Monday, August 18, 2014

America's Police Rapidly Militarized Since 9/11

How did we get to the point that a militarized police force confronted crowds in Ferguson protesting a police officer's shooting of Michael Brown? Ferguson is part of a nationwide phenomenon in which the federal government, since 9/11, has provided a vast array of military gear for the police in the name of fighting terrorism. A New York Times analysis finds that "Terrorism is exceedingly rare...and the equipment and money far outpaced the threat." Further, there is little in the way of training with the equipment or limitations on its use:

...the federal government has spent more than a decade paying for body armor, mine-resistant trucks and other military gear, all while putting few restrictions on its use. Grant programs that, in the name of fighting terrorism, paid for some of the equipment being used in Ferguson have been consistently popular since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. If there has been any debate at all, it was over which departments deserved the most money.

...While the major Homeland Security grants do not pay for weapons, Justice Department grants do. That includes rubber bullets and tear gas, which the police use to disperse crowds. A Justice Department report last year said nearly 400 local police departments and more than 100 state agencies had bought such less-lethal weapons using Justice Department grant money.

The grants also paid for body armor, vehicles and surveillance equipment. It was not immediately clear if those grants had paid for equipment being used in Ferguson.

The military also sent machine guns, armored trucks, aircraft and other surplus war equipment to local departments. Compared with other urban areas, however, St. Louis County has received little surplus military equipment.

All these programs began or were expanded in response to the Sept. 11 attacks, when the authorities in Washington declared that local police departments were on the front lines of a global war on terrorism. Terrorism is exceedingly rare, however, and the equipment and money far outpaced the threat.

...In most instances, the government did not require training for police departments receiving military-style equipment and few if any limitations were put on its use, he said.

The increase in military-style equipment has coincided with a significant rise in the number of police SWAT teams, which are increasingly being used for routine duties such as conducting liquor inspections and serving warrants.

For years, much of the equipment has gone unnoticed. But as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have drawn down, police departments have been receiving 30-ton, mine-resistant trucks from the military. That has caught the attention of the public and caused controversy in several towns.

AP Photo/Jeff Roberson


Michael J. Mand said...

Once we allowed the terrorist act of 9/11 to change the way we interact with each other, we lost the battle. The problem is that I see no evidence of a reversal. It just gets worse. We seem to be more than willing to sacrifice our liberties to combat our fears. And more will die because of it.

Jeff Tone said...

My only hope is that there seems to be a growing consensus that the police are too militarized.