Weapons in Williamsburg

The steady stream of stories describing all levels of misconduct inside police forces nationwide shows no signs of running dry meaning one thing is certain: The police, in the eyes of the public, are no longer emblematic of the general concept of upholding the law.

More and more, people are viewing the police force as ineffective, hardly able to perform basic duties such as keeping the public safe from crime. In a poll taken, only a fraction of the population (49 percent) actually believed that the police do more than just a fair job at protecting them. That’s not to mention the accompanying concerns held by those surveyed. Only 30 percent believed that police forces were doing a good job at holding officers accountable when misconduct occurs, 35 percent believed that the police generally used an appropriate amount of force in a given situation, and 32 percent believed that the police treat different ethnic and racial groups equally.

For an institution that’s supposed to work for the sole benefit of the public, there’s an awful lot of distrust among the majority of the people they’re serving. Clearly, there’s a problem in the way police forces are operating. And is it any wonder that the police are falling out of public favor given the recent series of events in Ferguson and subsequent media attention given to the exponentially increasing militarization of police?

If the police response to the protesters in Ferguson has demonstrated anything, it’s that the police are being given access to gear which is simply not necessary for any domestic dispute that could possibly erupt. Police currently have several tools of war, such as silencers, camouflage, armored vehicles and aircrafts, at their disposal – this fact alone places a huge strain on the relationship between the public and the police.

While Williamsburg is obviously no Ferguson, it’s no secret that the Williamsburg police have a somewhat strained relationship with the community. Points of contention range from sourcing to responding to noise complaints, as well as the fact that the police acquired M16 assault rifles through the Pentagon Excess Property Program. Wait, what? Now, I’m no expert, and I’m not majoring in “Common Sense and Logic,” but having military grade assault rifles in an area that has a violent crime rate half the national average seems a bit extreme.

Even in cities like Chicago, people are up in arms about the general lack of demonstrable need for police to deploy assault rifles. Why have such heavy weaponry in Williamsburg, of all places? A measly 1.7 percent of guns nationwide are assault rifles, so with this small margin of potential gun crimes being conducted with assault weapons, there is no practicality in possessing these rifles. The day that enemy insurgents are dropped into colonial Williamsburg, I’ll turn around 180 degrees on this issue, but I don’t see that happening in the near future. There is, simply put, no reason that the police, or anyone excluding the military for that matter, should have access to these tools.

The only counter argument that should exist is that the police having these weapons makes people feel safer. That may be true for some, but for me, the opposite is true. Knowing that there is the remote possibility that an M16 is lying the trunk of any police car on the street makes me feel incredibly uneasy, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.

These military grade weapons must be placed under the same scrutiny as the more extreme instances of militarization across the nation, as it is no better. While we are fortunate that our police department has the good sense to not have a tank on standby as some police departments do, there’s still a great need for immediate demilitarization.

If police forces are going to be effective in accomplishing the bullet points in their job description, they need the assistance and cooperation of the public. Such pervasive mistrust, as a result of the police thinking that there is, in fact, a need for weapons of this caliber, is a direct hindrance to the police’s efficacy. Demilitarization is an easy and obvious way to develop a better sense of trust between the police and the body of people they are here to protect.

Email  Adam Brock at arbrock@email.wm.edu.


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