EKU Online Professors Engage in National Dialogue on Police Militarization

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Dr. Victor Kappeler and Dr. Pete Kraska with the EKU College of Justice & Safety have been asked to share their research on militarization and law enforcement.

Eastern Kentucky University ranks among U.S. News and World Report's Best Online Programs.

Eastern Kentucky University ranks among U.S. News and World Report's Best Online Programs.

We need critical thinkers, not people who simply react.

Two EKU professors are sharing their expertise in what Newsweek magazine calls “the most comprehensive review in years of the militarization of local police and the federal government’s role in making that happen.”

Dr. Pete Kraska, professor, graduate program director and online master’s program coordinator testified at a U.S. Senate hearing in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 9. Dr. Victor Kappeler, who is himself a former police officer, participated in a policy review listening session on Oct. 1 at the invitation of the White House. Kappeler is coordinator of the EKU Online Police Studies bachelor’s degree program, as well as, foundation professor and associate dean of the School of Justice Studies in the EKU College of Justice & Safety.

Both men are distinguished scholars whose research is relevant to the national dialogue that has resounded since the killing of an African American teenager and subsequent riots in Ferguson, Mo. in August.

“Ferguson brought these issues to the forefront of public attention,” said Kappeler, “ but while it could be conceived as a single incident, it needs to be understood in broader social context.”

Kappeler lists several factors that could be examined, including urban development and the displacement of urban populations; police selection practices; diversity within police departments; education and training; and a department’s ability to effectively deal with the media.

Kraska also points to context regarding the militarization of police. There was a heightened sense of fear during the “war on drugs” in 1971 when the Department of Defense began transferring unwanted equipment to civilian police forces. Those attitudes continued after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Today, those tensions have eased, and it’s time to examine other issues.

“Military gear and garb changes and reinforces a war-fighting mentality among civilian police, where marginalized populations become the enemy and the police perceive of themselves as a thin blue line between order and chaos,” he told the Senate hearing committee.

Both professors believe training and education are essential in law enforcement today. As far back as the 1960’s numerous commissions and researchers have noted that police are more successful with a college education. More recent studies cite fewer disciplinary actions, fewer injuries, a higher level of community engagement and better morale among officers with college credit.

“Training for incidents alone is not sufficient problem solving. We need critical thinkers, not people who simply react,” said Kappeler.

Consistently recognized as having some of the nation’s best online degree programs, Eastern Kentucky University strives to make quality education accessible to everyone. EKU is an accredited, brick-and-mortar institution celebrating more than 100 years of student success. EKU Online offers more than 25 undergraduate and graduate degree options in a variety of fields, representing Arts & Sciences, Education, Justice & Safety and Health Sciences.

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Michelle Gorin
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