I should probably admit that I am likely a bit of a romanticist when it comes to the police-officer and that I have always been impressed with the ubiquitous ‘Bobby-on-the-beat’, armed with their Custodian helmets, sunny disposition, truncheon and whistle. Personally, I preferred the originally iteration which featured a very Prussian looking spike on the top of their convex bulge… and not just because it looked quite phallic… although I feel that was likely a happy circumstance. To steal a quote from the greatest police procedural show ever made, ‘my cock up, your arse’.
I should ALSO probably warn you right near the beginning that this tirade will eventually, since I am an unashamed Japanophile, circle round and start extolling all things Japanese. Japan does a lot of stuff that I like really well. (food, swords, trains… gaming consoles) and so I feel compelled to wax on nauseatingly about how awesome they are. Even if I have no actual desire to be Japanese. (seems like A LOT of hard work)
In any event, I’ve always felt that a good litmus test for how enviable (and broadly Utopian) your society is, is how militarized your police force is. There was a time (not so long ago) when police didn’t sport that black overburdened body armor look (with the accompanying carbine). I lament that we have gotten to this point where this has become a ‘thing’, because its difficult now to ever go back to a more pastoral setting where the police didn’t ‘police’ through badass-ity and where they were seen less as enforcers of the state and more like helpful pillars of the community. (I think this might have something to do with the fact that police no longer live in the communities they serve… and that we’ve lost that sense of cohesiveness that comes with tight-knit neighborhoods *shrug* maybe?)
Anyways, this is most clearly illustrated with how Lego figurines have changed over the years. Because I am old now, I still remember playing with the first iteration. For me this was always the quintessential lawman.
Its sad that children today could no longer identify with that first version of the police officer anymore…
When I was in Japan I was awed by the police there. Its almost like you’ve stepped back in time. A Japanese police officer will still often carry a keijō as part of his load-out, basically a wooden staff or the shorter version, called a keibo and their sidearm is a five shot revolver affixed with a lanyard in one of those old-school-all-encompassing leather holsters. Initially, when I saw this, I must admit, I was amused, but the more I thought about this the more envious I became.
Of course, Japan is not like the rest of the world, and in a society with 126 million people they usually have less than ten firearm related homicides per year. Which feels like some sort of clerical error more than an actual statistic. Japan is is not entirely unique in this, but it does feel like the most extreme example of an ideal police force.
There is loads of evidence to suggest that militarizing police actually does very little to make people safer. In fact, the opposite may be true. To be fair, I am very sympathetic to police officers and the tough job they have to do in environments where the chance that you are likely to engage with citizens that have a less ‘live and let live approach’ to resolving their differences with the laws of the land is not zero. And if I were a police officer I would definitely want more firepower, more protection and less pesky oversight in fulfilling my duties.
BUT… on a scale of slippery slopes, the militarization of the police feels especially steep to me.
I don’t have any solutions obviously. I’m just lamenting something that I wish wasn’t so. I also think we are likely past the point of return and that the police and military will soon become largely indistinguishable, other than in name. And that doesn’t feel like a step in the right direction…