several hundred thousand veterans are now wearing a badge of some sort. Though veterans comprise just 6 percent of the US population, veterans now working in law enforcement number 19 percent of the total force. Their disproportionate representation is due, in part, to preferential hiring requirements, mandated by state or federal law. In addition, under the Obama administration, the Department of Justice provided local police departments with tens of millions of dollars to fund veterans-only positions.
As noted by the Marshall Project in its 2017 report, “When Warriors Put On the Badge,” this combination of hiring preferences and special funding has made it harder to “build police forces that resemble and understand diverse communities.” The beneficiaries have been disproportionately white, because 60 percent of all enlisted men and women are not people of color.
Tougher to tackle is the issue of ex-military personnel being over-represented in the ranks of domestic law enforcers. When you leave the service, says Danny Sjursen, a West Point graduate who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, “there’s no de-programming…They just load you up on meds and then you go straight to the police academy.” According to Sjursen, “military-style of policing is based on notion that high-crime areas should be treated like occupied countries.” So the “military-to-police pipeline” increases the chances “that a guy comes back to Baltimore, Camden, or Detroit and functions the same way we did when occupying Kabul or Baghdad.”