The purpose of this paper is to review the state of research of police militarization in the USA to explore the claim that the police are becoming more like the military, or “militarized” in order to identify gaps in the research on this topic that require further investigation.
To explore the state of police militarization, this paper draws on a scan of scholarly papers published on militarization in the American context as well as a select array of gray literature on the topic.
While the nature of militarization has received substantial scholarly attention, debate on the phenomenon remains and there is little consensus on the definition of what makes a department militarized. The impact of militarization is similarly unclear: some scholars suggest that it has a negative impact on policing because it creates community hostility and encourages police to see force as a central problem-solving tool. However, other scholars suggest militarization is a positive development, as it could promote professionalism and accountability. To date, there has been little empirical work on the impact of militarization on policing that could inform this debate.
This paper suggests that empirical assessments of how militarization affects use of force and legitimacy will be valuable for informing the militarization debate. As scholars on both sides of the debate have suggested that militarization affect policing outcomes in these areas, empirical tests here offer a way to explore both sides’ claims. Such tests could offer new evidence on how militarization is affecting the character and operations of American police.
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