What others say: A time and place for police to use military equipment

  • Monday, September 22, 2014 5:56pm
  • Opinion

For hundreds of Interior commuters in West Fairbanks on Tuesday morning, the standoff between police officers and an armed man threatening to kill himself and potentially harm others was a nuisance that closed roads and extended their drive to work, in some cases by as much as an hour. For the law enforcement officials at the scene, it was a life-threatening experience — and also one of their regular duties.

Much has been made of the militarization of police departments across the country, as departments have received surplus military equipment, weapons and vehicles for pennies on the dollar. Citizen concerns over that militarization bore fruit last month, as officers in Ferguson, Missouri, tear-gassed protesters and stood in tank-like Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles with military weapons.

The disproportionate response to a group of largely unarmed citizens who were already upset about police actions turned what was already a dangerous situation into a firestorm and raised doubts about both police accountability and progress in race relations.

In the recent standoff here in Fairbanks, we had the opportunity to see military-style equipment used by law enforcement for a legitimate purpose.

Officers at the scene of the standoff Tuesday were seen wearing bulletproof vests and helmets, and Alaska State Troopers deployed their “Bearcat” tactical vehicle — a military-style machine that resembles a cross between an up-armored Humvee and an MRAP. Unlike in Ferguson, this considered use of militaristic gear wasn’t a provocation, but rather an attempt to protect the officers involved — and through that protection, to reduce the odds that Michael Bracht, the man at the center of the standoff, would himself be killed.

Officer-involved shootings are diverse in nature, but one common thread running through many is that police fire on suspects when they believe themselves or others to be in mortal danger. In using the Bearcat vehicle, officers were able to breach the vehicle with a ram mounted to the bumper without sending their members into harm’s way, and the vehicle also gave them cover when Mr. Bracht emerged from the vehicle with a handgun. Had there been officers on foot and close at hand for the operation, there would have been a much higher likelihood that Mr. Bracht’s sometimes erratic actions might have triggered a burst of fire.

The public is right to closely monitor the adoption of military gear and tactics by the police — the two entities are separately controlled, have vastly different missions and should remain that way. The situations in which it’s appropriate for police to deploy as a paramilitary entity are rare, and the decision to do so should be carefully considered and used only to the extent necessary.

But we saw one of those situations on Tuesday, and it’s a tribute to the restraint and professionalism of our local law enforcement officials that it ended as positively as it did.

— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Sept. 14

More in Opinion

A roll of “I Voted” stickers await voters on Election Day in Alaska. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the prospect of a state constitutional convention. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Election winners, losers and poor losers

Tshibaka and Palin misread Alaskans by thinking Trump’s endorsement all but guaranteed they’d win.

This 1981 photo provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows an electron micrograph of Respiratory Syncytial Virus, also known as RSV. Children’s hospitals in parts of the country are seeing a distressing surge in RSV, a common respiratory illness that can cause severe breathing problems for babies. Cases fell dramatically two years ago as the pandemic shut down schools, day cares and businesses. Then, with restrictions easing, the summer of 2021 brought an alarming increase in what is normally a fall and winter virus. (CDC via AP)
Alaska Voices: What Alaskans need to know about RSV

By learning more about respiratory illnesses and taking helpful actions, we can all take steps to improve the situation

Homer Foundation
Point of View: Multiplying the power of every local dollar given

Each community foundation is a public charity that focuses on supporting a geographic area by pooling donations to meet community needs

The Homer Public Library as seen on Aug. 18, 2021, in Homer, Alaska. (File photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Point of View: Banning books corrodes diversity and inclusion in our community

Recently, a community member requested that a long list of books be removed from the children’s collection

Peninsula Oilers fans display encouragin signs for Oilers’ pitcher Bryan Woo, Friday, June 28, 2019, at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)
Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Opinion: Judging judges — balancing the judicial selection process

Alaska’s method of selecting judges can be and should be improved.

Sarah Palin speaks at a July 11 Save America Rally featuring former President Donald Trump at Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: The realities of Palin’s political demise

Palin wouldn’t be running for the seat if Rep. Don Young was still alive

Former Democratic state Rep. Beth Kerttula holds up a sign reading “Vote No Con Con,” during a recent rally at the Dimond Courthouse Plaza in Juneau. Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: What can a liberal and conservative agree on? Voting against a constitutional convention

“We disagree on many issues. But we… urge Alaskans to vote against Proposition 1.”

A “Vote Here” sign is seen at the City of Kenai building on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Clarion file)
Down to the wire: Be prepared before you vote

Remember your voice counts and all votes matter

Soldotna City Council member Justin Ruffridge. (Courtesy photo)
Voices of the Peninsula: We must refuse to reward ugly political tactics

With our vote we have to show that extremism and dishonesty do not win the day

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski attends a joint Soldotna and Kenai Chamber of Commerce Luncheon on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski attends a joint Soldotna and Kenai Chamber of Commerce Luncheon on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Voices of the Peninsula: Lisa Murkowski represents everyday Alaskans

While working for Lisa, I witnessed her considerable command of the issues