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Cultural Shift Needed on Police Militarization

by Peter Kraska

It is certainly a positive development that the White House has taken such a keen interest in this problem. And the executive order appears to include some important changes — including making it more difficult to obtain that most extreme military armament available to our local police.

However, police militarization is a 25 year long trend that has only grown in momentum over time. The restrictions on militaristic gear directed by the White House while important symbolically, will certainly not substantively impact this trend in and of itself. Police militarization at this point is as much a cultural problem as it is a material one, and reversing the cultural trend toward police militarization will require more far reaching efforts.

There are signs the Obama administration understands this to some extent, given the re-emphasis that would like to place on community policing reform efforts. But we have to remain aware that the federal government attempted to steer the police institution for the last 25 years in a community policing direction; the result: police militarization.

Peter Kraska, whose books include Militarizing the American Criminal Justice System: The Changing Roles of the Armed Forces and the Police, was consulted by the White House and has testified on this same issue in front of the U.S. Senate.