412 8 15 LINKEDIN 2 COMMENTMORE

The following is a commentary written by Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch and submitted to WBIR. These are his views, and do not reflect the opinions of WBIR-TV or its parent company, Gannett.

"Militarization" of the Police?

By Chief David Rausch

Well before the events in Ferguson, Missouri there have been comments from a number of individuals based on an article referencing the "militarization" of the police.

MORE: Police in Ferguson ignite debate about military tactics

RELATED: Local officers equipped with military gear through federal program

What I have read and heard described is the use of specialized "military" equipment by police. The acquisition of this military equipment and its use on American citizens in our Cities, Counties, and States seems to be what is being questioned. Recently, images of the deployment of equipment in Ferguson, Missouri and the description of tactics have been described as a "military" deployment and "military" tactics.

Let me begin by saying that I am not commenting on the situation in Ferguson. I am not on the ground there, whether as a community member or law enforcement. Rest assured that the law enforcement community will study this unfortunate situation and it will be used in case studies and training for years to come.

Let me also state that we value our relationship with our community and we work hard to foster that relationship. At KPD we have a community liaison officer program where an officer is assigned to all community watch organizations on their beat. These officers meet with these groups regularly and work with the groups to address crime, traffic and disorder issues in the neighborhoods.

We have an excellent relationship with the civilian review board (PARC - Police Advisory and Review Commission) that is in place to assure that our citizens have options for reporting when they have concerns about the actions of our officers. We work with PARC in community outreach. We are very proactive at developing and fostering relationships in our community with official and unofficial leaders.

All of our Command Staff and many of our officers are actively involved in service organizations in our community by serving on boards of directors and volunteering their time, treasure and talent. We have an excellent working relationship with the clergy of all faiths in our community. We conduct Citizen Police Academies to open our doors to the community to see who we are and what we do in Knoxville.

I want to try to help our residents understand from a law enforcement perspective why certain "military" equipment is obtained by local law enforcement and its value to the safety of our community.

Autoplay
Show Thumbnails
Show Captions

I have been a police officer for over 21 years in Knoxville, Tennessee. I spent 10 years on the KPD Special Operation Squad (SWAT). Prior to this, I served 4 years in the U.S. Army in the Military Police Corps working as an MP for 2 years and in Military Corrections for 2 years. I have a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and a Master's Degree in Justice Administration. I provide this to hopefully show that I have a base of knowledge on the subject.

Military surplus programs have provided law enforcement surplus equipment for a number of years. When I first joined the KPD SWAT team we had an armored vehicle from the US Air Force that we had obtained with assistance from the FBI and we shared it with them. This was the only armored vehicle in the region at that time. It was a vital piece of equipment that had been used prior to my arrival in the department at an active shooter situation in a nearby County. The team had to use the vehicle in a rescue and rounds were shot at the officers and hit the vehicle, but not the officers.

I have also been in this vehicle when our team responded to the incident in Loudon County where Deputy Jason Scott was shot and killed. I was in the vehicle when we attempted to make contact with the shooter and he fired rounds at us. Fortunately the rounds did not strike the vehicle as we were not completely confident of the level of ballistic support compared to the suspect's firepower. I was grateful for this surplus item from the military and I know my family appreciated that I was protected by it.

We have Kevlar vests that officers wear that are bullet resistant. This technology was created for our military and we now use it for police officers and others in emergency services. Officer Derrick White from KPD is with us today because of this technology as he was shot in the middle of his chest by a suspect recently. That round would have taken his life. His family is grateful for this "military" technology that we are using.

More recently, KPD has obtained other needed equipment from the military. We have rifles that we have deployed to specially trained officers on patrol to use in response to situations that may call for that level of need. Incidents like mass shootings, as we have experienced in Knoxville at a church, a school, and a mall are all certainly situations where these were needed. Before our obtaining these rifles we were limited in our ability to respond with an equal or greater level of force to what we were facing.

We have a HUMMV that is "up armored" for use in tactical rescue situations and serving "high risk" warrants where firearms are known or expected and the individual is known to carry and use them. This has replaced the armored vehicle that I mentioned previously. We obtained several "off road" motorcycles for our Search and Rescue Team to use in the challenging terrain we have in East Tennessee in cases involving a missing or abducted person. We have GP Medium tents that can be used for shelter in emergencies. We have storage containers that we obtained to secure items at our range facility. These are all items that we obtained without having to use local resources or funds.

We also have equipment that some are calling "military" that we have obtained through the Homeland Security program with grants. We have robots that are primarily used for recovering explosive devices, but have also been used in tactical situations to gather intelligence and information for decision making. We have a large fully armored vehicle that can be used in a Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical environment that keeps those inside of it safe with fresh air to breathe. These items were purchased with specific known threats in mind for our region.

You may ask why I have divulged all the equipment that we have. Doesn't this defeat the purpose of our having it? None of this equipment is a secret and we have displayed this equipment at community fairs and events to educate our community on our capability to respond to the threats and to keep us all safe. These are items provided by our community for our community.

One note on the surplus program. All of the equipment obtained are items that every taxpayer has already purchased. If the military were not to provide them to our local communities to meet our needs, they would either be destroyed or provided to military units in other countries that may end up being taken over by a rogue faction (like ISIS) to use to protect that force or against our forces and our allies. Additionally and importantly, most of this equipment is not used daily in law enforcement operations. It is on hand for when it is needed for those special situations.

I have heard questions about the wearing of camouflage, ballistic helmets and tactical vests by officers in an urban environment. The comments being that this is another sign of "militarization". The comment has been that these uniforms are not needed in an urban setting. Again, these are not uniforms worn by the rank and file, but by specialty units. Units like SWAT, Bomb Squads, Riot Squads, and Search and Rescue wear tactical equipment and uniforms that are practical for the mission they are specially trained to address.

In Knoxville, our SWAT team wears OD Green uniforms, Bomb Squad and Riot Squad wear Black uniforms, and our Search and Rescue team wear Beige uniforms. Each of these uniforms has specific designs for the missions that they perform. We call them practical and tactical as they are made to withstand the rigors of the missions. Helmets, tactical vests, and other protective gear are worn to reduce the possibility of injury to the officer.

You may ask why I have divulged all the equipment that we have. Doesn't this defeat the purpose of our having it? None of this equipment is a secret and we have displayed this equipment at community fairs and events to educate our community on our capability to respond to the threats and to keep us all safe. These are items provided by our community for our community.

One note on the surplus program. All of the equipment obtained are items that every taxpayer has already purchased. If the military were not to provide them to our local communities to meet our needs, they would either be destroyed or provided to military units in other countries that may end up being taken over by a rogue faction (like ISIS) to use to protect that force or against our forces and our allies. Additionally and importantly, most of this equipment is not used daily in law enforcement operations. It is on hand for when it is needed for those special situations.

I have heard questions about the wearing of camouflage, ballistic helmets and tactical vests by officers in an urban environment. The comments being that this is another sign of "militarization". The comment has been that these uniforms are not needed in an urban setting. Again, these are not uniforms worn by the rank and file, but by specialty units. Units like SWAT, Bomb Squads, Riot Squads, and Search and Rescue wear tactical equipment and uniforms that are practical for the mission they are specially trained to address.

In Knoxville, our SWAT team wears OD Green uniforms, Bomb Squad and Riot Squad wear Black uniforms, and our Search and Rescue team wear Beige uniforms. Each of these uniforms has specific designs for the missions that they perform. We call them practical and tactical as they are made to withstand the rigors of the missions. Helmets, tactical vests, and other protective gear are worn to reduce the possibility of injury to the officer.

I wish we were in a society where none of this equipment was necessary, but unfortunately that is not the case. I believe that our community wants our police officers to be safe, to be able to serve every available day that they can during their career, to keep the peace and provide safety and security. I know that the families of our officers expect me as the Chief to provide every piece of equipment that I can obtain to keep their loved one safe.

To do this successfully, we have to have the equipment that I have described. While it is from the military, it is not being used against our residents in an aggressive or oppressive manner and most of it is only used in the most serious and volatile situations to protect our community and our officers.

The use of "tear gas" and other "less lethal" options is a police tactic, not a military tactic, to control crowds during civil unrest and disorder. When I was in the military they did not teach me to use "tear gas" or other "less lethal" methods preparing for war. They taught me to throw grenades and shoot the enemy. In basic training we were not taught to discern between "good guys" and "bad guys" as anyone that would be in front of us would be the enemy and we understood that they wanted to kill us. We were taught to kill the enemy.

That is not the way I was taught in the Police Academy. I was taught that we must never use deadly force on anyone that is not an imminent threat to our lives or the lives of others. We were taught that you must control every round that you fire and understand that every round that you fire is intended to stop the threat and you are accountable for every round.

We were taught that we work with and for our community to keep it safe from those who choose to violate the laws and who are seeking to create victims. We were taught to foster partnerships and collaborate with residents to enhance our ability to maintain the peace and create a safe community. In other words, we are one with our community and together we will prevent, solve, and control crime.

When it comes to the deployment of equipment by the police, the rule that we always apply is that you only deploy what you are authorized and willing to use for the safety of all involved. Please keep in mind the reasons for a tactical response. Protests where rocks and bottles are thrown, bombs are thrown, and bullets are fired at law enforcement and first responders require a special response. These actions are not peaceful, they are criminal and they are violent.
They require a different response than an officer in their everyday uniform as they are not everyday actions. They require officers with specialized training to address these threats and specialized equipment to protect the residents, the officers, and the community.

The response is not a "military" action, but a tactical one. The officers use the lowest level of force to enforce the laws and attempt to regain control and peace for the community. They do this with much restraint and use of less lethal options which includes "tear gas". Remember that these actions are a law enforcement RESPONSE to the actions of those who are causing problems.

Another fact that is important in this debate is that the military in the last two wars has sought out training in law enforcement tactics as they have been put into situations similar to what law enforcement faces by having to police both Afghanistan and Iraq.
My intent in this narrative is to hopefully explain the "why" police departments have "military" equipment and to express how we are not using "military" tactics. We only have equipment that allows us to address the changing threats that we face in our communities to keep our residents and our officers safe. This equipment is saving additional taxpayer dollars and improving the safety of our communities. This equipment is not changing the mindset or the tactics of daily policing. It is providing law enforcement needed protection for those special situations that call for special equipment.

Law enforcement professionals understand that we must work with our communities to be effective and successful. We are not an occupying force and our neighbors are not our enemies. I am concerned that "militarization" commentary will hamper the ability of law enforcement to obtain needed equipment from the surplus program.

I hope that our members of Congress and our President will not let the "buzz word" play into their decisions on this program and that they will ask those of us in law enforcement what we have and how we use it. If they will do this, they will also learn the value of the program for the safety of all of us.

412 8 15 LINKEDIN 2 COMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: http://on.wbir.com/1oZRm3e