J. D. Heyes
May 9, 2013
If you paid any attention to the news surrounding the terrorist attacks at the Boston Marathon – and in particular the house-to-house searches that took place in the hours following the attacks – you witnessed a growing trend in law enforcement that should be very concerning to you: the militarization of local police forces.
Of course cops should be as protected as possible as they carry out their duties, but the proliferation of so many SWAT units – dressed in body armor, wearing Kevlar helmets and tactical equipment vests while carrying assault weapons (yes, cops carry true assault weapons) and riding around in explosion-resistant armored vehicles – is giving local police the look of an occupying army. And in America, that is very problematic, say civil libertarians.
What’s worse, the federal government, through programs established within the Pentagon and various agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, are either donating, funding or otherwise providing a sizeable portion of this military-grade gear to local police who are then employing it for use more frequently to carry out routine police duties.
“We want the police to keep up with the latest technology. That’s critical,” American Civil Liberties Union Senior Counsel Kara Dansky said, reported the Contra Costa Times. “But policing should be about protection, not combat.”
What is the purpose of all of this local police militarization? We may have witnessed it this past week in Boston, as an army of heavily armed local police and federal agents, with the help of elected officials, locked down nearly a million people in Boston, Watertown and other communities – all over a single 19-year-old terrorist suspect.
Is that kind of response going to become the “new normal?” Perhaps, if agencies like DHS get their way. Clearly, many police departments are being transformed from law enforcement agencies into war-fighting forces, and all compliments of the U.S. taxpayer.
Other high-tech gear is being purchased as well
Tens of millions of dollars are being spent on privacy-stealing drones, reports the Oakland Tribune.
Per the paper:
The drone requests slipped by even the staunchest opponents because they would have been paid for with federal funds channeled to cities the Department of Homeland Security considers at high risk for a terror attack. In this case, the money [for a drone for the San Mateo County’s Office of Emergency Services] came from a $26 million Urban Areas Security Initiative grant meant to help local law enforcement expand arsenals of anti-terrorism combat and surveillance equipment assembled since 9/11: night vision goggles, remote robots, surveillance cameras, license plate readers and armored vehicles that amount to unarmed tanks.
Drones. Armored vehicles. Automatic weapons. Body armor. Kevlar helmets. Tactical vests. Military-style uniforms. Is it war or law enforcement? The blurring of that line is becoming troublesome, to say the least.
Blurring an already blurry line
Seven years ago San Jose police Chief Joseph McNamara publicized the trend to militarized police, becoming one of the first to sound the alarm and to relate his discomfort with the trend.
“Simply put, the police culture in our country has changed,” he wrote in an article for The Wall Street Journal. “An emphasis on ‘officer safety’ and paramilitary training pervades today’s policing in contrast to the older culture, which held that cops didn’t shoot until they were about to be shot or stabbed.”
The problem is being exacerbated by some top civilian law enforcement officials, like Alameda County, California, Sheriff Greg Ahern. Training for his deputies includes the annual “Urban Shield” exercise, a county readiness event that very much resembles a military training evolution.
The manner in which authorities hunted the second terrorist suspect in Boston following the attack on the marathon is troubling, if not constitutionally suspect. Further militarization of police forces will only lead to more uses of such forces, which can only result in future constitutional violations.
Are you ready for that to be the “new normal,” starting with the next terror attack?
Sources for this article include:
This article was posted: Thursday, May 9, 2013 at 11:22 am