Published: August 24, 2014
Optics is a word you hear a lot these days. One could say, "looks like," but that would not sound nearly as cool as optics.
Consider the optics of law enforcement looking like our armed forces; so-called militarization of our police. This is getting a lot of attention because of the breathless news coverage of the protests and rioting in Missouri.
Let us start with the protective Kevlar military-style helmet officers are wearing. Yes, these are bullet-resistant, which comes in handy when people shoot at the police. These helmets work well against urine-filled bottles thrown at officers. Most officers wear a full-face shield to protect their face from missiles.
There is a lot of hollering about camouflage uniforms many officers are wearing. These wash-and-wear utility uniforms are both comfortable and give officers more pockets to carry essential equipment. However - for optics' sake - Poof! . the cammies are now black or dark blue.
Does anyone really believe this would make a difference?
The bullet-resistant tactical vests are the same as our military troops wear in Afghanistan; again, handy to have when someone is shooting at the police. Some of these vests are camouflage, others are black or blue. To the officer wearing tactical vests, they must take a trade-off: Being extremely uncomfortable wearing this hot, heavy gear because they have a better chance of surviving if they are shot. Certainly, the last thing these officers are thinking about is the optics of their life-saving equipment.
Next, we have officers carrying the most repulsive equipment of all, guns! Some officers are carrying strangely colored shotguns. These weapons are loaded with the "less-lethal" ammunition; rubber or hard foam bullets. When an officer asks or tells a citizen to do something and the citizen complies with the officer, the likelihood of being struck with a rubber bullet diminishes greatly.
Officers in riotous situations also breakout the Urban Police Rifle, otherwise know as an AR-15. This is the same semi-automatic rifle owned by tens of thousands of Americans, including me. Only the military uses fully automatic (capable) M-16 rifles. This firearm is sometimes called the "black rifle," because of its color. Again, Poof! . coppers are carrying the very same AR-15, but now it has the "Hello Kitty" pink coloring. Hardly makes a difference.
During coverage of the violence, looting and assaults in Ferguson, Mo., CNN reporter-anchor Jake Tapper lost his sober manner and broke down like a hysterical preteen at a Justin Bieber concert. "These are armed police, with - not machine guns - semi-automatic rifles, with batons, with shields, many of them dressed for combat. Now why they doing this? I don't know."
I do Mr. Tapper.
Simply put, unlike you, officers have no idea what they will face in doing their job. The police officers face a 12-hour shift not knowing if they would make it home because they were, shot, stabbed, beaten, knifed, hit by a car, spit on and insulted from the beginning of their watch until they were relieved.
And, Mr. Tapper, we demand and expect our officers not lose their tempers or composure like you did, along with far too many of my former colleagues who don't have a clue what it is like on a skirmish line facing off some very angry people, including thugs who just want to hit the liquor store on the way to looting the custom auto rims shop.
Police work is never pretty; the optics will always be ugly. At very least we must allow our police officers protective equipment for their safety, regardless of its style or color and to carry firearms, that they too pray, they will not have to use.
Retired Sgt. Rod Bernsen of Monument served with the Los Angeles Police Department and is an Emmy Award-winning former Los Angeles television reporter.