Extracts from yesterday’s New York Times:
Neenah’s police chief, Kevin E. Wilkinson, said he understood the concern. At first, he thought the anti-mine truck was too big. But the department’s old armored car could not withstand high-powered gunfire, he said.
“I don’t like it. I wish it were the way it was when I was a kid,” he said. But he said the possibility of violence, however remote, required taking precautions. “We’re not going to go out there as Officer Friendly with no body armor and just a handgun and say ‘Good enough…’ ”
The ubiquity of SWAT teams has changed not only the way officers look, but also the way departments view themselves. Recruiting videos feature clips of officers storming into homes with smoke grenades and firing automatic weapons. In Springdale, Ark., a police recruiting video is dominated by SWAT clips, including officers throwing a flash grenade into a house and creeping through a field in camouflage.
In South Carolina, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department’s website features its SWAT team, dressed in black with guns drawn, flanking an armored vehicle that looks like a tank and has a mounted .50-caliber gun. Capt. Chris Cowan, a department spokesman, said the vehicle “allows the department to stay in step with the criminals who are arming themselves more heavily every day…”
I’ve written about Sonny Lee before, but the law enforcement community apparently wasn’t listening. So here goes again.
Back in the late 1950s I was a police reporter in Arlington County, Virginia, across the river from Washington. Sonny Lee was a short, wide, solid, crew-cut detective sergeant, the department’s go-to guy if you needed a brawl broken up or a door kicked down before the man inside succeeded in beating his wife to death. One day I asked him if he had ever had occasion to draw his gun.
“Hell, no,” Sonny said. “A man needs a gun to do this job, he’s in the wrong line of work.”