Hilton Head Regional Library, 3-4:30 PM, March 1, 2017
Presenter: Maria Velez de Berliner, a subject matter expert (SME) on risks and threats to the government and private industry of the United States, also a George Washington University professor.
Moderator: Dr. John Miller
Dr. Berliner started by stating that the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act basically prohibits the nation's armed forces from use as a police force within the United States. Nevertheless, since the terrorist attack in 2001 on the World Trade Center, law enforcement has become increasingly militarized as a strategy to meet the security needs of the public. Training, equipment and practices have changed in many police departments. She made the case that the militarization of cops has unintended consequences. Ethics, she said, implies a diﬀerence between right and wrong.
The U.S. Constitution puts forth three key provisions protecting U.S. residents:
Traditionally, she explained, in criminal investigations, policemen gather evidence selected to hold up to scrutiny in a court trial, in which the suspect has a defending attorney. Traditionally, police oﬃcers have been trained to try to make sure that arrests are legal, that suspects know their rights, and that their assumptions are based on hard evidence. In those circumstances, she said, the public by and large trusts the police.
There is a crucial diﬀerence between community policing and military operations. Police ask questions of the public to solve crimes. Military people are trained to see those that they encounter as the enemy, she said. She explained that the military, (assuming those that they encounter are the enemy), act on intelligence that may or may not be accurate.
Although the United Kingdom, in order to deal with the violent Irish Republic Army, and the French, in dealing with the Algerian National Liberation Front, collected and used intelligence in military fashion, in our country -- for the most part --the militarization here did not happen until after 9/11.
Congress passed the U. S. Patriot Act, which "overwhelmed the Constitution," she said. "The military is trained to shoot straight and ﬁrst. The military thinks in terms of presumption of guilt rather than presumption of innocence." In some cases, she said, police officers have shot innocent citizens because of the ingrained militarization. Terrorists are indeed horrible, but not all criminals are terrorists, and not all sources of information are credible. Police at work in a community in our country are in a different situation from soldiers in enemy territory. "There is no reason," she said, for us to be terrorist-obsessed."
Q & A with the audience
How do we deal with the problem?
Dr. Berliner: Through better training of police.
But how do we hope to prevent terrorist attacks?
Dr. Berliner: This is a gray area. We should work hard for the happy medium. If I am a cop who has done my work and have grounds to believe you are a terrorist, I may shoot you. But if I shoot you, I as a cop am depriving you of the due process to which you are entitled.
Cops are trained that if they are outgunned, they should back oﬀ. The militarization of police is one reaction to the militarization of criminals.
Dr. Berliner: True. In some Chicago neighborhoods, where police are outgunned and out-intelligenced, the cops simply do not go there. People then pay extortion to the criminals to keep themselves safe. Any society where law enforcement collapses is in trouble.
We have a history of changes in our understanding of Constitutional rights.
Dr. Berliner: From outside the United States, there is an understanding that Americans are comfortable with violence. We are a country awash in guns. We are raising a generation used to violence.
Is the arming of the public with automatic weapons one reason cops may become trigger-happy?
Dr. Berliner: Americans have come to believe that the government cannot protect them so they arm themselves. Nobody will take away their guns, but we ought to keep guns away from the mentally ill and and children and we ought to make parents responsible for their children's use of guns.
People pack heat because they believe the police cannot protect them. Seeing police in armored vehicles makes people afraid.
Dr. Berliner: Long ago policemen helped little old ladies across the street.
With regard to the problem you have raised, are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
Dr. Berliner: I believe the bedrock institutions of the USA are the best in the world. I
believe in the future. I do recommend more money for police training. Also, I worry about millennials' games in which they blow everybody up. Also, I think parents need to be responsible for their children.
Our overwhelming thanks to Dr. Berliner for an exceptionally outstanding presentation and discussion on this very important and current ethical topic. Thanks also to Dr. John Miller for moderating, Fran Bollin for her note-taking and summary, and to Marion Conlin for recruiting Dr. Berliner for today's presentation.