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The Militarization of Police - How Fiction can be More Accurate than the News

What immediately drew me to my favorite fiction authors, Tom Clancy and Vince Flynn, was their attention to detail with regard to weapons, tactics, and training. The work of each writer reflected well-researched data regarding the weapons that their characters carried, the tactics they employed, and the training needed to accomplish the missions upon which they embarked. The editor for my first novel, Lincoln 9, consistently reminded me of the importance of maintaining credibility by ensuring that the plot and the characters were realistic, despite the fact that the story was a work of fiction. She stated from experience that the first error caught by a prospective buyer who happened to be browsing the text, would result in their moving on to the next book cover, title, or author who caught their attention. It is unfortunate that the public is not more discerning in the headlines they read; and that those who seek recognition through their by-lines are more focused upon a particular narrative than accuracy. It would appear that fiction authors write with greater accuracy than those reporting the news.

An example of such careless authorship can be found in the media’s near hysteria over the alleged militarization of urban police. Armored vehicles, camouflage fatigues, and carbine rifles have created a new narrative alleging that law enforcement agencies in America are looking more like standing armies, than organizations staffed with peace officers. When an Orange County, California newspaper reporter recently sought to write an article featuring the armored truck housed at the police station for “America’s Safest City,” Irvine, California, the department’s command staff assigned a lieutenant to answer any and all questions regarding its mission and deployment. Clearly, the BEAR, or Ballistic Engineered Armored Response vehicle is an imposing mode of transportation that could generate legitimate questions regarding its resemblance to an asset found in a mechanized military division. It is fair to ask the vehicle’s cost, who paid for it, how often it is used, maintenance expenses, and deployment protocols. It is not appropriate for an author to create his or her own answers to those questions.

It was with great surprise that the completed article portrayed the vehicle as a classic example of government waste, in that it had been used only five times in five years, especially in light of Irvine’s famously low crime rate. It is frustrating that reporters so frequently miss such an opportunity to share a potentially interesting story, by a fabrication to fit the narrative that government has again squandered taxpayer money on another boondoggle.

So, is the real story more interesting? Let the reader judge. It was the events of September 11, 2001, that set in motion an effort by the federal government to enhance the ability of local level organizations to address future terrorist threats. Several grants were issued to provide funding for equipment and training, however, Orange County, California took this influx of money in a unique direction. County officials anticipated that the next attack on the homeland could delay or overwhelm local, state, and federal resources, so they created a counter terrorist team to address an incident independent from a federal or state level response. Funded solely by grants, the County established the Joint Hazardous Assessment Team, or JHAT. This team was initially comprised of SWAT officers from the Sheriff’s Department, Irvine Police, Anaheim Police, Huntington Beach Police, and Santa Ana Police Departments and teamed with bomb technicians, and paramedics from three fire agencies. They were trained by instructors from the military’s Special Forces (Navy SEALS and Delta), and equipped with specially designed Patriot breathing apparatus, chemical/biological retardant suits, and armored trucks called BEARs (Ballistic Engineered Armored Response vehicles). Their mission was to respond and address terrorist incidents occurring within the County until the FBI’s enhanced SWAT team from Los Angeles could be on scene, or the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team could be flown in from the East Coast. They train together with each piece of equipment two days every quarter, frequently with actors in hypothetical scenarios.

The Irvine Police Department and other participating agencies contribute SWAT officers who are the most experienced, and have participated in SWAT competitions both locally and nationally. The BEARs’ application to local barricade and hostage incidents is an added benefit, but their primary mission remains homeland security; and JHAT continues to train with that asset, toward that end.

Special Weapons and Tactics Teams are expensive to create, train, and maintain. Some small agencies boast of fielding them for recruitment purposes, or as a benefit during contract negotiations, but regionalization is a better use of such resources. An informed media would better serve their subscribers by exploring the waste and liabilities related to this issue, than to attack an asset based upon the frequency of use, as opposed to its intended mission. September 11th reminds us that an ideology has declared war upon our nation, and that we were first attacked at the local level. Law enforcement agencies soon realized that sharing information was beneficial, and that military technology may provide crossover benefits in protecting communities. Is it more interesting to question an asset that is seldom used, or does the story draw you in as you begin to learn its history and application?

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