Sunday, July 27, 2014

Militarized Police - A Reality Check

In the late 80’s, our high school’s government department hosted talks given by different law enforcement agencies from local to federal levels.  When a local police officer gave his speech, a kid began arguing with the cop over an injustice committed against him.  He insisted that he was unlawfully stopped and searched, as well as harassed.  I was pretty appalled by the story and couldn’t understand why he would be targeted.  This kid belonged to a wealthy family and was a delinquent attention whore, but that didn’t justify his treatment at the hands of the police.

I asked him about the incident after class, and told me another version where he was lawfully stopped.  He went on tell how they were drinking underage and smoking weed, hence the search. The kid admitted that he took creative license with the story for a chance to annoy a cop.  This was my first experience with the “more to the story” scenario.  The “militarized” police issue bears little difference.

Cop hatred is an increasing fad, and it spreads to otherwise rational and conservative citizens during a Democratic presidency.  A recent example was the “New World Order” fear that reached popularity during the Clinton years.  Although the FEMA “Death Camp” wave originated under Bush, we’re now apparently facing a UN invasion under Obama.

The most important thing to understand is the “militarized” aspect.  Critics most often cite military appearance as evidence, but if this whole mess were real, one of the most important factors would be jurisdiction.  Law enforcement in our country exists on the federal, state and local levels.  These levels determine what laws can be enforced by a particular agency and where they may be enforced.  Federal entities have no command authority over the smaller jurisdictions.  They can investigate each other and take legal action against them, but the feds can’t command the other branches.  The military doesn’t even come into the picture.  Thus, if the federal government issued death warrants for all [insert group here], other jurisdictions don’t fall under their command.

While state and local agencies receive federal grants and equipment, this assistance does not come with instructions to follow orders.  Programs like 10-33, which provides surplus military gear like armored vehicles, are designed to provide gear to agencies that can’t afford it otherwise.  The intent is to provide options to deal with increasing levels of violence in acts of terrorism, active shooters, increased cartel activity, etc.
The critics of late cite the physical appearance of SWAT teams and similar groups as evidence that they are acting as the military.  The use of military gear and combat tactics is nothing new.  It goes back as far as the “Tommy Gun.”  When gangsters deployed the submachine gun and against the police, it was time to step up the game.  The 1997 Los Angeles bank robbery shooting underscored a situation where the police were behind the curve in gear and tactics. 

As I explained to an online critic, if a fleeing murderer took shelter in the home across the street and fired on police, I assured the critic he would be alone in charging into the situation in a polyester uniform with a .38 special in a Crown Victoria.  When the call is made to scrape up his bleeding body from the street, it will be done by a specially trained team wearing tactical body armor, driving an armored vehicle and equipped with shields, rifles, less-lethal munitions and a bomb robot. 
Understand that police don’t have the option to fight fair.  We must win and come home when the shift is over.  The feds aren’t providing cannons, frag grenades, machine guns, mortars, missiles or tanks.  They offer law enforcement tools.  Just as our nation has done for ages, we endeavor to stay tactically, technically and logistically ahead of the criminal element because we don’t want to be another third world stain on the map living under a criminal cartel like Mexico or much of the Middle East.  

Share this blog when you see the paranoid posts.  Often they will reply with memes or links to screw-ups and incidents where police have screwed up, but challenge them to show military action.  Police are more liability conscious and careful than ever, but that’s fodder for another blog.  Ask how it differs from a citizen using military technology to defend their home (AR-15).  Chances are you’re dealing with someone who’s still butthurt over getting busted for that joint back in high school.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The BBS Days

Before the internet, there were Bulletin Board Systems.  These were systems much like a modern day forum, where users could post messages, share e-mails, play games and swap files.  They used dial-up modems and the user called the other computer directly.  It was a different experience than the widespread nature of the internet.  Most users were local because long distance charges were steep back in those days.  BBS’s were popular in the 80’s and started to die out when Compuserve, GEnie, America Online and similar services set up national systems where users could reach through local numbers.  The internet as we know it was the next evolution.

For a teenage computer geek, which I was, BBS surfing late on summer nights was paradise.  High-traffic times meant there were lots of busy signals, so the wee hours were prime surfing.  Public domain software was a big thing, offering games and other wares for free.  Online games became pretty popular.  There were multi-user games based on various themes.  It was a blast.

My friend, James Stormes, was (and still is) the alpha computer geek.  We had always talked about a BBS, so one day Jim built one up.  It was based on Galacticomm software, which was a big deal.  Jim bought a multi-user system which was state-of-the-art compared to most of the shareware systems of the time.  He pieced together an IBM PC clone and replaced the original 8088 processor with a “V-20” upgrade.  I think the BBS operated at a smoking  10 megahertz.  I can’t remember the drive size, but I’m sure a modern day thumb drive would have backed the system up 10 times over.

Jim lived in town, and I lived between Midland and Odessa.  This was a prime situation because in those days people in my area could get a “561” exchange which allowed calls to or from Midland and Odessa without long-distance charges.   Yes, if you called Odessa in 1987 it was a long-distance call.  Jim set the system up, bought two lines, and we were rolling.  All we needed was a name.  After kicking around the possibilities, we settled on “Telegraph Road.”  It was a Dire Straits song from the time period.  We completed the act with business cards that were scattered about computer stores and software sections of bookstores.  Mike Spencer’s mother made us a batch of T-shirts with the album cover art.  Telegraph Road was on the air.

What followed was years of enjoyment in the geek community.  In those days, computers were expensive and less user friendly than today.  This made for an interesting social network of like-minded folks similar to amateur radio today.  Even back then we had to deal with porn uploads, endless online sex chats that tied up lines, and there were even a few relationships and marriages from meetings on “TR.”  Viruses weren't that common, but I remember an outbreak of the "Stoned" virus.  There were quite a few parties and friendships that made for great memories.

Jim went off to school in 1991 and I moved back to town, so the board was turned over to avid user Mark Smyth, who expanded it to twelve lines and added more games.  I remained a user until it finally folded up sometime in the 90’s.  According to Mark, the phone company designated him as a business and raised the rates to the point that he shut down.

There are a few sites out there that memorialize the old boards.  There were several in Midland, operated by individuals, some by churches, even one operated by the Ector County schools.  There were a couple of surreptitious boards known for porn, pirated software or stolen goods.  Porn back then consisted of poorly scanned images from girlie mags.  An image could take up to an hour to download.  I recall two monochrome videos that consisted of about ten frames looped.   Some unknown conspirators converted one to a virus-like PASCAL program and attempted to plug it into Lee High School's lab.  As an Explorer in the Sheriff’s Office, a move that spawned my 23+ year law enforcement career, I once helped detectives mole out some stolen gear from one of the sites.

The BBS system will always hold fond memories to me.  The internet has reminiscent offerings of those days, but nothing will compare to teen caffeine fueled red-eye nights spent in role-playing games at a blazing 2400 BPS with music blaring in the background.

Here's a site with some old BBS info: