Killing Barney Fife: law enforcement’s socially constructed perception of violence and its influence on police militarization
Hanley, Matthew D.
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Police militarization is a complex subject with significant homeland security implications. Efforts to implement militarization reform without a clear understanding of the issue could negatively impact law enforcement’s ability to respond to emerging threats from terrorism, homegrown violent extremism, and armed criminals. Conversely, unfettered militarization of domestic policing could result in abuse of authority and loss of public confidence. This thesis proposes a nuanced definition of police militarization based on existing literature. The research then examines the correlation between violence and police militarization. A statistical analysis of crime data found an inverse relationship between levels of reported violence and militarization. However, the research discovered a strong nexus between perceptions of violence by the police and efforts to militarize. Social identity theory was used to explain why isolated acts of violence against police officers are perceived as attacks on the law enforcement community and lead to deep social divisions between the police and the public. This socially constructed reality of violence, which is reinforced by the media and training, has a powerful effect on police attitudes and behavior. The conclusion is that police militarization has been influenced by violence, and appropriate levels of militarized capabilities are needed to protect both the police and the public.
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