February 15, 2016
Peace Officer explores the ‘militarization’ of police forces in the U.S. The documentary takes you through a few cases where S.W.A.T. were used in situations that didn’t require them, with outcomes that involved death or near-death.
The military-style vehicles, armour and weapons used by police forces can be tracked back to the ‘War on Drugs,’ where the U.S. government provided funding for groups who cracked down on drugs. This also involved items from the military being handed down to police forces at no charge, provided used within one year (I suppose meaning, they had to prove they needed them). As you can imagine, that put pressure on the forces to actually use such equipment.
The use of S.W.A.T. over the years became more and more frequent. Where they were originally envisioned to be used when such force was necessary (to combat the situation that required such force), they are now used for situations that include serving search warrants. This is, indeed, one of the cases mentioned in the documentary: S.W.A.T. is used to serve a search warrant for homeowner who is growing marijuana.
The main character of the film is a gentleman who formed the S.W.A.T. in an area of Utah when he led the police force there. Years later, his son in law is killed by the S.W.A.T. For this case, and others, he dedicates his evenings to putting together the pieces of what actually took place, not relying on the police statements.
In most of the cases mentioned in the documentary the police targets aren’t ‘innocent’ (beating wife and refusing to surrender, shooting at police, growing marijuana, etc.), the ‘military’ equipment and tactics used against them ratchet up the situation to one where the outcomes were less than ideal. Tactics and equipment used are well beyond what would be required to diffuse the situation, and in fact make the situation much more volatile as the target is under siege. For example, if someone hears people storming their home, with no idea who, they would tend to defend themselves and their property. That, of course, could result in injuring police officers as opposed to ‘an intruder.’
The final case discussed in the documentary brings the point home further, as the police target is an innocent man – and the victim of police simply targeting the wrong house. He arrives at the door with a baseball bat in hand, not knowing who is at the door (the ‘military tactics’ involve surprise night raids with officers not resembling typical police officers in most cases). He drops the bat as commanded. After the situation is sorted out, the office mentions if the homeowner had been at the door with a gun instead of a bat, he would have been blown away.
Worth noting, the documentary does a good job of allowing police officers and top police brass to comment on the situations mentioned which allows the ‘other side’ to be heard.
It’s worth a watch: 4/5.