“America’s toughest sheriff” has taken the next logical step in the militarization of our nation’s police forces. Joe Arpaio is having his deputies patrol neighborhoods with AR-15 assault rifles. The AR-15 is the civilian version of the M-16 automatic rifle carried by US soldiers and Marines on the battlefield.
There was a time when Americans would have had to travel to a country like Mexico or Spain to see policemen patrolling the streets with military-style weapons. Now the citizens of Maricopa, Ariz., can see Mexican-style law enforcement on their side of the border.
Arpaio has reportedly ordered 400 AR-15s that he will pay for with money accumulated from arrests — in other words, cash seized from persons arrested by the Sheriff’s Department or money raised by selling goods seized by deputies. Despite what many people think, such money doesn’t come from convicted criminals; it can come from any money taken off a person in custody by a deputy, as Off The Grid News recently reported.
Tragedy Used to Justify Armed Police
Arpaio is using the tragic death of one of his deputies, Jorge Vargas, as the excuse for his armed force. Vargas was shot and killed while working on his pickup truck at his house in early August.
Vargas was not on duty at the time of the killing and there is no evidence that his death had anything to do with his job as a guard at the Maricopa County Jail. There is also no evidence of any sort of widespread plot or planned assault on the sheriff’s department.
So there is simply no justification for the arming of the deputies or the armed patrols on the streets.
Mayor Bloomberg’s Army
The scary thing is that Arpaio is hardly alone in trying to turn police into an army. Another get-tough-on-crime politician, outgoing New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (who is also a big supporter of gun control), has bragged, “I have my own army in the NYPD — the seventh largest army in the world.”
Among other things, Mayor Bloomberg’s “army” has stopped hundreds of thousands of citizens on the streets of his city and frisked them to see if they were carrying a gun – a policy recently struck down by a federal judge. Most of those citizens were not suspected of any crimes; they were stopped because they were poor and male and had black or brown skin. Bloomberg would like to see that agenda implemented in every American city.
Bloomberg and Arpaio are at the cutting edge of militarized law enforcement: converting police from law enforcement officers to tools of government policy and oppression. Such political leaders want heavily armed militarized police to force their beliefs and values on the rest of society rather than simply enforcing the law.
Sheriff Joe on the Cutting Edge
Even though he’s popular with some conservatives, Sheriff Arpaio is on the cutting edge of the militarization of American law enforcement. Arpaio’s drive to turn his deputies into heavily armed soldiers is sadly becoming the norm in American law enforcement.
Not only is he turning his deputies into soldiers, but Arpaio has organized his own force of armed volunteers who patrol local schools in marked sheriff’s vehicles. The volunteers are not deputies; they’re simply Joe’s political supporters who get to wear uniforms, carry guns, and strut around the streets.
Basically this means that Sheriff Joe now has 400 additional armed followers ready to take to the streets and enforce his version of martial law in Maricopa County. Like Mayor Bloomberg, Arpaio has seized on the Newtown school tragedy to justify his extremist agenda. Arpaio claims his posse exists to protect children from gunmen.
Sheriff Joe isn’t behaving like a sheriff anymore; he’s acting like a third world dictator.
Gun Crime Used to Justify Militarized Police
Gun crime is being used as an excuse to turn our nation’s law enforcement agencies into paramilitary forces.
Author Radley Balko noted that in 2011 the Pentagon gave local enforcement agencies $500 million worth of military equipment and weaponry. Balko also noted that the Department of Homeland Security has distributed to local police agencies $35 billion, much of that to purchase military gear and weapons since 2002.
Police now are “armed to the teeth, ready to deal harshly with targeted wrongdoers, and [are] a growing threat to familiar American liberties,” Balko wrote.
The really frightening thing is that this militarization of the police has occurred even as the crime rate in the United States has fallen. The number of homicides committed with firearms fell by 39 percent between 1993 and 2011. In the same time period, the number of other crimes committed with guns in the United States fell by 69 percent even though the number of guns in the country actually increased.
In other words, the gun crime rate is falling but it is being used as an excuse to transform the cop on the beat into a heavily armed storm trooper.
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with this column?