Another View: Todd Martin on the militarization of the police

While I have serious concerns about a Militarized police force, our local elected and officials & the public seem to broadly support SWAT style police equipment & training.

When I raised the issue of Elgin’s purchase of our armored troop transport (complete with gun turrets), the reply at the time was that it is to protect people and is not an offensive weapon, The assumption is that SWAT will only be used against the bad guys and for hostage situations. No one took my objection seriously. I wasn’t the only one who reached out, but we were a small minority opinion. 

Todd Martin

Todd Martin

However, as we see in Ferguson, the local police (among other things) put a man with a MACHINE GUN on top of an armored vehicle to stop local residents from walking the streets. Why? Did they feel the protestors needed to be shot down en masse if they got too close? Did they feel they just needed to scare them? Did they feel that threatened by unarmed civilians? Do you think the residents of Ferguson really wanted that?

Jeff, your SWAT photo for Antioch (population 14000) shows 14 SWAT officers with M16 assault rifles (30 round clips). How many SWAT officers do they need to address a hostage situation? Why do they need to wear camouflage? If they need a sniper, why not a bolt action rifle. Why 14 snipers instead of 1 or 2? The Posse Comitatus Act was passed to keep us from Army occupation. If the Police are given Army equipment, how are they any different?

We do have great Police Chief. Chief Swoboda runs a great police force. Our crime rate is low and we have few complaints. However, it is not perfect. Our Elgin police force shares some of the same problems which plague Ferguson. We have officers who mostly live outside the City. Our police officers (especially the higher ranks) are much less diverse than our community. We don’t have much in the way of foot patrols or bike patrols (community policing), they mostly work out of cars (and lately it seems tending toward BIG SUV’s). Selective “targeted” enforcement to drive out the “bad apples” carries risks of discrimination and injustice. Some of these issues are being worked on (they’re lowering the entrance requirements) and some are not. There are community relations risks which must be managed every day.

It is easy for people to think Ferguson is fundamentally different than us. That our police officers are fundamentally better. That Elgin residents would never take to the streets and get stirred up enough to riot. And if they did, we need SWAT to tear gas Elginites because only the “bad guys” would be out on the street after “curfew”. I don’t think that way. We’re not any better human beings. Unless what is “Normal” for local police changes, we’re rolling the dice each time something happens. In my view, tear gas should never be used for crowd control. Machine guns have no place in local police enforcement. Police should be engaged with the community, not garbed up like a Marine.

It’s not about the Silly Putty

The one thing the ancillary players – those folks who love to flit around the political periphery like a hoard of flies – long for more than anything else in this existence is relevance. Their fear of the failure they’ve courted all their lives drives them to do whatever it takes to become part of the story.

But as is always the case whenever you seek that kind of solace outside yourself, like it is with any drug addict, they’ll sacrifice anything – their relationships, principles, and dignity – just to get their next fix.

It’s not unlike observing a group of middle school girls as their allegiances change on an hourly basis. And this time they’ve managed to temporarily turn the conversation around to the subject of Silly Putty  silly putty

If you recall, at one of the variety of regular meetings, the County Chairman chastised the Coroner for requesting a budgetary increase after he’d spent $1,200 on Silly Putty giveaways. The Coroner responded by claiming that passing out the putty was an opportunity to rehabilitate his office’s longsuffering image.

All I can say is, that certainly was an interesting choice.

To be fair, it is important to note that the virtually every single elected official’s office regularly hands out some sort of trinket to folks who pay them a visit or attend an event.

These items are typically something along the lines of pens, stickers or candy and, what so many interested people seem to be missing is, since it could be construed as campaigning, most of the countywide electeds pay for that stuff out of their own pockets.

Would I have brought up the Silly Putty thing? Despite the vast humorous potential involved – No! Because it only gives the ancillary players another opportunity to wade in, believe they’re still relevant, and distract the rest of us (including a local newspaper) from what’s really important.

And here it is!

While it’s certainly not unusual for a politician to pound his fist on the podium while swearing he will never go over budget until he does, it is rare for an elected official to sign a document stating he’ll keep his budget flat for the next three years and then to ignore it as soon as it suits him.

But even in that peculiar political circumstance, it’s the voters who will ultimately decide if his decision ignites any consequences.

This is the story I fear that’s getting lost in all the Silly Putty discussion silliness. For a former sheriff’s deputy to knowingly undermine any number of Kane County court cases by cavalierly announcing that his failure to label a light switch has potentially corrupted a host of refrigerated evidence, is about as unconscionable as it gets. And for Russell to then blame that inexcusable lapse on anyone but himself makes an already bad situation even worse.

You wanna know what the really sad thing is in all of this ? Russell actually thinks the ancillary players currently rushing to his defense are friends who are fully behind him when the truth is, they’re only out to “get” Chairman Lauzen.

Again, in their compulsive quest for any kind of relevance, they’ll use any willing elected official or “ammunition” like Silly Putty to draw attention to themselves. Did you ever notice how these folks always seem to be against someone? What better way to make yourself feel more important than to relentlessly rail against the leader?

The real irony here is, the people and peers who’ve been offering Russell constructive criticism all along are the ones who truly have his best interest in mind.

Not only do I have nothing against the Coroner, but I would love to see he – and all elected officials – succeed. There’s something to be said for Russell who, having lost a heartbreaking race for Sheriff, managed to come back and win his next election.

But what the Coroner will shortly see is, after consistently encouraging him to make some really bad decisions that only serve their narrow purpose, as soon as he outlives his usefulness, the ancillary players with whom he’s thrown his current lot will drop him faster than Larry King can dump another wife.

So when it comes to Silly Putty and those eternally shrieking ancillary players, I’d like to leave you with something Bill Shakespeare once said. Please pay particular attention to the last sentence:

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

Geneva’s getting ready for the riots!

Having recently written a column on the militarization of our police departments in which I described my utter shock and awe at the lack of a conservative response to this clear and present danger to our personal freedoms, I got to thinking.

And you all know that’s always a dangerous proposition.

The question was, of all Kane County municipalities, excluding the truly smaller towns like Maple Park or Pingree Grove and the larger ones like Elgin and Aurora, which would folks likely vote to be the safest? But before I managed to complete that thought, the word “Geneva” leapt into my consciousness faster than Rahm Emanuel’s approval rating could plummet.

C’mon! You can bet your sweet bippie that any city consisting of 93 percent white folks with a median age of 42 ain’t gonna have much going on. This is a town that rolls up the sidewalks at 9 p.m. on Saturdays and still considers Swedish Days to be the pinnacle of excitement.

It may be true that my fair city just experienced its first murder in nearly 40 years, but whenever one spouse kills another it really doesn’t count because I’m surprised that kind of thing doesn’t happen far more often.

Given all the grief I give my wife combined with that million dollar life insurance policy, the fact I’m still alive is a constant source of utter amazement. But I digress.

So with the most sedate city in Kane County question settled, in an effort to test just how pervasive the spread of surplus military equipment might be, I “asked” the Geneva Police to provide me with a list of any such items above and beyond the sidearm and Kevlar vest the officers generally wear.

Despite the GPD’s widespread reputation for harboring an “us against them” mentality, and as cynical as I can sometimes be, I firmly believed this request would bear no fruit. Had that been the case, I would’ve dutifully noted it here.

But much to my surprise and ultimate chagrin, there was a result! Between 1996 and 2000, the GPD availed themselves of the military surplus program by acquiring 35 separate items consisting mostly of helmets with some body armor thrown in for good measure.

riot gear

While it’s certainly a far cry from procuring an MRAP or Apache helicopter, why in the world would the GPD need to start stocking up on riot gear?

I suppose the ten black folks in town could shut down a side street, or those feisty little old ladies could get a little crazy if the Little Traveler ever shut down, or Batavia could always invade, but beyond those dubious possibilities, why does a police department that’s seen one murder in 40 years need any surplus military equipment whatsoever?

We don’t get hit with earthquakes, wildfires or hurricanes either. The worst natural disaster we Midwesterners can expect is a tornado whose widespread destructive power pales in comparison to the aforementioned catastrophes.

Am I really that worried that the GPD obtained a few defensive toys? No! But the fact they made the effort to get them – before 9/11 – evinces a mindset in which their command hierarchy believes they need to be prepared for a time that it would come down to us versus them.

So here’s what I want you to do. Send a simple single sentence email FOIA request to your own local police department requesting a list of items they’ve obtained under the Department of Defense 1033 program. And I want you to do this for two reasons.

First, it lets them know you’re watching, which is especially critical when you consider the accelerating deterioration of local newspaper reporting. Not only that, abut his kind of voyeuristic tendency may just get them to reconsider both current and future acquisitions.

And second is, the list you receive, if there is one, will tell you far more about your police force than any policy manual, press release or website ever could. You might just discover exactly who they plan to serve and protect.

Here’s the August 21, 2014 edition of Left, Right and You!

First I want to thank Jeff Meyer for taking time out of his busy schedule to fill in for the vacationing Larry Jones. If you ask me, I think he acquitted himself quite well! I can’t wait for that LR&Y debate between he and Anna Moeller.

With that stipulation entered into the record, both Jeff and I want to offer a hearty thank you to veteran political Tribune reporter Rick Pearson for spending virtually the whole show with us. Not only was it a thrill to have him on, but any reporter who wants the ammunition to stave off the current newspaper decline and take their profession to the next level really needs to listen to this interview.

pearson2Again, I want my newspaper reporters to be smarter than me and Rick’s insights were fascinating! Don’t forget to listen to him on Sunday Spin every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. on WGN AM720 radio.

I’m looking forward to Larry Jones being back next week and having you back with us as well!

Another great Festival Park concert!

So after delving into out respective record collections and listening to Deep Purple all week, the Sheriff and I were almost giddy with excitement as we headed up to Elgin’s Festival Park to finally bear witness to one of rock’s seminal groups for the very first time.

But before we go there, almost more fascinating than the concert itself, was having the opportunity to walk through a crowd with Pat Perez.

You see, after eight long years in office, most elected officials would rather furtively dart down dark alleyways than have to face the torches and pitchforks of their perennially discontented constituents. But not in this case!

Everybody loves the Sheriff and everyone wants to shake his hand. And that kind of electoral adulation is especially difficult to come by for a politician whose raison d’etre is law enforcement.

I bet Pat could’ve given Deep Purple a real run for their popularity money.

Then The Orchestra took the stage right on time and knocked out some dead on renditions of those amazing ELO hits we’d all almost forgotten about. After so many years, songs like Do Ya, Telephone Line, All Over the World and Turn Stone, took on the fervor and transcendence of really good gospel music.

It certainly brought me back to those Evanston Township High School days where I’d pedal that bike home as fast as I could just to blast A New World Record on my father’s reasonably competent stereo system.

Then, after a brief intermission, it was on to the headliners. And let me tell ya, Deep Purple did not disappoint. There may be a certain incongruity to watching aging rock ‘n rollers ply their trade (and to be aging right along with them!), but Steve Morse, Ian Paice, Roger Glover, Ian Gillan and Don Airey can still bring it!

The Orchestra

When you see some of those groups from our collective youth in concert, they seem to simply be going through the motions, but not Deep Purple. It was abundantly clear they were having a lot of fun on that stage and that dynamic created a wonderful feedback loop in which the band feeds the audience and, in turn, the audience feeds the band.

I don’t think Steve Morse stopped smiling for the entire set. There’s certainly something to be said for doing what you love.

Ah! But when the first strains of the first riff every guitarist learns to play blasted across the anticipating park, the crowd went nuts! Can it possibly get any more rock ‘n roll than Smoke on the Water?

And people showed up to see ‘em. There had to be at least 5 to 6,000 paying fans and an untold number more watching from various vantage points around Festival Park. It’s truly gratifying to be able to say that Elgin was the place to be last night.

To make the evening even better, perhaps there’s some extra-dimensional quantum magic involved, but once again, the Elgin Police got the exiting throng on their way home in record time.

But here’s the best thing about it. On a planet where 80 percent of the people have nothing better to do than to try their best to bring you down, this concert sent our collective spirits soaring. Sadly, these days, those kind of uplifting experiences are too few and far between.

So I want to thank the Grand Victoria’s Jim Thomason and Suzanne Phillips, Mayor Kaptain and the Elgin City Council, and promoter Ron Onesti for making this summer a lot better than I thought it would be.

I can’t wait to see who’s coming to Festival Park next year!

The house is way too quiet today!

Even the dog is more than a bit unsettled about the pack being broken up again. She keeps looking at me as if to say, “you’re it?” And then I try to give my best “Hey! I’m better than nothing” look right back at her.

Even the parakeets are more sedate than usual today.

There’s no silly one-sided computer conversations in which my younger son’s increasing volume consistently annoys the crap out of me. Thankfully, the threat of an 80 watt Smells Like Teen Spirit onslaught is usually enough to get him to bring it down a few decibels.

Empty House

What I can’t get over is, he really doesn’t get together with his friends all that much, they Skype over online computer games. At his age, I couldn’t wait to get out of the house, but then again, my parents were nuts.

So now I’m sitting here missing that strange dynamic. Go figure!

Not only that, but I keep waiting for my older son to come bounding down the stairs, clearing the final five steps in a one grand leap, and landing with a rather loud 150 pound thud. This, of course, sends the shape of the area rug into the kind of wave pattern that presents quite a hazard to older folks like myself.

But seeing that rug lying perfectly flat today simply solicits a small sigh. They’ve only been in school a few hours and I already miss having them around.

We had a great summer!

The older one and I built so many Lego Star Wars contraptions together that we had to purchase two separate sets of shelves just to display them. It took a little longer for the younger one and I to get a handle on that Warhammer 40,000 plastic model tank, but as soon as we’re done with that it’s gonna be the Starship Enterprise.

Most of today’s wistfulness, I’m sure, is a symptom of the diligence with which each new school year seems to approach. Like a large clock in which the giant gears shift only once every 365 days, those unnerving ticks seems to be accelerating. And now the prospect of college is looming larger than ever.

Weren’t they just five and seven years old? Has it really been six years since Elementary school!

Of course I want them to grow up, move on, and be happy – and the fact that I like having them around so much certainly bodes well for their future. I just wish there was a hidden Wellsian dial by which we could better regulate the passage of time.

Why do the best things in life have to happen so quickly?

But thankfully, there is a saving grace that can actually stave off that relentless calendar march. It’s the sometimes subtle fact that, aside from one ill-advised detour, I’ve been granted the unique opportunity to see my boys grow up every step of the way. Even if it were possible to erase a memory, there is no amount of money you could place in my palm that would persuade me to give that up.

It’s nice to not have a regret for once.

I’m not sure if that was my original intent, but it really doesn’t matter. It’s simply comforting to finally understand that, given the opportunity, the Universe can be such a kind and compassionate companion. God really does protect children and fools!

In 1975, Ann Landers famously reported that, if given the opportunity to go back, 70 percent of parents would not have children. I’d do it all over again in a flash!

Ah! But all is not lost dear readers. In a couple of hours that gleaming yellow bus will pull right up to the corner and my two sons will slowly amble up to the front door. And I’ll be waiting right there with a large smile on my face ready to offer the kind of bear hugs that make ‘em wish I worked outside the house.

I’ll ask them about their first day of school while generally expecting nothing more than monosyllabic responses because the younger one will want to head straight for his computer while the older one bounds up to his room to relax. There will be time for tanks and Legos.

Then I’ll simply sit back in that home-office chair to enjoy all the noise while I revel in the fact that everything is exactly where it should be.

It’s the August 21st Left, Right and You promo!

Again, if you prefer to sit back, close your eyes and listen, then this is for you!


Larry Jones is taking his daughter to college so Republican Elgin State Rep candidate Jeff Meyer will be putting the “right” right back in Left, Right and You this week!

We’ll be talking with ace Tribune Reporter Rick Pearson about just what’s going on with the governor’s race. Rick is one of the last of the old school reporters remaining so I can guarantee you he’ll have some interesting insights.


Time permitting, we’ll talk about why the Tea Party has been completely silent regarding the militarization of our police departments. Isn’t that a bigger threat to our freedom than a black president?

So please join Jeff and me for Left, Right and You, this Thursday from 3 to 4 p.m on WRMN AM1410. Personally, I can’t wait!