The world, I think, came to know the doctrine of overwhelming force from the lips of our dear leader Donald Rumsfeld before the war in Iraq. The idea has been around much longer than that. It is something that has been practiced throughout history, went out of style in a way during the era of the Revolutionary war, and is now back in force. The firebombing of Dresden, the German Blitzkrieg, the bombing of the Ho Chi Minh trail are but a few examples. Last but not least we have "Operation Iraqi Freedom", the mother of all doublespeak smoke and mirrors.

My opinion of the war aside I want to talk about how this philosophy has taken hold in our society. Traditionally a military tactic it has been taken on as a way of policing our streets and the implications are drastic. I believe this is directly tied to the beating incident in New Orleans and other cases of police brutality as it moves military tactics to the streets and leaves police officers with more power than they know what to do with and a ready excuse of, "We used force neccessary to overcome the threat," without a clear limit to the force they are allowed to employ 'using their best judgement of the threat at hand'. After all, when do you reach the point of too overwhelming when the crime in question is most often observed only by the officers present and the 'perpetrator'.

Several years ago I was in a car accident and the officer on the scene lent me the use of his passenger seat and his cell phone to make a call. I've seen the inside of a police car several times (not with my hands bound thank you very much) and I know that the center console almost always has a rifle of some kind in it. Usually a 10 guage pistol grip riot gun or a carbine of some sort. Wasn't I surprised when I noticed that in the console was a fully tripped out MP5 9mm submachine gun with a night spotlight and everything. And, no it was not an assault rifle designed only to fire in semi-automatic fashion, the trigger housing had definite markings for single fire, three round burst, and fully automatic fire. "Hmmmm....Why in Gods name does a rural Minnesota cop need one of these?", I asked myself.

Lest you think I am a crackpot who thinks police are out to get people I will say that yes, there are lots of threats out there for police officers and they should be able to respond in a way that will nullify a bad situation should it arise. However, overwhelming force is a military tactic in its origin and because of this can be rather brutal. The military idea is to "Kill them all and let God sort them out." In a war it doesn't matter who you kill or hurt, that's your job and I don't think anyone who has ever served in a direct combat role would disagree. Despite political rhetoric an innocent is not paid nearly the due they should be in a war zone simply because war is the business of staying alive and killing the enemy. If you can't be sure someone is a noncombatant they will most likely get fired upon if they are in the crossfire. Even a known noncombatant who is in the crossfire is in serious danger of being deliberately targeted in the heat of battle simply because of the confusion inherent in a fight to the death. That said of course the military doesn't going around killing innocents like fish in a barrel. But it happens and it will continue to happen.

As a police officer it matters alot who you hurt and why. It is because their role is different. They are there to enforce the law, not kill enemies. So why do we give regular police in a rural area a weapon used mostly by SWAT teams and groups like Delta Force and Seal Team 6? When will a rural cop run up against a threat that needs that level of force to overwhelm it? A rogue meth cook you say? Mabye. But the fact is that there are precious few events of that nature despite the meth furor right now. Even fewer of them would necessitate the use of an MP5 when a trained officer and a handgun would most likely do the job over an untrained, and most likely high, meth cook or addict. When said officer finds a situation too big for him he should call in the SWAT team and wait at a safe distance, not pull out the machine gun and fire away.

Training, as the Navy Seal will tell you, is more of the battle than weaponry is, although it is important to have good equipment. And yet we train our police to confront almost everything and call for backup while doing so despite a relative lack of training in combat situations compared to even the Army Reserves. The SEAL's, who's doctrine involves some serious overwhelming force, don't confront everything. They pick their battles so that they can win. Police in Britain, who don't carry any handguns, do this very effectively. They will leave an armed suspect alone until backup carrying the neccesary force arrives. Somehow we Americans feel we have to John Wayne everything.

This mentality bleeds over into Police-Community relations. Would you think twice about approaching someone who is armed to the teeth and has incredible power over you legally? I know that the idea of approaching the military police in Brazil was not one I relished in my time there. They had power and they knew it. The submachine guns they carried were all the advertisement of that they needed. Police are the same way in many respects here. They have the power and sometimes it goes to their heads. This power comes both from their legal standing but also, to a great degree, in their knowledge that they carry incredible power over human life on their hip and in the center console of their car.

They feel invincible and at the same time know that this makes them a target of those who would commit crimes and wish to get away with it. This puts them on edge more than most would like to admit. Police in Britain are saved that psycological issue simply because they are not a target of as much criminal violence because they do not present the same threat to the criminals intent. And yet Britain has fairly low violent crime overall. It appears to me that America is engaging in an arms race with criminals rather than spending its time carefully tracking and apprehending said criminals. Criminals don't usually use overwhelming force. They use the force nessecary to get what they want and then they leave. But if they know they might have to fight the police they won't attempt the crime they want to commit until they have force sufficient to pull it off, they think. Unfortunately it's easy to get said 'force' on the black market and even at KMart sporting goods section in the US and so goes the escalation of the arms race. This is of course only my opinion.

Of course there are nerves on edge in New Orleans. That kind of stress brings out the core of people and usually problems rise more quickly to the fore when stress is elevated. So stress did play a part in the beating in New Orleans but what it showed was how utterly shameful police actions can become when they are given extraordinary power and very slim checks on the violence they can commit in the name of the law. It is not necessarily the doctrine of overwhelming force that I disagree with it is the way it is administered to police on the ground. By giving them the tools to wreak incredible havoc they are in essence being told that they can use it. This leads to innocent men being gunned down in a hail of gunfire when said innocent reaches for their wallet. It also leads to undercover cops being gunned down with an MP5 when their identity is mistaken, as happened here in the Twin Cities. In that case the cop was hit with an enormous number of bullets, eight or so of which pierced his body outside his bulletproof vest, and survived.

As my grandfather complained once, "Why do you need a 30 round clip when one bullet should do the job." I agree. It is about training and organization not about the firepower we give the frontline cops. If serious force is necessary specialists like the SWAT team should be brought in to do the job. They have the training to use the force the way it should be. You won't see a well trained SWAT team member empty the clip of his MP5, that is not an accurate way to use it nor does it conserve firepower for dangers to come. Rather it would be controlled bursts fired to kill. But giving a beat cop a maching gun encourages that cop to use indescriminate force because that cop will not have the years of training necessary to be calm and use the weapon the way it was designed. Rather, cops tend to empty their clips when confronted with a dangerous situation. The resulting carnage almost always makes the news.

It doesn't help that police departments almost always believe the cock and bull stories the cops tell after the fact. Obviously booking the man in New Orleans for public intoxication was false. They didn't submit him for a breathalizer. Who really thinks he assaulted a police officer from that tape. Yeah right! He got pounded when he said something the police officer didn't like. resisting arrest mabye is legit, but I'd probably resist too out of fear that they were not going to stop. It would be an instictual reaction. Although what was done was done due to stress I think leveller heads might have prevailed if police were not given the power and thus the mindset that they can use overwhelming force for everything.

"Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely," as they say. The power over human life is the most absolute power that can be granted and thus would corrupt in a similar fashion. Is it something that we want to grant in such perfusion to people who are better trained to make a traffic stop, or defuse a domestic dispute, than make a split second decision about life and death from behind a gunsight in the heat of battle?