Photo: OregonDOT/Creative Commons
With an influx in federal cash from Department of Homeland Security grants, local police departments nationwide have been outfitting their officers with armoured vehicles, surveillance drones, and sophisticated weaponry.The over $34 billion in grants has given rise to a growing concern that some police officers are looking less like civil servants, and more like soldiers on the front lines in Afghanistan.
“We do know that in 2011, a half-billion dollars of surplus military equipment went to police departments,” John Chasnoff, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union, told CBS St. Louis. “We have concerns that the lines between the two [police and military] is starting to blur.”
The ACLU wants to find out exactly what type of equipment is being used, as CBS St. Louis reports:
The ACLU has made a public records request for information from major city police departments across the U.S., including St. Louis City and St. Louis County. They also want to find out what kind of equipment is being turned over to the Missouri National Guard.
There’s likely much to learn from such requests, as an extensive white paper from journalist Radley Balko has already revealed military-like tactics, including:
- The increasingly frequent use of heavily armed SWAT teams for proactive policing and the routine execution of drug warrants, even for simple marijuana possession.
- The use of anonymous tips and reliance on dubious informants to obtain no-knock search warrants in the first place.
- Executing warrants with “dynamic entry,” diversionary grenades, and similarly militaristic tactics once reserved for urban warfare.
And The Daily Beast reports on some towns getting big weapons:
Every city squad car is equipped today with a military-style assault rifle, and officers can don Kevlar helmets able to withstand incoming fire from battlefield-grade ammunition. And for that epic confrontation—if it ever occurs—officers can now summon a new $256,643 armoured truck, complete with a rotating turret. For now, though, the menacing truck is used mostly for training and appearances at the annual city picnic, where it’s been parked near the children’s bounce house.
“Most people are so fascinated by it, because nothing happens here,” says Carol Archbold, a Fargo resident and criminal justice professor at North Dakota State University. “There’s no terrorism here.”
Tactical units and weaponry in major cities such as Los Angeles or New York make sense considering they are on the radar for terrorist attack, but there’s growing scepticism of their use in smaller municipalities.
“For 30 years, politicians and public officials have been arming, training, and dressing cops as if they’re fighting a war,” Balko recently told Vice Magazine. “They’ve been dehumanizing drug offenders and criminal suspects as the enemy. And of course they’ve explicitly and repeatedly told them they’re fighting a war. It shouldn’t be all that surprising that a lot of cops have started to believe it.”
Produced by Daniel Goodman
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