Police officials refute militarization claims

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published August 26, 2014

ROSEVILLE/EASTPOINTE — While unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer has raised questions about race, policing strategies and militarization of public safety forces, local officials are decrying the latter point as being blown out of proportion.

Roseville Police Chief James Berlin said he would not comment on the situation in Ferguson itself, as it is their jurisdiction and he does not know what the climate is like there, but he adamantly spoke out against the idea that police departments are abnormally heavily armed.

Berlin said his understanding is the initial shooting involved a handgun, which has been a common police sidearm for decades, as has also been the case with long guns. In the case of long guns, Berlin said those are converted from automatic weapons to single-shot and came into usage primarily against drug cartels.

“I think it’s a bunch of bull,” Berlin said. “They’re calling (armored police vehicles) tanks. They’re armored personnel carriers. Law enforcement has used armored personnel carriers forever; when I started, we had a Brinks armored car we used for the same thing. I don’t get this so-called militarization of law enforcement; I don’t see it.”

“What’s going on in Chicago — those cops are outgunned,” Berlin added. “It’s nothing to do with militarization of police; it’s the proliferation of assault weapons in the hands of very dangerous individuals.”

Eastpointe Director of Public Safety John McNeilance said he also would not comment on an open police investigation like the one in Ferguson, but said the department’s tactical gear tends to come into play only in very specific scenarios.

“Like most police departments in the area, we have tactical teams that deal with barricaded gunmen and things like that,” McNeilance said. “When we use a swat team, it usually has something to do with barricaded gunmen or something like that, or an armed, suicidal person.”

McNeilance also said his officers are trained, and receive training, on crowd control, but he added that every situation is different.

Berlin said he is confident his police force is prepared if it ever has to deal with civil unrest in Roseville or any neighboring community requesting assistance, but he declined to give any details.

“I think we’re better off letting everyone guess, in case they want to start something, but we are ready to deal with any eventuality,” Berlin said.