Stockton residents and a councilman in Lathrop have flirted with establishing armed militias. With yet another violent crime taking place in Tracy this week, it might be only a matter or time before Tank Towners publicly kick around the idea of arming themselves en masse.
I'll keep my ear to the ground and report back if and when those rumblings begin. Until then, here's a column about the Stockton and Lathrop efforts, originally published in the Press on May 9 and reproduced here, since it seems to have vanished from the Internet:
If you’ve always dreamed about playing cops and robbers with real guns and without that pesky Police Academy business, Alan Pettet of Stockton wants your help.
The 66-year-old has promised — or threatened, depending on your point of view — to raise a militia in that city if police there are laid off. Well, the Stockton Police Department earlier this month issued layoff notices to 55 officers, so we’ll soon see if Pettet was doing more than using his idea as political leverage.
From what I’ve read, though, the Vietnam War vet isn’t bluffing about patrolling the streets four to a car with rifles.
And I’m reasonably afraid.
He’s been quoted in the Stockton Record saying "Who’s going to stop us?" arguing it’s his constitutional right to form a militia. He’s even intoned that his group could oust the elected City Council and impose martial law upon the city, should he be sworn in along with the 270 people he claims are interested in his concept.
A semi-organized collection of volunteers taking the law into their own hands and launching a possible coup while armed with high-powered rifles. What could go wrong?
I’d chalk this up as an isolated incident of crazy, if it weren’t for the suggestion of a Lathrop city councilman more than a week ago. Christopher Mateo said that each council member could be given a badge and a gun — after sufficient training, of course — and sworn in as deputized officers of the local police department.
Thankfully, law enforcement representatives have urged these enthusiastic citizens to holster their proposals. This is not the kind of self-policing we’ve been asking for.
At some level, it’s difficult to criticize the efforts of Pettet, Mateo and anyone else who wants to make their communities safer. After all, one of the easiest ways for residents to secure cities and neighborhoods is to take personal responsibility for those spaces. These guys are nothing if not dedicated, personally
trying to protect themselves and their neighbors.
But it’s a peculiar brand of protection. These plans call for citizens to embrace an active, even pre-emptive, use of force — a far cry from keeping a gun for personal defense.
And as far as safety is concerned, while some members of these movements, such as Pettet, have extensive firearm training, others probably don’t.
And knowing how to aim and fire a gun is not the same as knowing how to use a gun. Or how not to use one.
Then there’s the whole issue of justice and equal enforcement.
If given license to uphold the law as they see fit, these outfits could easily become as dangerous as the crooks they seek to stop. Real police officers undergo months of rigorous training and
evaluation before they’re given a badge, Tracy police Sgt. Tony Sheneman told me Friday.
He added that, without such training, an armed militia could be a liability.
“I would be concerned if I were to go through a town that had a militia that lacked that training and experience,” Sheneman said, “even if they were well-intentioned.”
Thank sanity the militia talk has missed Tracy.
Such do-it-yourself justice is a hazard to public safety — especially since there are proven ways for residents to fight the criminal element without resorting to armed recon missions.
Several Tracy neighborhoods have found that crime can be controlled peacefully, and local statistics show that Neighborhood Watch and other vigilance organizations are quite effective. Bet the house that this is the type of help police are after.
For those who share Pettet’s and Mateo’s grassroots fervor, the Tracy Police Department offers several crime-prevention programs in which concerned citizens can participate.
A self-governing militia is not among them.