Friday, July 06, 2007
In the opening scene of the 1987 film RoboCop, the megacorporation OCP unveils its newest product: Ed-209. Originally designed for the military, the robot has been modified for “urban pacification.” Its mission is to clean up a Detroit whose streets are “a war zone.”
Before a meeting of executives, the hulking monster demonstrates its crime-fighting abilities. One of the executives is asked to volunteer, so he points a gun at the robot. Rob-209 says: “Please put down your weapon. You have 20 seconds to comply.” The suit complies. But Rob-209 is on the fritz, it seems, and the countdown continues. At zero, the robot opens fire, tearing open the man’s chest with a torrent of bullets. Oops. “Only a glitch,” someone explains—so much for using a killing machine for police work.
At the recent National Sheriff’s Association convention in the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, the triad of military technology, corporate manufacturing and law enforcement symbolized in RoboCop’s Ed-209 was more than just fiction.
Besides six days of seminars on everything from in-custody deaths to character building, the annual gathering of sheriffs also acts as a marketplace for law-enforcement gadgetry. Everything was on offer in the exhibition hall: tracking devices, facial-recognition technology, communication networks, paddy wagons, riot gear, surveillance equipment and guns—lots of guns.
But most conspicuous were the numerous permutations of America’s military machine—all at the disposal of the 6,000-plus sheriffs on hand. For example, Chris Kincaid, a senior consultant with the Department of Defense’s Technology Transfer Program, was present to aid law enforcement agencies with what he calls “technological transfer.” The federal program was set up in 2002 to aid the transfer of technology and equipment from the military to law enforcement. ...
...The convention’s many examples of overlapping military and police techniques concern some civil-rights advocates. Critics of this drift toward paramilitary police forces say that the increased training and equipping of police with military tactics and hardware may have deep and lasting influence on the philosophy and actions of the men and women who uphold the law....