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Mission is to serve and protect [Editorial]

In the wake of protests and aggressive tactics utilized last week in Ferguson, Mo., police agencies everywhere should be rethinking some of the strategies they have in place and renew their focus on finding ways to connect with residents in communities that more and more see them as the enemy.

Condemnation of the excessive use of force employed against protesters was widespread. On Thursday, President Barack Obama called for "a time of healing," and he said spoke against the heavy-handed techniques law enforcement used against those protesting the police shooting of an unarmed teen.

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The situation cooled some after the president's remarks, and after Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon put the state police in charge of security in the town rocked by the shooting of Michael Brown. Witnesses say Brown was unarmed and had his arms up when he was shot and killed. Police say Brown attacked the officer and tried to grab his gun.

Across the nation the scenes of police response to the protests that followed – complete with machine guns, riot gear, armored personnel carriers and shooting rubber bullets – brought comparisons to war zones and a cacophony of voices rose to condemn the military style show of force used by police.

In a press release, the Libertarian Party said, "The militarization of our domestic police forces must end … there's no circumstance in which any government authority should attempt to silence or suppress the news media or people peacefully observing police conduct." That condemnation refers to the arrest of a Washington Post and Huffington Post reporter, as well as a St. Louis alderman.

The incident is just the latest – but the largest – of problems related to police, these days often using military style equipment, overstepping their bounds.

In a report, "War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing," the American Civil Liberties Union says "Our neighborhoods are not warzones, and police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies. Any yet, every year, billions of dollars' worth of military equipment flows from the federal government to state and local police departments. Departments use these wartime weapons in everyday policing, especially to fight the wasteful and failed drug war, which has unfairly targeted people of color."

Make no mistake, police put their lives on the line every day. And we have seen repeatedly the deadly consequences when criminals have greater firepower than law enforcement. But there needs to be some balance.

Earlier this month tens of thousands of residents across the country joined with local police representatives in National Night Out activities to demonstrate how police and community members can work together to fight crime. Those efforts work, and police everywhere should be increasing their focus on ways to encourage community involvement.

Last week's images from Ferguson are a stark reminder that some police agencies just don't get it. But as a subhead on the ACLU report notes, law enforcement's job is "to serve and protect, not to raid and ravage."

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