Images of riots in the streets of Baltimore and Ferguson following police-related deaths have flooded television screens for the past year and ignited a public debate over how much firepower and force local police departments should be allowed to wield. But this week’s revelation of an apparent terrorist-inspired plot in Boston to behead a police officer should make us pause before we continue talk of disarming law enforcement.
Local police officers are not just dealing with local crime anymore. They are becoming a front line against terror. Boston Police officers came face-to-face with this truth on the streets of Roslindale when a man they suspected of being on the verge of committing a terrible act against one of their own allegedly lunged at them with a military-grade knife.
Before we start taking resources away from our police, we need to make sure our approach is balanced. Our police officers are facing new and different threats, and they must have access to the tools they need to protect the public and themselves from danger. This seems to be especially true in Boston.
The city was chosen by the 9/11 hijackers to launch their plot to kill thousands of innocent Americans using commercial jetliners. It’s also where the Tsarnaev brothers carried out their plan to bomb, kill, and maim Boston Marathon spectators, before killing an MIT law enforcement officer in cold blood as he sat in his police cruiser. And now it has become the city where two aspiring terrorists allegedly planned to brutally murder a police officer.
At the same time, Baltimore and Ferguson have put law enforcement officials under the microscope of politicians and pundits, their actions scrutinized and questioned. Last month, President Obama responded by signing an executive order making it more difficult for local departments to obtain certain kinds of weapons.
Unilaterally moving to disarm police departments without consulting them is risky, and needs to be carefully considered.
Perhaps the Obama administration has a point that local departments don’t need grenade launchers and bayonets and can justify not making them available through the federal government. However, part of Obama’s new policy also puts up obstacles for departments to acquire “flash-bang” grenades. If that term sounds familiar, it’s because they are the very same nonlethal devices used by officers attempting to flush Dzhokhar Tsarnaev out of a boat in a Watertown backyard after he spent days terrorizing Greater Boston.
If the Obama administration had taken time to ask law enforcement whether they could provide a real-world example of why they might need ready access to that type of equipment, officers in Massachusetts would likely have made a solid case.
The key is balance. We should absolutely pay attention to reports of excessive force by police. Those incidents should be thoroughly investigated, and prosecuted if necessary.
But using these cases to paint the entire law enforcement community with a broad brush is overzealous, and making across-the-board policy and funding changes to take away their power in response is not the answer.
We ask a lot of our local police officers. We want them to maintain the peace and protect us from bad guys. Sometimes that can be accomplished with handcuffs, a baton, and a handgun. Sometimes it requires something more sophisticated and forceful, especially while the threat of terrorism in our streets continues.
We need to trust our law enforcement officials to know the difference. Taking that discretion away from them is a dangerous proposition and puts us all in the line of fire.
Meredith Warren is a Republican political analyst and consultant.