I’m with Sen. Rand Paul here:

The outrage in Ferguson is understandable—though there is never an excuse for rioting or looting. There is a legitimate role for the police to keep the peace, but there should be a difference between a police response and a military response.

The images and scenes we continue to see in Ferguson resemble war more than traditional police action. …

Most police officers are good cops and good people. It is an unquestionably difficult job, especially in the current circumstances.

There is a systemic problem with today’s law enforcement.

Not surprisingly, big government has been at the heart of the problem. Washington has incentivized the militarization of local police precincts by using federal dollars to help municipal governments build what are essentially small armies—where police departments compete to acquire military gear that goes far beyond what most of Americans think of as law enforcement.

Paul quotes Walter Olson:

Why armored vehicles in a Midwestern inner suburb? Why would cops wear camouflage gear against a terrain patterned by convenience stores and beauty parlors? Why are the authorities in Ferguson, Mo. so given to quasi-martial crowd control methods (such as bans on walking on the street) and, per the reporting of Riverfront Times, the firing of tear gas at people in their own yards? (“ ‘This my property!’ he shouted, prompting police to fire a tear gas canister directly at his face.”) Why would someone identifying himself as an 82nd Airborne Army veteran, observing the Ferguson police scene, comment that “We rolled lighter than that in an actual warzone”?

The thug police in St. Louis County arrested two reporters, likely illegally, and have been telling the press (and presumably citizens) that they don’t have the right to film them (the cops) — which is absolutely untrue.

Look at these photos comparing scenes in Ferguson with similar scenes in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have militarized our police. The rioters were wrong, and have no excuse. Still, the far greater disgrace, and the far greater menace, was the police response. When you have even law-and-order conservatives protesting it, you know the cops have gone too far. RedState’s Erick Erickson told the NYT:

“The natural reaction of conservatives, I think, has always been in defense of law and order.”

But lately, he added, there has been an awakening among many on the right. Many see an increasingly disproportionate response to crime as a sign of a larger problem that should rattle the consciences of conservatives who are wary of centralized authority, he said.

“As more and more people become aware of how overcriminalized the law and regulatory system of the United States is, they become aware of just how easily it is for them to be carted off to jail for innocuous behavior,” Mr. Erickson said. “That necessarily increases distrust of the system over all.”

As a very conservative friend of mine put it on my Facebook feed last night, “Law and order does not mean the police get to do whatever they want.”

UPDATE: Reader Ken Snyder has some good perspective:

I was a police officer for more than sixteen years, and I was the founder and first commander of our local Emergency Response Team in a small town in mid Michigan. I would echo those who say that most law enforcement officers are committed, dedicated people trying to do their best when dealing with very difficult situations. And I am not passing judgement, nor am I condoning, the activities of the Ferguson police in this series of events.

The larger issue is that police culture has changed and become more paramilitary in the last 15-20 years. There are two factors to this that I don’t hear discussed often. The first is 9/11. There were many people who believed that these attacks were only the first of what would be frequent and localized terrorist attacks in our country(think Beslan in Russia). Local police were encouraged to train and equip themselves for this, which is also partly why the feds began distributing military equipment to local law enforcement agencies. The second factor is the focus on mass shootings, and in particular, school shootings. Although they are relatively rare, preparation for response to them has been a focus of law enforcement since Columbine (although statistics show that law enforcement officers only stop these killers in about 1/3 of mass shooting incidents).
These events have caused law enforcement to change training and tactics, as highly trained teams like ERT and SWAT teams often cannot get to incidents like mass shootings in time. Therefore, individual officers have to be trained and equipped like SWAT, and they take on that same mindset.

But the important point is that I think this is what we citizens wanted. We want the police to be ready and able to deal with terrorists and active shooters. So these are the police that we want, but only in very specific situations. So citizens are shocked to see that equipment and, if not tactics, that same mindset applied in situations like Ferguson, and the many examples that are shared across web sites and local media. But once the police have this equipment, training, and mindset, as a practical matter, the citizens of a particular community don’t get to decide when they utilize it. We leave that up to the ‘experts’ who have ‘all of the information’. I think in some ways this is just another facet of the ongoing discussion in our country about NSA spying, etc: we want security, but at what price?