Mr. Cope’s Cave: Onionheads


On Real Time last week, Bill Maher took after a growing trend among police forces in smaller, sedate cities to add military surplus armored vehicles to their arsenal of crime-fighting paraphernalia. You know the sort I mean… those heavy, tanky, bunkers on wheels that we would normally expect to see patrolling the alleys of Baghdad during the occupation, rumbling through insurgent territories in Afghanistan, or roaring through a sea of zombies, crushing heads under the oversized tires.

Maher’s argument is that our police forces are being militarized, and in most cases needlessly because in towns like Omaha and Tallahassee and Boise, it’s highly unlikely any sort of urban warfare will break out, or see the sort of incident that would necessitate an overwhelming show of brute force, especially in an age when crime rates are actually declining. What’s more, such vehicles add to feelings of alienation and disconnect between regular citizens and their local law enforcement agencies. Whether one belongs to a minority community, a gathering of paranoid pot smokers or a circle of Tea Party malcontents, none of us like to think of ourselves as a potential enemy of a state that arms itself with the same weaponry the military might use against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Furthermore, you know that when you see one of those squinty-windowed monstrosities roll up, it ain’t gonna be Andy Taylor or Barney Fife who hops out. Rather, it’s going to be a squad of robo-cops wearing body armor and bug helmets, and they didn’t come to sell tickets to the Policemen’s Ball.

I’m happy Maher said what I suspect a lot of people have been thinking—like… What on earth does my town need with a war wagon like that? And now that the judgment of people who make the decision to acquire such vehicles has been called into question, which goes against our natural aversion (or timidity) to criticize the men and women on the thin blue line, I’ve decided to speak up on another matter of concern I have about the way so many of our policemen are comporting themselves. I make a point here of using the unisexual “police-men” because I have yet to see a police-woman with one of those ugly, shiny, reptilian, macho, shaved heads.

Yes, that is my bitch today. And I thank Bill Maher for giving me the courage to say something about it. I’ve been thinking it for years and have long wanted to write how phony and affected and, frankly, immature it seems to me that cop after cop has that same I-wanna-look-like-Vin-Diesel-so much-my-balls-ache haircut—if indeed it can rightfully be called a “haircut”—but have been afraid to lest, during my next traffic ticket, some Mr. Magoo with a badge and a gun recognizes my name and decides he has probable cause for a tazing.

And look, I have nothing against law enforcement or the police, per se. I respect and admire anyone who chooses to be society’s guardians, despite the inherent risk to themselves. Obviously, I want my property protected as much as the next guy, and would prefer the streets of Meridian were not left to be marauded by wild biker gangs, drunken cowboys and poorly raised teenagers.

However, I just don’t think they all have to look like Borg to accomplish that. And it gives me an uneasy feeling that, if so many behind the wheels of those Crown Vic cruisers out there are so inclined to be indistinguishable from one another, then possibly they all think alike, too. And if an entire police force that thinks alike doesn’t make you nervous, then perhaps you should spend more time thinking about it.

Now, to be fair, I imagine there is a plausible reason or two why a cop might believe he is more effective or efficient at his work with a hairless head. Just speculating: 1) Will never be troubled with lice—not of the upper body variety, at any rate; 2) Can make insufficient salary stretch further without having to figure the price of a weekly buzz-cut into the budget; 3) Should a tussle with a miscreant occur, there is one less place for the wretch to find a hand-hold; 4) No place to keep a comb on those utility belts.

All fairly decent reasons, agreed. But I suspect none of them are why so many of our lawmen are following the Tao of Kojak. I fear it has more to do with assuming an intimidating personal image than efficiency, and more to do with an attitude of military-style conformity than with how effectively they are serving and protecting a civilian population, neither of which seem to me to be an appropriate way to run an orderly society.