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Why Do Some St. Louis County Cops Wear Military-Style Camouflage Uniforms?

Categories: Police

Author Radley Balko, a long-time critic of what he describes as the "warrior cop" style of policing that is becoming more common in municipal police departments, said in a recent Reddit AMA that wearing camouflage contributes to a "militaristic mindset:"

I think that as bad as the weapons and tactics are, the uniforms might be more pernicious, at least in terms of fostering a militaristic mindset. I'm always baffled at how many cops you see wearing camouflage today. In most cases, they do it because they get the camo uniforms as surplus from the military. They say they're cheaper than conventional police uniforms.

That may well be true, but it just strikes me as wholly inappropriate for domestic policing. When you dress like a soldier, you're predisposing yourself to start thinking like one. And of course, there's really no strategic value, unless you're raiding a forrest (sic).

According to the St. Louis County's website, the Tactical Operations Unit's duties include responding to "hostage negotiations, barricaded suspects, search warrants, and any unusual situation or event that requires the use of specialized training and tactics."

The site also says the unit's duties include "crowd control," which explains why military camouflage-clad officers were arresting Monsanto protesters.

When asked why the Tactical Operations Unit wears camouflage uniforms for these duties, Pleviak says, "It's a safety issue."

He adds: "Would you rather have officers who are trying to resolve an issue be out in a bright orange uniform where they can be seen by everybody and be a possible target to somebody who has already targeted someone else in either a homicide or a robbery or a domestic situation where they're holding a gun to their spouse's head?"

See also: Cop Fired for Shoving Man Head-First into Wall Says He Deserves to Be Back in Uniform

Other units also don the camouflage pants, including the canine unit that, among other duties, conducts drug searches in public schools. As Daily RFT reported last week, a video was made by Oakville High School about its "school sniff" that featured camo-clad officers walking through school hallways with German shepherds looking for drugs.

canine_unit.JPG
via Youtube

But Sargeant Gerald Lohr, supervisor of the canine unit, explains that was just an accident -- his officers usually wear regular brown pants as their uniform, but camouflage when they do their weekly training. Oakville High School happened to call them on a training day.

"When we train, we don't wear our regular police uniforms. We tend to be out tracking in the wood, and we don't want to tear up our duty uniforms," Lohr says.

The topic of police militarization has even inspired the ACLU to start a project to investigate the amount of money and types of military-style machinery used by police departments, including St. Louis County and City. And people in cities around the country, such as Concord City, New Hampshire, have protested their police to not obtain armored vehicles, such as the $360,000 Lenco Bearcat that county police bought in 2012.

Some of the New Hampshire protesters' signs read "More Mayberry, Less Fallujah" and "Thanks But No Tanks!" reported the Wall Street Journal.

But do military-style uniforms and armored vehicles mean the St. Louis County police department is becoming militarized?

Not to Pleviak.

"That's just ridiculous," he says.

Follow Ray Downs on Twitter:

E-mail him at Ray.Downs@RiverfrontTimes.com.


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332 comments
Larry Scheller
Larry Scheller

Jayden, I know the answer and I'm extremely left wing. BECAUSE THEY ARE BREAKING THE F'N LAW AND DON'T WANT TO BE CAUGHT AND PROSECUTED LIKE THEY SHOULD BE !!!!! . Its very embarrassing for most of the black community ! These are just opportunists and not at all respectful to Mike or his loved ones.

David Hays
David Hays

RFT writers all safe and secure stirring up shit from their mommas basement!

Alex Ayres
Alex Ayres

This pic is in creve coure at one of the Monsanto protests.......

Diane Marchagainstmonsanto
Diane Marchagainstmonsanto

RFT, again, has my permission to use this photo whenever they deem fit. This is your STL SWAT team. I did nothing wrong, charges were reduced to littering and I should have contested THAT.

Diane Marchagainstmonsanto
Diane Marchagainstmonsanto

Not true. SWAT uniforms are distinctive and only in use while that officer participates in SWAT directed activities.

Diane Marchagainstmonsanto
Diane Marchagainstmonsanto

Actually, the photo was taken this year during the Annual Shareholders Meeting @ Monsanto in late January. The PTSD that followed for me wasn't very funny at all...this incident only exasperates the condition. The SWAT sent to monitor the situation for the PEACEFUL protest of Monsanto arrested only one person that day. Me. I was literally drug out of my car for holding a sign out my window. Like the reporters and alderman yesterday, there was no reason for arresting/traumatizing me other than I was there. I don't care how often RFT needs to use this picture; during the arrest, it was ME who called for a camera to record my arrest, and RFT ran to my rescue. It's VERY pertinent to the militant attitude of SWAT trained officers. There was NO integrity during my arrest, overzealous officers arrested me 11 minutes after I arrived, I never got out of my car. I'm white, I'm an upstanding person in my community, it was first arrest, and I'm 56. Something wrong there....and now the world is seeing it again....carry on RFT.

John Hegger
John Hegger

Clearly they r badass.... Don't F w them ....u thugs ....blast yours

Bart Sinnett
Bart Sinnett

You suck RFT...All your doing is stirring the pot...WTF !

Harry Lambing
Harry Lambing

Why can't they just wear there normal uniform. Oh that's right some people no longer respect the police uniform bit most still respect a military one. Wonder how much longer that will last.

Roy Johnson
Roy Johnson

HAVEN'T YOU HEARD, It's "KILL WHITIE AND KILL PIGS" ALL over this town.

Keishelle Achong
Keishelle Achong

Why they ain't at the Kkk rally with all that weaponry? Smdh

Robert George Crone
Robert George Crone

If your tired of the riverfront times beating this story over and over and over call Phone 314-754-5955 and express your opinion for them to move on and cover different news now. I did.

Josh Sensmeyer
Josh Sensmeyer

This is a simple answer to a stupid question. Because if they were out there dressed like clowns they wouldn't be taken seriously, same as if they were in steak&shake outfits, no one would respect them and shit would get outta control. Dressing as soldiers makes a would be offender think about the can of ass whooping that's about to get opened up on him/her. I for one would think twice about throwing shit at a group of men with mace, batons, dogs, shotguns, machine guns, riot shields, etc. If they have a red nose and floppy shoes everyone would do whatever the hell they wanted. It's a mind game, if you know you'll lose before you even try to get rowdy then the cops have won without having to hurt anybody or risking getting hurt.

Jeremy Colton
Jeremy Colton

I think you miss my point, Jeff Willett. If accountants can dress appropriately for their jobs, then police should dress appropriately for theirs. A more apt comparison would be if the police showed up without their weapons. How come they can find their AK-47s but not their pants?

Gary Greenlee
Gary Greenlee

it's fashionable, camo is so in vogue..Annette

Crystal Figura-Brenizer
Crystal Figura-Brenizer

First of all Mr. Jessen he is my ex-husband. Second of all there are many different law enforcement uniforms around the country and whether they are required by their department to wear camouflage or a top hat with chaps shouldn't really matter. Law abiding citizens could not care less what an officer is wearing as long as he is doing his job responsibly and with integrity.

Chris M. Jessen
Chris M. Jessen

...mind you, there would not be any riots if they would stop SHOOTING the "nice people of Ferguson."

Chris M. Jessen
Chris M. Jessen

Quite right, after all police in riot gear throwing tear gas and arresting journalists is certainly not "keeping the flames burning..."

Chris M. Jessen
Chris M. Jessen

Yes... Mr. Duerst seems to feel that history or context are irrelevant... Each day is a NEW day, after all there is NOTHING to be learned from the militarization of police in say, "Germany in the 1930's."

Chris M. Jessen
Chris M. Jessen

Ms. Figura-Brenizer, I think the point is the militarization of a municipal "code enforcement agency". While I am certain you husband may be a laudable fellow, "perception" is important. I certainly would feel less threatened by a person in a blue polyester uniform writing out parking tickets than from a person in camouflage and a flack-jacket with a machine gun. St. Louis IS NOT Beirut... although officers (other than your husband) apparently do not think so.

Donna Glass
Donna Glass

Because those are their tactical uniforms.... Every police department in the country has regular uniforms and tactical uniforms. ... Good lord do your homework RFT

Jenelle Brenizer Levy
Jenelle Brenizer Levy

Yes it's really sad, but you can't help stupid. I like to think that he has helped lots of people even if he doesn't think so! Crystal Figura-Brenizer, where did everyone go? Am I just not seeing the comments?

Crystal Figura-Brenizer
Crystal Figura-Brenizer

And to think Jenelle Brenizer Levy that he went into this field thinking he was going to help people and make a difference. I know he is wishing he became a firefighter now instead!!

Crystal Figura-Brenizer
Crystal Figura-Brenizer

Don't stroke out Jenelle Brenizer Levy. The bottom line is that it is really easy to sit in front of your television screen or computer monitor reading all the b.s. and criticize a job that you have no idea about. At my job I've never had someone spit in my face, tell me they were going to kill my family , got stuck by a hypodermic needle while frisking someone, saw the aftermath of many murders and suicides, had someone jump on my back in the middle of trying to break up a fight at the mall, got punched in the face...and of course witnessed first-hand the murder of an officer over an eviction. It's crazy. I'm not even on the side of the officer that shot Michael Brown. If he is guilty of murder then let that be decided in a court of law. In the meantime, let the evidence be collected and stop the ridiculous rioting.

Susie Nicholson
Susie Nicholson

Riverfront Times, "We posted the story for context. We noticed that many of our Twitter and Facebook followers were sharing it on their own and realized that people were interested in the issue, despite the dateline." Every time you do something like this, you lose credibility. And lately you've been losing credibility anyway. I use to read your pieces for entertainment. If you are going to do serious pieces you have to learn how to be real journalists.

Leah Ann Van Dalsem
Leah Ann Van Dalsem

What do u think they will be wearing if they bring in the National Guard.

Jenelle Brenizer Levy
Jenelle Brenizer Levy

I swore I wasn't going to let all these ignorant pos get to me again today, but here I go again! I thought of that as well Crystal Figura-Brenizer, and he was shot and killed because someone felt paying rent didn't apply to them and wouldn't leave the property after being evicted! Sounds like a good reason to shoot and kill a police officer!! So, where are you all at, all of ya talkin shit about the police..... How many of you hold a badge?????? The other thing I thought of, how many of you have seen the video of the woman calling 911 in McDonald's because she didn't get enough French fries?? That's a great reason to call for emergency help from the police ??? Lastly, I love how the media keep increasing the number of times the fine young colored boy was shot and how they use words like"assassinated " and "executed" to gain ratings!!!!! Once again, I'm going to stroke out if I continue to engage in such a ridiculous discussion ! But, I would love to hear from those of you criticizing the police and hold a badge!

Crystal Figura-Brenizer
Crystal Figura-Brenizer

Or was witness to a very respected officer killed in the line of duty Jenelle Brenizer Levy. It's frustrating. You cannot lump all cops together in one category as being "killers." There are MANY respectable officers of the law and they don't deserve to be persecuted simply because they put on a uniform everyday.

Jenelle Brenizer Levy
Jenelle Brenizer Levy

Better yet Crystal Figura-Brenizer I wonder how many of these folks that are commenting passed the background check, went to the police academy , got hired and spent any amount of time putting their life on the line to protects these idiots that sit back and talk shit!!!!!

Crystal Figura-Brenizer
Crystal Figura-Brenizer

My daughters father is in law enforcement. I can tell you first hand that none of them are happy to be there under the circumstances no matter what attire they are wearing or what branch of law enforcement they are in.

Patrick Bridges
Patrick Bridges

They are having a flashback. Ferguson the new Vietnam

Dennis Williams
Dennis Williams

I think they love it, like playing army when I was a kid. But, that's maybe an unfair generalization, since I don't know them. Still a bigger question to be answered, no public info has been given as to which agency is making the tactical decisions in the 'crowd control'. Is it the local cops, county cops or state cops calling the shots? Who knows. And once again, thanks for RFT file photo as a reference to the topic.

Jeff Willett
Jeff Willett

When accountants are swinging AK's to work it'll be ok for police officers to?

Jeff Willett
Jeff Willett

Actually she seems to be in touch with the real reality. You on the other hand I'm not so sure about.

Jeff Willett
Jeff Willett

I see a lot of the *ahem* "protestors" are wearing camo also. Why is that?

IB Lurkin
IB Lurkin

Would you like them to spend tax dollars to get new uniforms for this incident?I prefer tax dollars be spent elsewhere. (Idiots)...

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