ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Politics and Social Issues»
  • Crime & Law Enforcement

Warzone: The Militarization of American Police

Updated on June 27, 2014

A Quick Note

The information presented in this article is based on publicly available information and a recent ACLU study. The opinions of the author are not necessarily reflected here. I am in no way affiliated with the ACLU, Law Enforcement, or any other associated entity, and have the deepest respect for American law enforcement and the work that they do to maintain the law and, in that, the very foundation of our societal stability. It is not my intention to undermine the public trust in the police, only to present the given information in a concise, reader-friendly format and explore the nature of the expanded use of military tactics and equipment in modern law enforcement.

This article may contain information that could make some readers uncomfortable. I apologize for that, and will attempt to keep the graphic nature of some of the segments to a minimum.

Source

Wake-Up Call

Just imagine it. You're in the safety of your home in the early morning hours. You're awakened by the sound of glass breaking, and moments later a deafening roar fills your ears and you're blinded by a brilliant flash. As the ringing in your ears subsides, it is replaced by the screaming and crying of your children as your bedroom door flies open. Black-clad men with masks and assault rifles pour into your room, leveling their weapons on you and your partner as they shout for you to lie face down with your hands above your head. You're handcuffed and dragged to your living room where you and your family sit for hours at gunpoint. The men will not answer your questions about what is going on or why they are there. When they finally leave, your home looks like a warzone. Shattered glass is everywhere, broken electronics, up-turned drawers, and your families' personal effects litter the floors. Smoldering holes from the flashbang grenades still smoke in your carpet. Your children are still sobbing amid the ruin that was your home.

Sadly, this is reality for an increasing number of Americans as our police forces become better equipped and more aggressive in the war on drugs. With SWAT deployments on the rise across the country, many wonder if it is justified. I do not seek to answer that question, only to present the facts and let you decide.

Case: Tucson, Arizona - 2011

Jose Guerena, a Marine Corps veteran, was in bed with his wife when she was awakened by a strange noise. Believing that she saw a man standing outside the window, she woke Jose who told her to hide in a closet with their 4-year old son. Guerena then grabbed his rifle, with the safety on, and went to investigate, presumably fearing that a burglary was in progress.

A SWAT team entered the home and fired 71 shots, 22 of which hit Guerena. He died in the kitchen, having received no medical attention. Police officials argue that the officers announced prior to entering the home, and that the sound of sirens in the background should have made it apparent to Guerena that it was the police entering his home. This was supported by a helmet cam video released by the department following the incident.

Reportedly this SWAT raid was a drug-related one, and the team raided multiple homes in the neighborhood. No drugs were found in the Guerena home.

Source

The Warrior Mindset

In today's police forces, increasing emphasis on "the warrior mindset" is taught. This is a psychological function perfected by the military to teach soldiers to act effectively in combat, without hesitation. In a law enforcement context, this allows SWAT and similar units to quickly perform their function while minimizing risk of harm to officers. It is argued by many, including the ACLU, that this same mindset causes these officers to see the people that they are supposed to protect and serve not as civilians, but as enemy combatants.

The result is that lethal force is an increasingly present solution to many SWAT deployments. This is an unavoidable consequence of active shooter situations and other high-risk engagements, but with a majority of SWAT deployments taking place for the purpose of serving a warrant in drug-related incidences, it is argued that the use of such extreme measures is unwarranted.

SWAT, by design, is to be deployed when a level of risk exists to a degree that prevents ordinary officers from responding safely. This is often interpreted as meaning that if there is reasonable suspicion that the home contains a firearm, the risk to law enforcement officers is sufficient to warrant the use of SWAT.However, with roughly 50 percent of American households containing at least one gun, is this entirely justified?

Source

Case: Framingham, Mass. - 2011

Eurie Stamps, a 68-year old man, was watching baseball when a flashbang was deployed and a SWAT team entered his home. Following the instructions of the officers, Stamps lay face-down on the floor with his arms above his head when one of the officers' weapons discharged, killing Stamps.

Stamps was not the suspect in this case. The officers were looking for his girlfriends' son on suspicion of drug dealing. The suspect did not live in Stamp's home, and had been detained roughly an hour before this incident. In spite of this, the department decided to conduct the raid anyway, presumably for evidence-gathering purposes.

The incident was later determined to be an accidental weapon discharge by investigators.

Source

The War on Drugs

What motivates the use of SWAT teams to serve drug-related warrants? The ACLU argues that government-provided grants and equipment afforded by the Department of Homeland Security, under the blanket of the war on drugs, encourages police departments to use SWAT more frequently. if the ACLU is right, this sets a dangerous precedent. In this scenario, police departments that resolve issues without violence are essentially punished by a reduction in the money and equipment that they need, while departments that engage in allegedly "high-risk" scenarios are rewarded. This opens up the possibility that these departments, in order to receive more money and equipment, are manufacturing excuses to deploy militarized units. The result, however, is often times needless destruction of personal property, collateral damage, and potentially unnecessary casualties.

Accuracy of Threat Assessment

SWAT Deployments
Weapons Found
Weapons not found
Unknown
Weapons believed present
35%
32%
33%
Weapons not believed present
13%
43%
44%
 
 
 
 
Accuracy of threat assessment based on ACLU study of over 800 SWAT deployments.

Unnecessary Escalation?

You hear a strange noise in the middle of the night. Perhaps a doorknob rattling, perhaps a window breaking. Many people, in this scenario, would arm themselves and investigate. Unfortunately, if that sound happens to be the police executing what is called a "no-knock warrant", the result of your attempt at protecting your family and property could be tragic.

It can be assumed that the unannounced entering of a home would result in the sort of situation presented in the case of Jose Guerena. A homeowner, simply investigating a strange noise while armed and well within his legal rights, is gunned down because of a potential perceived threat to the officers executing the raid. It is believed by the ACLU that this escalation is an unacceptable risk to the lives of law-abiding citizens.

I don't suspect that anyone wants to see police officers injured or killed, but the question is whether the risk outweighs the reward, both for law enforcement and civilians. Statistics on the success of SWAT raids are impossible to acquire, and the media sensationalizes every failed raid to the fullest degree.

Source

The Bottom Line

Should SWAT deployments be subject to greater oversight?

See results

Conclusion

Is the potential for harm to civilians worth the militarization of our police forces? There is inherent risk in becoming a police officer, a risk well-known who choose that path. Should the same type of risk, the risk of having your home invaded by police officers on suspicion that may or may not be founded, exist for every single American? It isn't my prerogative to answer. I have no right to weigh the lives of civilians and law enforcement officers.

What I know is that civilians have needlessly died, homes have been destroyed, and pets have been killed. How many lives have been saved, I cannot say. No accurate statistics exist to my knowledge on that subject. The ACLU would have us believe that these police forces are fascists reminiscent of the Gestapo in Nazi Germany, but one is unwise to accept their assessment at face value. As always, I believe that the truth of the matter lies somewhere in the middle. Criminals forfeit their rights when they break the law until the matter is resolved. Law-abiding citizens, however, are paying the price as well.

The bottom line is that we are an ever-evolving society, and criminals and law enforcement alike constantly adapt and change their methodology. Some tactics will prove effective, and some will not. Some will save lives, and some will be failures paid in blood.

The question I pose to the reader is this: Is the increasing employment of SWAT teams, military equipment, and military tactics worth the risk to civilian lives and the sanctity of their homes?

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      Larry Wall 3 years ago

      We agree, to a point. What are we to do, when armed people enter schools, take hostages and start shooting people. Lives are at stake and someone has to respond. It is going to be a SWAT type team until someone comes up with a better solution. I had an uncle who was a patrol officer. He was not trained to handled that kind situation. He wrote traffic tickets and arrested shoplifters on the beat he walked (about 35 years ago). I worked in several smaller towns during my journalism career and the police departments there were not equipped for such events. However, the sheriff's office, working with the state police had a group that could be mobilize. SWAT teams are unfortunately necessary. I will agree some officers like wearing the gear and carrying the advance weapons a little too much. One step would be to require some type of FBI field training and mental evaluation to determine the suitability of a person for SWAT duty. That may not be the best solution, but it is a starting point. We know we have the bad guys out there. We know the "good guys" make mistakes. We have to work to make those "good guys" the best guys for handling these situations.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 3 years ago

      Larry Wall, I agree with your point about limited data, but these are only just statistics. I am concerned about the toll on humanity. Just one incident is one too many. (BTW, I am also a former regional network report now turned legal editor. I was trained to be fair and impartial, but I believe where people's lives are at stake, we can't turn a blind eye.) I think we can agree to disagree on this.

    • JG11Bravo profile image
      Author

      JG11Bravo 3 years ago

      The data used in the study was collected from 812 SWAT deployments over two years nationwide. It's a 98-page study, and while much of it is typical ACLU nonsense and conjecture, there are plenty of statistics that warrant consideration. If all the information was publicly available to be compiled, things would be a lot simpler. However, the world doesn't work that way and we can only analyze what we have to work with. I don't suggest that there is a massive conspiracy to suppress the populace or anything like that. As always, I don't seek to change peoples opinions, just to hopefully make them think.

      Assuming that there is no problem because of lack of information is the same line of thinking that left us with our pants around our ankles on the subject of climate change.

    • profile image

      Larry Wall 3 years ago

      JG11Bravo

      I never intended to imply that you should be out researching that data. I think the ACLU should provide more specific data. As a former news reporter I have read a lot of reports that were filled with conclusions and examples, but lacking in supporting data.

      MisBejabbers:

      There are no statistics to question. There are only examples. I have seen the same footage and and wrote a series of stories once that put a police chief of a small town in jail for miscondcut--theft of city funds. Police are buying more military style equipment because the criminals are buying such equipment. I will agree with your husband that the average policeman has no business using surplus military vehicles designed for war. Many people who served in the military have no business using such equipment. Special training is required. Remember SWAT stands for Special Weapons and Tactics. The first SWAT unit was formed after the sniper fried upon people from a tower on the grounds of a Texas college. There are zealots that go too far, but there are many well trained personnel that do the right thing. That is where statistics come in. How many incidents resulted in SWAT responses. How many people were injured? How many were rescued. How many SWAT team members were injured. You cannot pull out a few incidents and claim they are typical examples of SWAT Activity. In my city, SWAT has been called out about six times in the past year--there were no injuries. The incidents were d-escalated. I think one person, who was shooting at people took his own life.

      The point of my comments was that you have to be careful in using limited data to apply generalities to a larger group.

    • JG11Bravo profile image
      Author

      JG11Bravo 3 years ago

      I do apologize for the disclaimer, then, but I like to cover my bases. I don't want to go offending anyone unnecessarily.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 3 years ago

      Anyone who would question these statistics does not read the newspaper or listen to the news. I have seen too much of this – with actual footage and interviews with the victim’s families, or in the case of newspapers, with photos. We are heading to a martial law society, if we don’t stop it.

      You have brought to attention the misuse of SWAT, which is only one phase of the potential martial law problem. Today police departments are buying military surplus equipment, including helicopters. I saw recently that my own city was trying to buy surplus military vehicles formerly used in combat, and I think a helicopter was part of the potential purchase. My husband, a Vietnam veteran and former Black Ops, made the statement that “civilian police have no business using military equipment designed for war.” He said most of these people will never have the training nor the sense to use it properly, and this equipment should never be turned back on one’s own people.

      This only reinforces my belief that we should legalize drugs and end another war that can’t be won. Voted you up and interesting and shared. Would have given you another plus if you had not put on a disclaimer.

    • JG11Bravo profile image
      Author

      JG11Bravo 3 years ago

      I would like to start my response by telling you how refreshing it is to see that people are still intelligently questioning the information fed to them. I thank you for that, sir. If more people asked questions like this, the world would probably be a better place.

      That said, most of my sources are a bit biased, admittedly, but it is not for lack of trying to find counter-argument. The ACLU study I cite frequently is quite new, however, and while I'm sure someone will present a counter-argument before long, it hasn't been done yet. Along with that, it is frankly quite difficult to find any positive reports on SWAT activity thanks to the inherently sensationalist news reporting we all enjoy so very much. As for more specific information on the incidents in question, I don't think it's my place to provide that. I wouldn't want every Tom, Dick, and Harry on the internet giving out my address, you know?

      Sadly, I'm just some guy. I don't have the resources to do the research myself, so all I can do is fact-check to the best of my ability with the information given from the study and various news media outlets. I will go ahead and add a list of sources to the hub, though.

    • profile image

      Larry Wall 3 years ago

      I question the source of your material. Often members of large organizations come out with information like this that is later denounced by the parent group. Actually, some of the incidents you related sound like plots for television shows I have seen.

      I cannot disprove anything you reported, because there are not enough details to do any type of verification check. Law enforcement officers make mistakes, just like everyone else.

      However, I think more research, such as dates, times, specific addresses, etc. would be in order. That is hard work. I know, I use to be a newspaper reporter. I had a lot of rumors and incomplete complaints cross my desk,which upon investigation, were found to be somewhat exaggerated. Again, I am not criticizing your hub, you write well, I am just questioning the source and the validity of that source.