Military force vs. police force

When you go into the military on a volunteer basis, you go to “boot camp,” where they assess your fitness and capability. The aim of the modern military — any branch — is to be efficient with their responsibility to defend America against foreign foes. 

Part of the need for efficiency surfaced after the Vietnam era when we changed to a volunteer force. And, in that new recruiting process, the goal for the military was, to the extent possible, to determine each applicant’s potential expertise. In other words, if you were a math whiz, it was likely they tailored your training and employment in that area of need; like radar or accounting. What’s the point of putting a math whiz in a crowd fight with boots on the ground? It’s a waste of resources. Seen from another angle, what’s the point of putting a crack marksman into a warehouse billing department? The U.S. military — all branches — does its best to allocate the right talent into the right job from the day of recruitment.

This led to recruitment away from blindly “serve your nation” to “come find a career.” And the end result? The finest military on earth where morale and pride of the role of protector is higher than in previous decades and the public appreciation of our fighting women and men has never been higher. Of course, in recent polls the internal morale as regards the commander in chief has dropped to under 50% and the disconnect between Blue Star families and their community continues to be worrying (U.S. Army paper, 2/15/19). But overall, the career women and men in the military are proud of their choice to join and serve, as they should be.

Part of the problem facing the police — and we may hopefully be in a post-Vietnam-like inflection point — is that no one joining the police force gets that same early career assessment. In training, every officer is run through the same training and put on a beat. The motto seems to be, if you can make it on the streets dressed in blue, you can remain a police officer, part of the “team of brothers in blue.”

A helicopter pilot I knew in L.A. said it took him two years on a beat before he could use his helicopter license and become a pilot again. Why would anyone with half a brain risk that special talent on a violent East L.A. street in the ‘80s? He got wounded in his first year, survived and had to stick out the next year in a squad car before he could even transfer to helicopters. His force called it a “baptism of fire.” Not only is this kind of “training” wasteful of taxpayer dollars, it supports a culture of police being a force separate from the public and in a constant battle zone — often against the very public they are meant to protect. 

And if even 10% of the men and women in blue are way out of their talent and comfort zone in riot gear, why is anyone surprised there are missteps and more violence? Frightened people do frightening violence because they are panic-protecting themselves, not the public they were hired to serve. That frightened officer is likely not an evil person, just way out of his or her comfort zone and acting in panic. In a panic, your oath of office goes out the window.

What’s the solution? The police forces of the USA need to learn from the military’s post-Vietnam change in recruitment and training methodology. They need to weed out those who only come to kill (yes, the military does that — as should the police), and determine and train the most beneficial talents of each woman and man to run a more efficient, cost-effective, public-acclaimed force — there to serve and protect, not to serve to control, and certainly to serve the public in a more purpose-focused — and safer — way for all.


Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.

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