Medved on USA Today:
Numbers from the authoritative Bureau of Justice Statistics give some indication of the scope of the improvement. The incidence of violent crime reached its all-time high in 1991, and since that time has been cut nearly in half. The homicide rate was also cut at roughly the same pace, reaching its lowest level since 1963.
If any other serious social problem — such as poverty, or marital instability — showed similarly encouraging results we would applaud policies that might have contributed to progress. Instead, the American Civil Liberties Union insists that “American policing has become unnecessarily and dangerously militarized, in large part through federal programs that have armed state and local law enforcement agencies with the weapons and tactics of war.” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., enthusiastically agrees, decrying 1997 legislation providing local police forces with free surplus equipment from the Pentagon. But statistics show such programs have done nothing to slow declining crime rates, and might have even accelerated those improvements in public safety.
Moreover, there’s no evidence that trigger-happy police use more deadly force because they’re itching to try their new fire power. The number of annual police killings from 2005 to 2012 remained stable at about 400. Nearly all the tragic, well-publicized incidents of young black males dying at the hands of white cops occur when officers are isolated and vulnerable; none of the controversial recent shootings involved military style deployments with hordes of police in riot gear. Less than a quarter of all police uses of deadly force involved white officers firing at black suspects; in fact, a black male is 60 times more likely to die at the hands of another black male than to perish through actions of a white cop.
In addition to historic improvements in public safety for civilians, enhancements in training and equipment have lowered mortal risks for the officers themselves. During the 1970s, cops averaged more than 200 deaths a year in the line of duty, including hostile fire as well as fatal accidents, with fatalities reaching their peak (280) in 1974. Since that time, despite big growth in the number of officers patrolling our streets, the allegedly “militarized” police have proved less vulnerable to assault, with only 100 officers killed in 2013 — the lowest death toll since 1944.
From what I have read, the drop in LEO fatalities is not related to the militarization of police. The timeline correlates very well to the adoption of ballistic vests by police departments nationwide, as well as other factors such as the tightening of rules allowing hot pursuit, which reduced the number of deaths of LEOs in vehicular incidents.
While it may not be desirable to look upon the militarization of the police with fear and loathing, it is not correct to imply that such militarization has played much role in officer safety.
Our local department actually turned down the DOD offer, as the sheriff realized several things:
1) The cost of maintaining the equipment would suck budget money away from more productive uses.
2) The use of such equipment would paint his office as too aggressive for a local law enforcement agency.
3) The use of fully automatic weaponry is not appropriate in a law enforcement environment.
We have a good, thoughtful Sheriff.