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    Letters to the Editors

    A paramilitary culture is troubling

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 9, 2003

    Re: Fort Florida, March 2.
    -- Congratulations on your front-page article. We need for the press to continue to do its traditional job of monitoring and objectively reporting on elected officials and giving the populace a heads-up view of their activities.
    The most important and alarming statement in your article, and one that in my opinion needs further attention, is the quote from Peter Kraska, the Eastern Kentucky University professor who coined the phrase the "militarization of Mayberry":
    "The paramilitary culture that goes along with these weapons is culturally intoxicating to a lot of police officers."
    Police department ownership of the weapons described is much less of a concern to me than the mind-set that metamorphoses from a civilian police force that is part of the citizenry and is hired to protect us to an organization that views the people as "civilians" to be patronized, often bullied and even harmed in a display of authority -- an "us against them" mentality.
    I hope and pray that articles such as yours trigger a healthy debate on the functions of our police departments, as opposed to our military.
    I believe that the excuse of antiterror functions on the part of local police risks spawning a repressive police force similar to what they had in the Eastern bloc nations during the Cold War. Keep up your scrutiny.
    Robin J. Humphrey, Crystal River

    Too much information

    Re: Fort Florida.

    While I consider the Times to be a great newspaper, which often investigates stories we citizens need to know about, I for one didn't see the need to learn so many details about the arsenals stockpiled throughout law enforcement agencies statewide. Yes, we should be concerned about the lack of training, proper storage and usage of these weapons. On the other hand, such articles clearly could encourage criminals, terrorists and other thugs to plan related thefts to support their own activities.

    I'm far more concerned about them than I am about police officers possessing such arms. Showing pictures of where they are stored in rural police departments along with associated statistics and inherent security weaknesses goes beyond what I want to know -- and what I think others should know.
    -- Chuck Miller, Palm Harbor

    A dangerous influx of arms

    Re: Fort Florida.

    The Times has again produced a great piece of investigative reporting. The migration of weapons of war into our civilian police forces is indeed troubling.

    Over the last few decades the black market for firearms has been constantly resupplied by weapons stolen not only from people's homes, but also from federal and National Guard armories, police stations and gun shops. With the distribution of surplus military weapons to Florida police and sheriff's departments, and the lack of adequate training, accountability and secure storage for these weapons documented by the Times, some of these weapons are bound to migrate into our vast black market for firearms. Since many of these are fully automatic firearms, we may see an escalation in firepower used by both the police and criminals, with the public caught in between, as the Times has pointed out, because law enforcement may increasingly develop a militarized approach to catching criminals.

    Also troubling is the refusal of some law enforcement agencies to disclose how much firepower they have.

    It goes without saying that some police forces do need these kinds of weapons, however, they would seem inappropriate for those in rural areas where there is little crime and few if any targets for terrorists.

    Since it's quite evident this Legislature is not going to offend the NRA by doing anything to prevent guns from falling into the hands of felons and terrorists, perhaps it is better that our law enforcement agencies are able to shoot it out with terrorists when they emerge with .50-caliber handguns, M-16s and .50-caliber sniper rifles so easy to get in Florida.
    -- Arthur C. Hayhoe, executive director, Floridians For Gun Safety, Inc., Zephyrhills

    A gut reaction

    Re: Fort Florida.

    By the heft of the guts on those rifle-toting "Guardians of Liberty" pictured on Page 1 last Sunday, they couldn't outrun a headless turkey. Let's hope the real military is in better shape.
    -- John W. Rippon, Safety Harbor

    Bubba gone wild

    Re: Fort Florida.

    Interesting article. Well done. But the front-page image haunts me: hugely overweight (let's just call them what they are, fat) deputies from Citrus County slinging guns around and playing tough cop.

    I don't have anything against guns and rifles. But this looked like a replay of Hee Haw, Bubba gone wild with his high-powered rifles.

    Don't they have any personal dignity? Doesn't the department have some kind of physical fitness requirements? Guess you don't have to if you have big guns.
    -- John Shoemaker, Indian Shores

    Questionable effectiveness

    Re: Fort Florida.

    According to the graphic accompanying this report, the Glock 17 has an effective range of 500 yards. I'm not sure what your definition of effective is, but if you think a 9mm pistol is remotely accurate at that range, I have a bridge across the East River in New York that might interest you.
    -- George Lear, St. Petersburg

    Educational myopia

    Re: Subsidized tuition, letter, March 2.

    The letter writer has hit the nail on the head! Using taxes to help people get a better education is an utter waste of our money. Who needs all these "highly educated" people, anyway? When was the last time you heard about a shortage of health care professionals or teachers? Besides, only the wealthy should be able to afford higher education. Otherwise, some people might actually escape from poverty, or be able to better provide for their families or future. It is far better to spend that money on corporate welfare instead.

    Unfortunately, too many people today share the letter writer's "I got mine" attitude. They seem to be unwilling to help others get "theirs," too. While I definitely agree that not all of our tax dollars are directed effectively, I think most of the money goes to programs and services that keep our society healthy and stable, education among them.

    Education opens opportunities and expands possibilities for all of us. Our state is already having trouble retaining students who graduate from our university system. Imagine if they couldn't even afford to attend the schools here in the first place. Where would the next generation of professionals come from? I know I certainly wouldn't have been able to afford to earn either of my degrees if the state hadn't helped pay for part of my tuition. Because it did, I can say I am a proud graduate of the state university system. Furthermore, I am glad to stay here working in my chosen profession: education.
    -- Aaron Elkins, Dunedin

    What's that sound?

    The Feb. 28 article Jabil cuts 200 local jobs, tells us that the majority of the work that was formerly available at the Oldsmar plant is going to Mexico. I wonder. Do the workers who voted for George Bush the Elder in 1992, Bob Dole in 1996 or Bill Clinton in either '92 or '96 hear it yet? It's the giant sucking sound predicted by third party candidate Ross Perot.
    -- Palmer O. Hanson Jr., Largo

    A place for poetry

    Re: Perspective and poetry.

    I do understand the reluctance of any publication to have regular poetry sections. Poems can be controversial or trite, much like the regular news items. Sincerely, I would like to thank you for printing the Peter Meinke article and his poems celebrating the two St. Petersburgs' birthdays (Writing on Demand, March 2).

    Poetry is now far removed from the ivory-tower existence it once had and now is earthy, compelling and useful for communicating thoughts and deeds. It should be accorded a more prominent place on your Books page.

    As a mentor to children, I know the incentive to write becomes contagious when they see what can be done. Keep up the good work that you do for the arts. And add a little more poetry to it, please.
    -- Arthur Moore, executive director, Tampa Bay Poetry Foundation

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