J. D. Heyes
December 22, 2011
There is an ongoing terrorist threat in the world, most Americans would agree. Local, state and federal officials are right to want to be prepared in the event another 9/11 attack or something worse was to happen. But that said, most of us could also agree that there are more high profile targets in New York City, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., to name a few than, say, Fargo, N.D.
And yet Fargo – and scores of sleepy cities and communities like it – have beenrecipients of billions of dollars in Department of Homeland Security moneythey have used to turn their local police departments into small armies ready to do battle in every traditional sense of the term.
Fargo officials have received some $8 million taxpayer dollars out of at least $34 billion in DHS funding to purchase things like military assault rifles, military-style Kevlar helmets and other battle-ready gear, including a nearly $260,000 armored truck with a rotating turret that the local department mostly uses as eye candy at the annual Fargo picnic.
Carol Archbold, a Fargo resident and criminal justice professor at North Dakota State University, said “Most people are so fascinated by it, because nothing happens here. There’s no terrorism here.” And that is the problem, say experts.
“The argument for up-armoring is always based on the least likely of terrorist scenarios,” Mark Randol, a former terrorism expert at the Congressional Research Service, Congress non-partisan research wing, told the Center for Investigative Reporting. “Anyone can get a gun and shoot up stuff. No amount of SWAT equipment can stop that.”
And yet, the spending spree that has spanned 10 years seems destined to continue, because the trend appears to be to turn police departments into small armies, no matter the potential for actually having to deal with an attack, because somewhere, sometime, in Devil’s Haven, U.S.A. – or Fargo – a “terrorist” might strike.
“It’s foolish to not be aware of the threats out there, whether it’s New York, Los Angeles, or Fargo. Our residents have the right to be protected,” Fargo Police Lt. Ross Renner, commander of the regional SWAT team, said. “We don’t have everyday threats here when it comes to terrorism, but we are asked to be prepared.”
No one is suggesting that Americans living in Fargo are less important than those living in New York, Los Angeles or the Capitol City. But in a time when the nation’s debt is spiraling out of control, isn’t it logical to prioritize? Shouldn’t DHS and Congress be a little more concerned with putting their terrorism prevention limited resources into parts of the country that are more likely to be attacked?
And what is all of this police militarization doing in terms of becoming a threat to civil and constitutional rights? Is all of the weaponryreallymaking us safer – or do we justthinkso? Consider these facts:
• In Montgomery County, Texas, the sheriff’s department owns a $300,000 pilotless surveillance drone, like those used in Afghanistan and Pakistan to search for and identify al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.
• In Augusta, Maine, home to less than 20,000 people where a police officer (thankfully) has not died from gunfire in the line of duty for more than 125 years, the department just purchased eight $1,500 tactical vests.
• The police department in Des Moines, Iowa, bought two $180,000 bomb-disarming robots.
• One Arizona sheriffeven has a tank, for crying out loud.
Many of the newly armed cops are veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. And terrorism remains a very real threat in America. But DHS isn’t tracking where its funds are being spent, and it appears obvious that scores of millions of dollars are being used in places where, frankly, the terrorist “threat” appears negligible at best.
This article was posted: Thursday, December 22, 2011 at 4:19 am