…. By Mar Preston
I write crime fiction about a cop and his world, a homicide detective in the Santa Monica Police Department.
Detective Dave Mason has his faults, of course, but try as I might, I do not have the imagination to fit him into being a member of the Ferguson Police Department. I’ve written before about worrying that I have too rosy a view of cops because I only interact with the good ones. I know there are cops who like making DWB (Driving While Black) busts, cops who like busting heads, cops who should be kept on a chain at the back of the station.
Knowing that, I still believe there are few of them, and others in the department know who they are. The vast majority of cops still have a broad streak of protect and serve built into them.
I also know that law enforcement is set up as a paramilitary organization. Militarization of police forces has filtered down from big cities, to suburb, even small towns. Today’s riot police officers wear military-style camouflage and carry military-style rifles, their heads and faces obscured by black helmets and gas masks sitting atop an armored vehicle.
SWAT teams generally came to prominence in the 1970s as an answer to quelling urban demonstrations, but those paramilitary tactics and equipment have spread almost everywhere in America through the 1033 program. This program makes available surplus Department of Defense equipment, meant to defend against a terrorist attack. Not peaceful demonstrations.
The number of SWAT deployments has exploded since 1980, and the growing militarization of U.S. policing (even to make routine search warrants) seems to have overcome all the precepts of community policing. What’s happening to Officer Friendly?
I’ve read police bogs and commentary stating that this tactical equipment obtained from the Department of Justice is not accepted and used without local consideration of their impact. But not in Ferguson. I have read the statement and seen the video the Ferguson police have issued and I’m skeptical. However, this is a story that may unroll in ways that we cannot imagine now.
Yet we cannot help to form perceptions on the way things look. The military gear looks damn scary to me and to everybody else. I dread to see the day when sniper rifles are pointed in the face of peaceful demonstrators (like the people I know and demonstrations that have been part of) in Santa Monica.
I’m glad I write fiction and don’t have to decide what is truth in an increasingly complex world in which I have very little, if any, impact.
Tell me what you think about this, my fellow crime writers?