After the sickening murder of a 9-year-old boy in Washington, our friend Spencer Ackerman made an impassioned plea: U.S. Central Command chief General David Petraeus for D.C. metro police chief. The idea of America’s leading counterinsurgent taking on one of its most crime-ridden towns definitely has a certain visceral appeal. But militarizing our approach to policing is an idea that could backfire in a hurry.
Spencer’s done an outstanding job of explaining counterinsurgency as a progressive military doctrine: The whole point is to not uphold the social status quo, it’s an attempt to get at the “root causes” of violence through political reform and public works. These days, that’s a job for both the armed forces and the police. “The ’soldiers aren’t cops’ argument isn’t going to fly here,” he wrote. After all, talented military officers are now telling their fellow soldiers to “view neighborhood security as if they were running Kansas City police patrols.”
Ackerman’s not the first to pick up on the idea that smart counterinsurgents could teach the police a thing or two. Last week, Karl Vick of the Washington Post reported on how the police in Salinas, Calif., enlisted the help of the Naval Postgraduate School to help them combat a homicide wave. And earlier this year, Andrew “Abu Muqawama” Exum hosted an interesting discussion thread about using counterinsurgency tactics in Oakland.
At first glance, counterinsurgency (at least the “soft,” population-centric American version) bears a fair amount of resemblance to community policing: It’s all about changing the dynamic in the communities where insurgents operate, encouraging troops to “walk the beat” and bringing in social services. And many of the tools of the modern counterinsurgent — forensic exploitation, pattern analysis and social-network diagramming — would be familiar to any detective. (The Law Enforcement Professionals program for combating roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan even called on retired agents from the FBI, the DEA, and the ATF to help take down insurgent networks.) And if you look at the geographic reach and organizational sophistication of some gangs — think Mara Salvatrucha or 18 — and it’s tempting to draw comparisons with, say, a Hizbollah or a Hamas.
[Read more at Wired]