Your Local Police Force Has Been Militarized
Wednesday, 24 January 2007
By Paul Craig Roberts
01/24/07 “ICHBlog” — — In recent years American police forces have called out SWAT teams 40,000 or more times annually. Last year did you read in your newspaper or hear on TV news of 110 hostage or terrorist events each day? No. What then were the SWAT teams doing? They were serving routine warrants to people who posed no danger to the police or to the public.
Occasionally Washington think tanks produce reports that are not special pleading for donors. One such report is Radley Balko’s “Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America” (Cato Institute, 2006).
This 100-page report is extremely important and should have been published as a book. SWAT teams (Special Weapons and Tactics) were once rare and used only for very dangerous situations, often involving hostages held by armed criminals. Today SWAT teams are deployed for routine police duties. In the US today, 75-80% of SWAT deployments are for warrant service.
In a high percentage of the cases, the SWAT teams forcefully enter the wrong address, resulting in death, injury, and trauma to perfectly innocent people. Occasionally, highly keyed-up police kill one another in the confusion caused by their stun grenades.
Mr. Balko reports that the use of paramilitary police units began in Los Angeles in the 1960s. The militarization of local police forces got a big boost from Attorney General Ed Meese’s “war on drugs” during the Reagan administration. A National Security Decision Directive was issued that declared drugs to be a threat to US national security. In 1988 Congress ordered the National Guard into the domestic drug war. In 1994 the Department of Defense issued a memorandum authorizing the transfer of military equipment and technology to state and local police, and Congress created a program “to facilitate handing military gear over to civilian police agencies.”
Today 17,000 local police forces are equipped with such military equipment as Blackhawk helicopters, machine guns, grenade launchers, battering rams, explosives, chemical sprays, body armor, night vision, rappelling gear and armored vehicles. Some have tanks. In 1999, the New York Times reported that a retired police chief in New Haven, Connecticut, told the newspaper, “I was offered tanks, bazookas, anything I wanted.” Balklo reports that in 1997, for example, police departments received 1.2 million pieces of military equipment.
With local police forces now armed beyond the standard of US heavy infantry, police forces have been retrained “to vaporize, not Mirandize,” to use a phrase from Reagan administration defense official Lawrence Korb. This leaves the public at the mercy of brutal actions based on bad police information from paid informers.
SWAT team deployments received a huge boost from the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program, which gave states federal money for drug enforcement. Balko explains that “the states then disbursed the money to local police departments on the basis of each department’s number of drug arrests.”
With financial incentives to maximize drug arrests and with idle SWAT teams due to a paucity of hostage or other dangerous situations, local police chiefs threw their SWAT teams into drug enforcement. In practice, this has meant using SWAT teams to serve warrants on drug users.
Read the rest here.