War in the streets: Protecting our laws
By Brandon Elliott

Share this article:  

My mind has been heavy since the marathon bombing April 15 in Boston. It brought me back to a feeling I had many years ago as I watched the events of 9/11 on TV — an incident that rocked me to the core. Until that time I had never truly experienced sadness, anger and pride in such quantities all at the same time. I was, for lack of a better word, "awestruck."

Growing up in a law enforcement family, I had been warned about the big dangers of drug violence and drug use. As an '80s baby, I grew up during the war on drugs, not the war on idealistic radicalism. It was nothing for my uncle and father to tell me stories of the crimes committed by desperate people looking for their next high. For someone safely protected, it was the only scourge I was aware of until that fateful day in September.

INDUSTRY PULSE

Do you think officers should be trained just like the military?
  • 1. Yes
  • 2. No

The events on 9/11 that pushed me ultimately toward the family business. Until then I wanted to be a musician or something. But ultimately I landed here, a cop, in a completely different world than my father and my uncle. The Boston tragedy is an example of how our situation has evolved over the past decade and should not be taken lightly.

After I decided to begin my schooling in criminal justice and take the path toward a law enforcement career, my father told me he had seen this coming for years. He went on to say more than a decade ago that "one day in your career there will be war in the streets that your generation of cops is going to have to fight, not the military." That quote got lost somewhere in my subconscious until April 15 when suddenly I remembered what he said. The subsequent events were then no surprise to me. The "war in the streets" had begun.

Let there be no mistake, what took place in the streets of Boston was not the apprehension of a murder suspect. This was a skirmish between two militarized idealistic radicals and a professional law enforcement agency. Thankfully, in this case Boston PD's squared-away response ended it without further casualties.

This type of fighting is going on everyday in Afghanistan. Except there, the rules of war apply and here the rules of our Constitution apply. We are at a crossroads now because our way of life is threatened more then ever. If war is brought to our streets in everyday America, then our liberties could be in jeopardy. Our leadership needs to recognize this and begin planning to preserve the liberties we are afforded each day. After all, isn't that what we all do this for? Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; war is none of these things, but war secured these for us. To preserve it we must learn to adapt.

As law enforcement officers, we need to prepare to fight like cohesive military units in battle while maintaining our purpose as law keepers and right protectors for our country and communities. Our training must be much like that of the military for fighting purposes. But we still need to remember we are not soldiers. We are police officers. We are here to uphold the Constitution of the United State of America and then, if necessary, protect it by force.

In doing that we directly preserve the life, liberty and happiness of individual citizens. It is hard to do that when fear of the militarization of our police forces scares many citizens. Citizens begin to think we are moving toward martial law and the eventually revocation their rights for their own protection. Our mission as police officers is to preserve those rights not take them away. We need to be wary of how we are operating and evaluate ourselves.

We can accomplish ultimate security and safety for our citizens, while preserving their right to practice their unalienable freedoms, by being the most professionally prepared organization possible. We need to demonstrate transparency to our citizens and maintain an open dialogue with the community so we show our commitment to them and not our commitment to defeating the enemy. Enemy defeat is what we want to see from our military not our police agencies.

We need to remember individual rights regardless of the situation. Once the smoke clears, the liability of your police actions fall upon you and your agency. It is not hard to Mirandize a suspect before interrogation, refrain from torture and abuse and to investigate a crime to convict or even clear your suspect.

We are living in a new world where federal laws will trump the Constitution in light of a terror act. However, there is a gray area. What exactly constitutes a terror act? My advice would be let the lawyers figure that out. You do your job procedurally and professionally no matter the situation. If the federal government wants to override that, so be it — that is not your concern.

On the other side of the field, we need to make sure all of our officers on the street are prepared to fight a battle if need be. Officer safety is paramount, and this should be the cornerstone of your agency's mission statement. Keeping your people alive and fit will ultimately save the lives of the public as well.

Training for a battle can only go so far. You can have a plan and a plan "B," but most likely you will be using a little of both and some improvisation. I propose that your agency have a good plan that is flexible. The best way to accomplish this is to have officers trained to adapt and overcome.

Each individual officer should be prepared and well-trained. Officers should know how to recognize when a battle may ensue. If they aren't competent, then they need to be removed from their duties. When the lives of other officers and citizens depend on your officers to be battle-ready, there is no excuse for complacency or incompetency.

Your agency's preparations should not only be about battle planning but also the psychological preparation of your officers. This will go a long way for the effectiveness of the officer in the field. Furthermore, equipping your officers with best gear possible and training them to use it regularly is a must.

Your agency should evaluate its situation and make the necessary changes needed to prepare its officers for war in the streets. You also need to make sure you take steps to ensure the rights of your citizenry. If the public is on your side, then execution of any battle plan will prove successful, your intelligence will be sounder and the conflict will be resolved faster and safer.

Brandon Elliott is a 10-year officer in a busy East Coast resort police department. Brandon has experience in investigations, counter-narcotics, patrol and training. He holds a degree in criminal justice, as well as certifications as a police instructor and field training officer. Brandon is currently the head of his organization's reserve officer program and serves his organization as an FTO.