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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Sensible Policing Is Needed, Not Special Forces

Sensible Policing Is Needed, Not Special Forces
The New York Times by Vanda Felbab-Brown  -  May 8, 2012
Military action against high-level traffickers can lead to corruption.  Nonthreatening engagement with the public fights crime and provides safety.

The U.S. military should rarely be used to fight crime and drug-smuggling, and only with extreme caution. The favorite counternarcotics recipe of special operations forces is to set up specialized interdiction units (S.I.U.'s) with local forces to kill or capture high-value traffickers. In areas with weak governments and high levels of corruption, like Central America or West Africa, these units are themselves prime targets for corruption and can become powerful and technologically savvy drug traffickers or even forces that will stage a coup against the government. S.I.U.'s concentrate mostly on crime kingpins. But such “high-value” targeting often intensifies violence, by triggering turf wars and internal succession fights.  Instead, a determined and systematic effort to develop police forces capable of also tackling street crime via community policing (as opposed to merely setting up S.I.U.'s to decapitate organized crime) and establishing capable intelligence systems would greatly enhance the effectiveness of American assistance. But, to the extent that the local military forces are used to fight crime, U.S. forces should steer them toward better practices in law enforcement roles. This would involve not setting up fixed checkpoints to search for contraband and members of criminal groups (traffickers simply avoid going through them) or declaring temporary states of siege (most criminals simply hide during such states of siege). The better practices would have domestic police and militaries involved in frequent, nonthreatening engagement with the public to build a positive relationship between law enforcement and local people.  Vanda Felbab-Brown is a fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution and the author of "Shooting Up: Counterinsurgency and the War on Drugs."

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