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Greg Peck: Have police become too militarized?

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Greg Peck
August 22, 2014

Thursday a friend and I discussed the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri. He has more than a passing interest because his daughter is a police officer. He wishes she'd change professions.

That's not surprising. Given the dangers that a police officer might face at any moment, or potential allegations of misconduct, why would anyone want to work as one?

No doubt, many officers went into the profession with the desire to protect and serve.

Then we have situations like in Ferguson, where a police officer stands accused of shooting an unarmed teenager six times, killing him. What led the officer to use deadly force? My friend tends to side with the officer. He reasons that if the officer had a clean professional record, he likely had good reason to shoot. Of course, that isn't how protesters in Ferguson see it. Whether enough people witnessed the confrontation to ever provide a straight answer, the real story, remains to be seen.

My friend and I agreed that every profession—including law enforcement and journalism—has bad actors.

One of my best friends from high school retired after years as a detective. I wonder what he thinks of Ferguson.

I've also been wondering what Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore thinks. As a journalist, I've had many cordial and professional conversations with Moore. I believe he's a reasonable, thoughtful man and great police chief, anything but heavy-handed. I haven't spoken to him since the Ferguson shooting. I'm sure he cringes whenever we print another in the long line of cartoons I've received that suggest policing has become too militarized.

Today's Gazette shares a Gannett Wisconsin Media report that says the Pentagon has given more than $28 million in surplus military gear to Wisconsin police agencies in the past decade. This includes assault rifles, grenade launchers and mine-resistant trucks. Do our police departments need all this hardware? Might mere access to it encourage officers to respond in heavy-handed ways?

I haven't had any negative dealings with police officers. Many people of color would suggest it helps me that I'm Caucasian. I don't draw the suspicious eyes of police officers simply because of my color. I'm sure many officers would argue that suggestion is unfair.

I hope peace—and justice—comes soon for folks in Ferguson.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.



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