Militarization of Police Forces
The issue of police departments using military-style equipment was thrust into the spotlight in August, when media outlets began broadcasting footage of officers in Ferguson squaring off with protesters following the police shooting of an unarmed black man. Ferguson officers used armored tanks and machines guns in the response to demonstrations, which began after the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer in a street confrontation. (Senators blast DOD program that 'militarized police' By Tim Devaney, The Hill, 09/09/14 03:13 PM EDT http://thehill.com/regulation/217136-senators-blast-dod-program-to-militarize-police; accessed on December 25, 2014 at 1428 hrs. P.S.T.).
America has been quietly arming its police for battle since the early 1990s.
Faced with a bloated military and what it perceived as a worsening drug crisis, the 101st Congress in 1990 enacted the National Defense Authorization Act. Section 1208 of the NDAA allowed the Secretary of Defense to “transfer to Federal and State agencies personal property of the Department of Defense, including small arms and ammunition, that the Secretary determines is— (A) suitable for use by such agencies in counter-drug activities; and (B) excess to the needs of the Department of Defense.” It was called the 1208 Program. In 1996, Congress replaced Section 1208 with Section 1033. The idea was that if the U.S. wanted its police to act like drug warriors, it should equip them like warriors, which it has—to the tune of around $4.3 billion in equipment, according to . The St. Louis County Police Department’s annual budget is around $160 million. By providing law enforcement agencies with surplus military equipment free of charge, the NDAA encourages police to employ military weapons and military tactics. (How America’s Police Became an Army: The 1033 Program BY TAYLOR WOFFORD 8/13/14 AT 10:47 PM in Newsweek;
Across the country, heavily armed Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams are forcing their way into people’s homes in the middle of the night, often deploying explosive devices such as flashbang grenades to temporarily blind and deafen residents, simply to serve a search warrant on the suspicion that someone may be in possession of a small amount of drugs. Neighborhoods are not war zones, and our police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies. (ACLU, War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing (2014), at 2; in https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/assets/jus14-warcomeshome-report-web-rel1.pdf, accessed on December 24, 2014, at 1315 hrs. P.S.T.).
The ACLU study findings included the following:
1. Policing—particularly through the use of paramilitary teams—in the United States today has become excessively militarized, mainly through federal programs that create incentives for state and local police to use unnecessarily aggressive weapons and tactics designed for the battlefield. For example, the ACLU documented a total of 15,054 items of battle uniforms or personal protective equipment received by 63 responding agencies during the relevant time period, and it is estimated that 500 law enforcement agencies have received Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles built to withstand armorpiercing roadside bombs through the Department of Defense’s 1033 Program.2. The militarization of policing in the United States has occurred with almost no public oversight.3. SWAT teams were often deployed—unnecessarily and aggressively—to execute search warrants in low-level drug investigations; deployments for hostage or barricade scenarios occurred in only a small number of incidents. (Id., at 5).4. The use of paramilitary weapons and tactics primarily impacted people of color; when paramilitary tactics were used in drug searches, the primary targets were people of color, whereas when paramilitary tactics were used in hostage or barricade scenarios, the primary targets were white. (Id., at 5).5. SWAT deployments often and unnecessarily entailed the use of violent tactics and equipment, including armored personnel carriers; use of violent tactics and equipment was shown to increase the risk of bodily harm and property damage. (Id., at 6).
All that battle gear you saw in Ferguson was acquired not from the military, but from private companies like the ones touting their wares at Urban Shield.
This summer, images of armored vehicles and police pointing semi-automatic rifles at demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri, set off a debate over what journalist Radley Balko has termed the "rise of the warrior cop." A National Public Radio analysis found that since 2006, the Pentagon has given local cops some $1.9 billion worth of equipment—including 600 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs), 80,000 assault rifles, 200 grenade launchers, and 12,000 bayonets (yes, bayonets). But those totals pale in comparison to the amount of gear purchased from private companies. The Ferguson Police Department, for example, received some computers, utility trucks, and blankets from the military—but all that battle gear you saw on TV was bought from corporations like the ones pitching their wares at Urban Shield. Outfitting America's warrior cops, it turns out, is a major business, and one fueled in large part by the federal Department of Homeland Security. The Department of Defense has given $5.1 billion worth of equipment to state and local police departments since 1997, with even rural counties acquiring things like grenade launchers and armored personnel carriers. But Homeland Security has handed out grants worth eight times as much—$41 billion since 2002. The money is earmarked for counterterrorism, but DHS specifies that once acquired, the equipment can be used for any other law-enforcement purpose, from shutting down protests to serving warrants and executing home searches. (. Do police really need grenade launchers? By Shane Bauer, Mother Jones, October 2014; in http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/10/swat-warrior-cops-police-militarization-urban-shield ; accessed on December 27, 2014 at 2330 hrs. P.S.T.)
This industry of suppliers hosts its own conferences where its paddles its latest hardware to police from across the country and a host of other countries.
Organizers of the conference, known as Urban Shield, said it was the largest first-responder training in the world; now in its eighth year, it has drawn teams from places as far-flung as Singapore, South Korea, Israel, and Bahrain. Each group would go through 35 tactical scenarios over 48 hours, with no breaks except the occasional catnap. An airplane was lined up for busting a gun smuggler, and a cargo ship would be seized by a terrorist after a make-believe earthquake. A "militant atheist extremist group" would take hostages at a church.
The event was paid for mostly by the Department of Homeland Security, but more than 100 corporations threw in money too, up to $25,000 each. In many of the scenarios, teams would try out the latest equipment on offer from Urban Shield's corporate sponsors—Verizon, Motorola, SIG Sauer. Many were military supply companies—FirstSpear, for example, was founded by former soldiers to make body armor and bandoliers for "US and allied warfighters." Here, they sold their stuff to cops. Then there were "platinum sponsors" like Uber, which gave police discount black-car rides for the weekend.
Urban Shield was started in 2007 by an Alameda County assistant sheriff named James Baker. In 2011, he told me, Homeland Security asked him to bring the event to other parts of the country, so he started a company, the Cytel Group, that would put on Urban Shield in Boston, Austin, and Dallas. "Urban Shield is a program that gets everybody working together" to respond to crises, he said. Baker's firm has also received $500,000 in state funds to write guidelines for SWAT teams, on things like how much gear each team is required to have. (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/10/swat-warrior-cops-police-militarization-urban-shield ; accessed on December 27, 2014 at 2330 hrs. P.S.T.).
This concern is not just of liberals and civil libertarians but reflects deep concern among conservatives as well. For example,
“Senators took aim in particular at the Defense Department's provision of 617 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles to small police departments. As the U.S. has drawn down forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, the hulking vehicles have been finding their way to smaller and smaller towns. Police departments generally don't receive training in how or when to use them.” (Senators Criticize Growing Militarization of Local Police Departments: Democrats, Republicans Question Federal Programs Giving Military-Style Gear to Local Law Enforcement, Wall Street Journal, Updated Sept. 9, 2014 7:38 p.m. ET; http://www.wsj.com/articles/senators-criticize-militarization-of-local-police-departments-1410287125; accessed on December 24, 2014, at 1430 hrs. P.S.T.).
This was a common theme [at the Urban Shield Conference]: Since the bad guys are well armed, police need better defenses and an intimidating appearance. And it's true that guns on the street have gotten bigger—but it's also true that being a cop today is the safest it has been since 1964. The most dangerous year in recent decades was 1973, when there were 134 felony killings of police officers in the line of duty. By 2012, that number had dropped to 47. Some of that might be because police are better protected, but they are also not being attacked as often: Assaults on cops are down 45 percent since their peak in 1971. Indeed, violent crime overall is down in America—it has fallen by nearly half since 1991. (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/10/swat-warrior-cops-police-militarization-urban-shield ; accessed on December 27, 2014 at 2330 hrs. P.S.T.).