Cops in Time of War

As terrorist attacks on the nation increase, the role of police in public safety will have to adjust

By Jim Glennon  |   Dec 11, 2015

I’ve never met anyone of the Muslim faith who tried to radicalize me, kill me, cut in front of me in line, or try to persuade me to convert. In fact, most people I’ve met, who happen to be Muslim, have been incredibly nice, respectful and, as far as I know, supporters of America.

What I Do Know

I was our department’s DHS liaison for years, went through training about Islamic terrorism, and I’ve read many books about the history of Islam. There are certainly serious concerns that come from examining history and looking at current events through a prism of “radicalized Islam” (that is, beliefs that have led to murder and whole-sale slaughter of perceived infidels).

There’s a lot of talking going on right now—about faith and violence and radicalization—by so-called “experts” who cite historical corollaries, dubious surveys, and any array of facts that suit their end. Here’s what I know: Unknown numbers of people who purport to be Muslims, in a hateful and politicized rendering of that faith, are here, in the U.S. They are plotting to kill scores of civilians in the most heinous ways they can conceive.

Risk & Response

Everyone in this country is a potential “soft target”: people at malls, community gatherings, schools, amusement parks, college campuses, and so on.

This places America’s civilian law enforcement on the frontline. The cops will be the ones responding, risking and losing lives, as they try to save the innocent.

Is this nation prepared for law enforcement to take on that role?

Is law enforcement ready to take on that role?

Are we willing to equip them? Are we willing to provide the training necessary to “combat” jihadist warriors?

It seems as a nation, we are divided about the answers to some or all of the above questions.

Experience Thus Far

In 1829, when Sir Robert Peele initiated what is now considered modern policing in London, there was serious and heated debate about putting those officers in uniform because they might appear to the war-weary public like an occupying army.

In this country—much to the dismay of some, and to the confusion of many European nations—civilian police are independent of the federal government and in many ways the individual states. A national police force is a detestable idea to most Americans. It’s one step away from military occupation.

Still, the people of this nation expect the police in their respective state to be able to switch from writing parking tickets and chasing stray dogs to full-on warrior mode, taking out trained jihadists—in the blink of an eye.

At the very same time this threat is ramping up, people in positions of power demand that officers:

Stop using the term “warrior” in our training.

Avoid military-style garb and equipment.

Give back many of the armored military vehicles they obtained from the federal government.

Shun any type of bias or prejudgment when patrolling the streets.

As our profession begins dealing with murderous attacks on a local level that involve high-powered weapons, explosives and, at some point, devices of a WMD and/or chemical nature, we have no national consistency regarding how we approach the problem.

Yes, it’s a controversial and touchy subject. But that’s no reason not to prepare for the growing threat to our citizens and our first responders. As the attacks in San Bernardino made clear, now’s the time for people on all sides to find some common ground and begin having real conversations to keep us safe.

Following are some of my thoughts about some of the national arguments currently happening.

Gun Control

I’ve read that there are about 350 million guns in the U.S. That’s more guns than people in this nation, and we have a Second Amendment to our Constitution that strikes at the heart of the matter. Many of the laws being proposed wouldn’t have actually stopped mass murderers who have killed our citizens anyway.

Besides, we already have gun control. You can’t own a tank or a bazooka, a rocket launcher or machine guns. So, let’s make this simple.

If you use a gun in the commission of a crime automatic five extra years on your sentence. No plea agreements, no 50 – 85% of your sentence being served. You serve it all.

If you use a gun in the commission of a crime all your guns, owned legally or illegally, will be confiscated and destroyed and you lose the right to buy guns legally for the rest of your life.

If you shoot someone—I don’t care if it’s in the toe— you get 15 years. No exceptions.

Kill someone illegally with a gun and you get a minimum of 50 years in prison.

By the way, a lot of laws such as these are already on the books. They’re simply ignored or pled out because of prison overcrowding. Or the bad guys are released early because they did a good job at keeping their cells clean and not killing anyone else in prison.

The “Hijacking of Islam”

As I said, the vast majority of Muslims I have met and known aren’t traitors or terrorists. But, according to the political class, it is Islam that has been “hijacked.” This puts the Muslim community in an opportune position to both condemn the jihadist behavior and assist law enforcement in thwarting future carnage.   

Muslims and Islamic religious leaders in this country have begun publicly condemning jihadist terrorist acts. This is good. The condemnation must be universal, unanimous and loud. There can be no tolerance—at all—for violence as a means to achieving religiously motivated political ends.

More than this, we need members of the Muslim community to come forward to law enforcement when something is amiss. In order for this to happen we have to focus, more than ever, on building trust between law enforcement and the Muslim community. That’s a two-sided approach that needs to begin now if it hasn’t already begun. We’re all on the same team here.

Police Officers

Let’s address this on a national level. What does the public expect? How will we train to deliver that level of service? From tactics and equipment to recognizing behaviors and initiating undercover operations—do we as a nation want to prepare for and prevent future acts of terror?

Balance!

It’s the absolute key for law enforcement in a free society. The problem is that the “balance point” is not a fixed position. The fact is, if terrorism becomes more of an issue in this country, police will have to adapt to that reality.

Again this is where trust comes in. There is no question that the police need to learn how to effectively communicate. Hell, I wrote a book about it.  But they also, when the occasion calls for it, have to be warriors. It wasn’t the customer service representatives engaging the jihadists in San Bernardino.  It wasn’t human resources stepping over explosive devices in the suspect’s home.

Face it, police administrators: The “Warrior Mentality” is necessary on occasion. There are times when anything less is an abdication of duty.

From the public and the media to the law enforcement administrations, we have to find the balance point that suits the roles we play and threats we face. We must hire the best people possible, train them to the best of our ability, and then trust in them to find the balance appropriate for the task at hand. We must moreover recognize that this isn’t easy to do.

Conclusion

These are uncomfortable questions for an uncomfortable time. But what we have been doing isn’t working and will not work in the future. Police officers are willing to risk their lives. As a nation, are we ready to get them ready to save ours?

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Jim Glennon
Lt. Jim Glennon (ret.) is the owner and lead instructor for Calibre Press. He is a third-generation LEO, retired from the Lombard, Ill. PD after 29 years of service. Rising to the rank of lieutenant, he commanded both patrol and the Investigations Unit. In 1998, he was selected as the first Commander of Investigations for the newly formed DuPage County Major Crimes (Homicide) Task Force. He has a BA in Psychology, a Masters in Law Enforcement Justice Administration, is the author of the book Arresting Communication: Essential Interaction Skills for Law Enforcement.