Militarization of police fails to enhance safety, may harm police reputation

August 20, 2018, Princeton University
Militarized police do not lead to less violent crime or less violence against police officers and may actually weaken the public's image of the police, according to a new study led by Princeton University. Credit: Egan Jimenez, Princeton University

This month marks the four-year anniversary of protests over the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, an incident met with a heavily armed police response that stoked widespread concern.

While proponents say militarized police units enhance officer safety and prevent violence, critics argue these tactics are targeted at racial minorities, and diminish trust between citizens and law enforcement.

A study published by Jonathan Mummolo, assistant professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton University, reveals that militarized policing is ineffective in decreasing crime and protecting police, and may actually weaken the public's image of the police.

Mummolo tested several claims about the costs and benefits of militarized policing using a combination of administrative crime and officer safety data, records of when and where militarized police units were created and deployed, and survey experiments.

He found that militarized policing does not lead to less violent crime or less violence against police officers. Seeing militarized police in the news also may harm police reputation, which prior work shows can create obstacles for police efficacy. The study also shows that militarized police units are more often deployed in communities of color.

The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), suggest that curtailing militarized policing may be in the interest of both the police and citizens.

"The routine use of militarized police tactics by local agencies threatens to further the historic tensions between marginalized groups and the state with no detectable public safety benefit," said Mummolo, who is on the faculty at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Department of Politics.

In recent decades, police units have grown more militarized in part due to the "War on Drugs" campaign as well as federal initiatives that supplied neighborhoods with excess military equipment and funds to purchase arms. To understand the effects this has had on policing, Mummolo investigated Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) deployments, as the formation of SWAT teams represent an increased commitment to the use of militarized equipment and tactics.

For the study, Mummolo built a nationwide panel measuring whether and when roughly 9,000 law enforcement agencies obtained a SWAT team between 2000 and 2008. He also obtained data on every SWAT team deployment in Maryland over a five-year period through a public records request. He chose Maryland as a test case because, unlike other states, Maryland has a statute requiring every agency to record all SWAT activity.

Mummolo also wanted to test whether militarized tactics occur more frequently in communities of color. To do this, he analyzed the relationship between the percentage of black residents in a particular geographic area with the volume of SWAT deployments per 100,000 residents.

After controlling for social factors and local crime rates, he found that black residents face a more pronounced risk of experiencing militarized policing. However, Mummolo suggests caution in generalizing this analysis beyond the state of Maryland.

To estimate the effects of police militarization on crime and officer safety, he returned to the nationwide panel he had built. He compared the deployments of SWAT teams with the number of violent crimes and officers who were killed or injured.

On average, the results show that creating more SWAT teams and increasing SWAT deployments had little to no benefits in terms of crime reduction or officer safety. Again, he cautions against overgeneralizing this finding, as it may not apply to each agency.

Finally, Mummolo conducted two survey experiments to assess the effect on the public's perception of police when they see militarized police in news reports. First, respondents read a mock news article about a police chief seeking a budget increase, accompanied by a randomly assigned image with either militarized police or traditionally equipped officers. Respondents then answered questions related to perceived crime levels, support for police spending and confidence in police.

The results show that citizens react negatively to the appearance of militarized police units in news reports and become less willing to fund police or want police patrols in their neighborhoods.

"These results come after a single exposure to militarized images. Repeated public exposure to news items featuring militarized policing may amplify negative views of law enforcement among citizens," Mummolo said. "This is concerning because past research indicates that negative views of the police hinder criminal investigations and are associated with stunted civic participation."

While his study found no firm evidence that SWAT teams lower violent rates or the rates at which officers are killed or assaulted, the teams are arguably an important tool for violent, emergency situations. "Restricting their use to those situations may improve perceptions of the among citizens," Mummolo said.

Explore further: Militarized policing is counterproductive, according to expert

More information: Militarization fails to enhance police safety or reduce crime but may harm police reputation, PNAS (2018). www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1805161115

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15 comments

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JamesG
1 / 5 (12) Aug 20, 2018
The more tools they have to keep us safe, the better I feel. If people get offended, they just need to get over themselves.
Anonym702200
5 / 5 (8) Aug 20, 2018
Calling police "militarized" is an insult to the military. Weapon discipline, target identification, and basic courtesy are all part of military training. Instead you see videos of police wildly waving weapons around, firing indiscriminately, and using profanity when talking to citizens. Pulling any of that in the military would get them into deep kimchi.
Whart1984
Aug 20, 2018
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.1 / 5 (7) Aug 20, 2018
How else you gonna keep antifeh thugs off of legitimate protestors? You want to send police out with just sunglasses and vests to get bricks and urine thrown at them, to get bludgeoned and shot just because a face shield and helmet looks too intimidating?

We are SICK of your politics. Thanks for another 4 years of trump you assholes.

Q you.
alexander2468
1 / 5 (1) Aug 20, 2018
Police do not have guns, where are you living; they walk and drive along side every one unarmed and safe! As any member of the public is, and that that is how her Majesty Queen Elisabeth wish's it remain so!
Zzzzzzzz
4.5 / 5 (2) Aug 20, 2018
The conclusion of this study elicit the old response, "No shit, Sherlock"

Nothing like pointing out the patently obvious.
Zzzzzzzz
5 / 5 (1) Aug 20, 2018
Calling police "militarized" is an insult to the military. Weapon discipline, target identification, and basic courtesy are all part of military training. Instead you see videos of police wildly waving weapons around, firing indiscriminately, and using profanity when talking to citizens. Pulling any of that in the military would get them into deep kimchi.


I don't think you understand how the term "Militarized Police" is used. Generally refers to equipment and tactics, not training and culture.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (2) Aug 20, 2018
Militarization is not the PR nightmare. It's the lack of military training and an unwillingness to "police their own" that is...
I suppose that is part of the equation, as Whart intimates. And as Anonym says, that shit wouldn't go over in the military.
Natriarchy
5 / 5 (4) Aug 20, 2018
Calling police "militarized" is an insult to the military. Weapon discipline, target identification, and basic courtesy are all part of military training. Instead you see videos of police wildly waving weapons around, firing indiscriminately, and using profanity when talking to citizens. Pulling any of that in the military would get them into deep kimchi.


I don't think you understand how the term "Militarized Police" is used. Generally refers to equipment and tactics, not training and culture.


I think he understands the term, and is correctly pointing out how they have "Military" hardware but not the training.
Cusco
3.9 / 5 (7) Aug 21, 2018
JamesG - You obviously didn't understand the article. The additional "tools" are **NOT** keeping you any safer (or them, for that matter). From the article:

"militarized policing is ineffective in decreasing crime and protecting police, and may actually weaken the public's image of the police."

It's not about anyone being offended, it's about the simple fact that the tactics DON'T WORK.
rrwillsj
5 / 5 (1) Aug 21, 2018
Yes indeedy. When otto's good buddies the nazis and klansmen march? The poor sweet dears are being terrorized by pacifists and community rejection of the altright fairytails.

They need major mobilization of heavily-armed Redcaps and MVD to defend the sacred entitlements of institutionalized racist oppression. Cause the right vermin are intent to protect centuries of mass rape and brutal violence as their god-given right.
Captain Stumpy
3 / 5 (2) Aug 21, 2018
I think Anonym and Whyde have it right
Pulling any of that in the military would get them into deep kimchi
It's the lack of military training and an unwillingness to "police their own" ...
the military has a far more strict code (usually)
Captain Stumpy
3 / 5 (2) Aug 21, 2018
@Zzz
I don't think you understand how the term "Militarized Police" is used. Generally refers to equipment and tactics, not training and culture
the training and culture are already there as police, fire and some other type services are para-military organizations already

the training tends to be towards their specific job (a firefighter doesn't Mirandize people unless they're part of an investigative team, for instance)

the culture tends to be very similar already as well, with (usually) strong chains of command, brotherhood and other cultural necessities

when someone risks their life with a fellow building bonds that the typical civilian can't comprehend it creates a segregation from average societal norms and builds a special insulated culture within

some equipment is needed, to be sure, as you don't want a 6 shot revolver against an AK with a large mag

the trick is finding the balance while the criminal escalates into their own militarization
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Aug 22, 2018
In more Rotfront news

"A registered Democrat and Bernie Sanders supporter protesting a right-wing rally in Oregon earlier this month says he was viciously beaten by militant members of his own movement because he possessed a "fascist symbol" -- an American flag."

-IOW antifeh thuggery

"Doctors needed four staples to close a 3-inch gash on the back of Welch's head and he spent at least two days recovering from a concussion."

-And what did nazi police do about it?

"Welch filed a police report and Sgt. Chris Burley, a Portland police spokesman, confirmed to The Oregonian/Oregon Live that authorities are investigating the incident."

-Not much.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Aug 22, 2018
willis the psychopath says
They need major mobilization of heavily-armed Redcaps and MVD to defend the sacred entitlements of institutionalized racist oppression. Cause the right vermin are intent to protect centuries of mass rape and brutal violence as their god-given right
Yeah you're right. Descendants of US slaves should sue Great Britain for the misery their subjects inflicted upon them for centuries in the colonies.

And they should of course thank all the brave white men and women who fought and died in the war for independence, because they would still be slaves if the US hadn't freed itself first.

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