In Iraq, I led a motley crew of soldiers, civilians, and contractors, who lived outside the wire in downtown Baquba, advising the government of Iraq’s volatile Diyala province in 2005-06. My team drove Iraq’s roads, walked Iraq’s streets, and regularly encountered improvised explosive devices, small arms fire, mortar fire, and other dangers during that dark and deadly time in Iraq. We wore body armor, carried semi-automatic rifles and pistols, and drove in armored Humvees, sometimes with drones or helicopters above.
In other words, we served in one of Iraq’s bloodiest cities, during the most violent time of the war, with the same gear that a civilian police department is now using in the small American town of Ferguson, Missouri, to quell civic disturbances there. Our wars have come home.
American police have become increasingly militarized for decades, in a story told brilliantly by scholar Radley Balko in his primer on the subject. However, for much of the past decades, paramilitary SWAT teams were balanced by community policing efforts, resulting in a mostly civilian, peaceful approach to law enforcement.