Occasionally in this business (politics) there’s a moment when the usual voices of Left and Right actually arrive at the same point and form a voice of blissful convergence.
I saw that happen a few weeks ago when Delegate Rich Anderson (R-Woodbridge) and myself joined the ACLU and Sorenson Institute in Alexandria for a discussion which focused (small picture) on “license plate readers,” and (big picture) on the need to limit the use of technology in law enforcement, where it is indiscriminately collecting information.
The latest Left-Right convergence is beginning to take shape. Specifically, it focuses on the collection of high-powered military technology by local police and Sheriffs. At its most absurd, we’re talking about the proliferation of squad-sized armored personnel carriers in rural counties. At a more granular level, it involves Kevlar vests and 7.62 mm rifles being distributed to ordinary police.
As Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) pointed out, there is a disconnect here. These military items were manufactured to wage war on a hostile army or population. There is no war going on in the USA. There is no reason to point these weapons at a U.S. population, especially a peaceful gathering.
The whole purpose of local policing is to build trust in a local community, so that residents can have faith in making reports to officers and counting on them to keep the peace. Showing up to a domestic disturbance with an AR-15 is not helping the situation.
Back in February 2012, I made a similar protest when there were sharpshooters on the roof of the Governor’s mansion as it was surrounded by peaceful protesters against the “ultrasound” bill. I thought that was absurd and overkill. It’s just as absurd to face a protest march in Ferguson, Missouri, with similar hardware.
Now I realize that some of these items are DOD surplus which have been “given” to local police. Other items were specifically earmarked under the U.S. Patriot Act (which continues to be a legislative disaster that needs to be terminated). Either way, they’re not necessary — and they give the exact wrong impression to civilians.
I say all this with 100% confidence in the professionalism and restraint of the Fairfax County and Fairfax City Police Departments, with which I’m pretty familiar. You won’t see an armored car rolling down our Main Street anytime soon.