Militarizing the U.S. Police
Is it the Army? Nope, it's the Cops!
Combine Homeland Security with the military-industrial complex and wars winding down and one result is the increased militarization of U.S police departments. As defense budget belt-tightening puts the squeeze on military contractors' profits, they are looking elsewhere for additional revenue. The Department of Homeland Security earmarks funds for local police departments that have plenty of strings attached-- basically, the funds must primarily be used to fight terrorism. Funds for ordinary police work have to come from somewhere else.
Use it or Lose it
The latest “must-haves” for police departments are drones. More than 250 applications have been approved for police to use drones in aerial surveillance, utilizing high-powered zoom lenses, infrared and ultra-violet imaging and other capabilities. This raises questions of privacy, which has been under continuous assault since 9/11. Even explanations of why the drones are being used or who is controlling them is withheld by the Department of Transportation.
The drones are just the latest addition to local police forces. Helmets, body armor, assault rifles, grenade launchers, bazookas, armored cars and trucks, tracked armored personnel carriers, helicopters mounted with 50-caliber machine guns and other military equipment have been added to police inventories. Most of this has occurred since 9/11, but it basically started with a 1991 law pushed by Reagan to allow the military to train and equip police departments in the so-called “War Against Drugs”.
Paul Craig Roberts, author, columnist and former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy under Reagan said, “All of this is conscious and intentional. They are putting in place a method of controlling a population that may be unemployed, hungry or very angry and I think the state and local police are not just militarized, but they are being federalized.”
Preparing the Skies
On a related note, in early February 2012, the US House and Senate passed a bill requiring that US airspace be open to military, commercial and private drone flights by September 20, 2015. HR 658, the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act authorizes up to 30,000 drones over America.
Some Are Gunships Now
Few would deny the police the ability to defend themselves or the tools to do their job but there are several problems with all this militarization. Police are not primarily trained in military tactics. Policing and military actions are two entirely different disciplines. To address this, police are now receiving that military training. There has been an explosion in SWAT (Special Weapons And Tactics) teams. Today, even towns with populations of 25,000 might have a SWAT team. Their original mandate was to handle special situations like hostage-taking and gun battles but they are now routinely used for drug busts and even just serving warrants. In some cases, officers walk their beat with assault rifles and black, full battle uniforms. While all this equipment is to fight terrorist attacks, it is being incorporated into more routine police work in what is termed “weapon inflation”. Hand in glove with the “weapon inflation” are the new powers granted by the PATRIOT act. From 2006 to 2009, delayed-notice search warrants-- “sneak-and-peaks”-- were used 15 times in terror investigations; they were used more than 1,600 times for drug investigations.
Ready for a Riot
The biggest problem arises when the police start acting more like soldiers, which all this equipment and training is facilitating. The military's job is to kill the enemy; police are charged with keeping the peace and protecting the rights of citizens. Other countries have different histories, but this distinction is why, more than 130 years ago, in 1878, the Posse Comitatus Act explicitly forbade the use of military in domestic policing. The law still stands but it doesn't address a police force that acts like a military force. As former Reagan administration official Lawrence Korb said, "Soldiers are trained to vaporize, not Mirandize." An acting military force present in every village, town and city is a standing army and, George Mason, known as one of the fathers of the Bill of Rights, once said, “When once a standing army is established, in any country, the people lose their liberty.”
It will too late when, instead of “Protect and Serve” being emblazoned on the sides of cop cars, we see “Search and Destroy” on police armored assault vehicles.
Demo of Flying Robot Swarm
© 2012 David Hunt