Law Enforcement Agencies Continue To Obtain Military Equipment, Claiming The United States Is A 'War Zone'

from the bringing-citizens-the-war-they-never-wanted dept

That law enforcement agencies across the US are swiftly converting themselves into military outfits is hardly a surprise at this point. The problem is that nothing seems to be slowing them down, not even the dismayed reactions of citizens supposedly under their care.

The government’s desire to offload its unused military hardware at deeply discounted rates has turned a few outliers into the new normal. Towns as with populations well under the 10,000 mark have secured Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, supposedly in order to keep up with a non-existent arms race between the good guys and the bad guys.

The MRAPs are only the most visible symptom of law enforcement’s desire to dress for battle. Along with the vehicles (which normally run from $250,000-$750,000 but are routinely paid for by DHS grants awarded to requests that mention the word “terrorism” or “drugs” in a sufficiently terrified manner), agencies are also picking up military-grade weapons like grenade launchers and automatic weapons. The low prices and large grants make this an opportunity few agencies are able to resist.

The problems with this sort of ad hoc “mobilization” are numerous. The dangers of outfitting police with military gear can best be signaled with a combination of “if all you have is a hammer…” and Chekhov’s Gun. If you give police military gear, they’re going to want to use it. The very occasional shootout with heavily-armed criminals simply won’t satisfy the urge to deploy the new acquisitions. The slightly-more-occasional no-knock warrant served in the dead of night to known drug offenders won’t sufficiently scratch the itch. Consequently, this:

Police SWAT teams are now deployed tens of thousands of times each year, increasingly for routine jobs. Masked, heavily armed police officers in Louisiana raided a nightclub in 2006 as part of a liquor inspection. In Florida in 2010, officers in SWAT gear and with guns drawn carried out raids on barbershops that mostly led only to charges of “barbering without a license.”

All the training and all the equipment obtained over the years to… crack down on unlicensed barbering. (Or check water quality/“rescue” a baby deer from an animal shelter.) Square that with this statement by David Lutz, chief of the Edinburgh (IN) police department:

Lutz fully supports using the MRAP. “Oh, yeah, anything for the safety of officers,” he said. “SWAT is after the worst of the worst. It’s what they do.”

Crime, including domestic terrorism — the fear most commonly cited in equipment requests — has never been lower. But the nearly universal response has been to escalate. With no data on their sides, defenders of these acquisitions are forced to rely on speculation and worst-case hypotheticals to defend bringing an MRAP into communities where violent crimes like homicide are nearly nonexistent.

“I don’t like it. I wish it were the way it was when I was a kid,” [Neenah, WI police chief Kevin Wilkinson] said. But he said the possibility of violence, however remote, required taking precautions.

Remote possibilities are the stated “goal.” The reality is raided barbershops.

Others see it as nothing more than the natural progress of law enforcement, so entirely normal that what citizens perceive as a shift towards a police state is actually something so innocuous it can be taken to local schools to impress the kids.

Capt. Chris Cowan, a department spokesman, said the vehicle “allows the department to stay in step with the criminals who are arming themselves more heavily every day.” He said police officers had taken it to schools and community events, where it was a conversation starter.

Again, the facts simply don’t bear out this statement. Criminals aren’t arming themselves more heavily every day. Crime stats don’t bear that out. In other nations, this is happening, but the United States is not ground-zero for a drug war — or even a real war, for that matter. But yet more and more law enforcement agencies are pretending Neenah, WI and Pulaski County, IN (pop. 13,124) are the new Kabul, Afghanistan. [Warning: AUTOPLAY]

“The United States of America has become a war zone,” he said. “There’s violence in the workplace, there’s violence in schools and there’s violence in the streets. You are seeing police departments going to a semi-military format because of the threats we have to counteract. If driving a military vehicle is going to protect officers, then that’s what I’m going to do.” (Pulaski County Sheriff Michael Gayer)

The unintentionally irony of this claim (which also happens to be both completely ridiculous and profoundly disturbing) is that these “new war zones” will apparently be populated by US citizens returning from the “old” war zones. This is what’s awaiting our nation’s military veterans: their old equipment being deployed against them, because if they killed overseas, they’ll probably just keep on killing when they get home.

In the Indianapolis suburbs, officers said they needed a mine-resistant vehicle to protect against a possible attack by veterans returning from war.

“You have a lot of people who are coming out of the military that have the ability and knowledge to build I.E.D.’s and to defeat law enforcement techniques,” Sgt. Dan Downing of the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department told the local Fox affiliate, referring to improvised explosive devices, or homemade bombs. Sergeant Downing did not return a message seeking comment.

Law enforcement agencies seem to want a war. And if the public fails to give them one, they’ll apparently manufacture one themselves by sending heavily-armed men to enforce hairdresser regulations and use MRAPs to break up knife fights. On the bright side, this issue is receiving more and more attention, but so far, the ability of law enforcement agencies to obtain military gear far outpaces efforts directed at tempering this activity.

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Comments on “Law Enforcement Agencies Continue To Obtain Military Equipment, Claiming The United States Is A 'War Zone'”

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Anonymous Coward says:

there’s no way it’s a ‘war zone’ yet, but the way the authorities are going, the information they are gathering on everyone, the restrictions they are putting on everyone, dont hold your breath too long because it’s gonna be heading that way. people in charge of the USA (and some other countries, especially those that have some serious ties with the USA) are doing what they can to turn it into a Police State! there are more ways of logging what people do, say, communicate, go, everything and it sure as hell aint being done for fun!!

Paul Renault (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You clearly haven’t been paying attention if you think that the government, along with its handmaidens and handlers (y’know, the NSA, the CIA, NYC cops, and the 1% of the 1%) doesn’t consider the American and the world’s citizenry – especially an informed citizenry, the enemy.

And where the enemy lives, that’s a war zone.

Rich Kulawiec (profile) says:

What Cowan, Gayer and Downing should consider

Last week, in Seattle, a rather reticent guy named Jon Meis found himself in the middle of an ugly situation. An active shooter was busy killing students on the campus of Seattle Pacific University.

Meis went after him.

Did he have automatic weapons and tasers and riot gear and MRAPs and grenade launchers and barricades and surveillance cameras and license plate readers and all the gadgets and waepons that Cowan and Gayer and Downing have/want?


He had (a) pepper spray and (b) courage. That’s all.

And as it turns out, that’s all that was necessary. Meis took the shooter down (solo at first, then with some help) without any of that military gear, without hurting any bystanders, and without killing him.

It seems that (a) pepper spray is easy to come by. (b) courage — not so much.

Think about Meis the next time you see a photo or video of heavily-armed police with military gear confronting a group of peaceful protesters armed only with signs and slogans. Compare and contrast.

AJ says:

What else can they do?

They’ve destroyed our economy, flooded our country with minimum wage workers, and they keep getting caught doing the things they’re supposed to be protecting us from. If the economy collapses, or the powers that be stop loaning us money, there’s going to be unrest. When a heavily armed nation gets hungry/sic/fed up because of government mismanagement, they people will want change. They gov thinks that all this weaponization of the police will keep that in check. I’m betting they are underestimating the lengths people will go when they get hungry or sick or scared…. especially heavily armed ones.

Anonymous Coward says:

Meanwhile, Obama wants us to be disarmed just like Australia, using isolated incidents and one-sided arguments as justifications. Gun violence may have killed thousands (and it’s not even the guns themselves that are at fault, but more that some people are either scumbags or just plain stupid), but history has proven that militant authoritarianism has killed millions (conveniently after they’ve been rendered defenseless).

Robert says:

Re: Re:

Bugger you mate. Australians are fully armed with courage and do not need penis substitutes flooding cities and suburbs.
Check out the number of shootings by police and how many bullets are fired in anger by police. Never to forget zero mass shootings since major guns controls kicked, zero.
Now if you want to talk real weapons bans try this on for size never felt safer or less of a need to arm myself.
If you feel your police force is incapable of keeping the peace, than that is your problem, not the need for a penis substitute and SAPOL do a good job of keeping the peace, acting a police officers and not as law enforcement (that is strictly the purview of the courts).

AJ says:

Re: Re: Re:

I don’t think his comment was ment as an insult. Australians and Americans are apples and oranges, our governments are completely different, and geographically speaking Australia has a significant advantage in protecting their boarders.

We have a gun culture; a country born of revolution due to tyrany. We have thousands.. scratch that.. millions of illegal immigrants, some criminals, flooding across our borders with god knows what type of weapons and intent. We have a government with a history of not protecting the people, and a police force that is under no obligation to protect it’s citizens. We have countless court rulings that state that the citizens of this country are responsible for their own safety, not the police.

You may think it has something to do with “penis substitute” but it actually has everything to do with protecting our families. If the gov takes away the guns, only the criminals will have them.. i don’t care how tough you are.. an AK will rip you to pieces.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I did hear the after the Australian disarmament, the number of home invasion went way up in elderly homes. Especially in the houses that are out in the country. No way to defend themselves and long time for police assistance. It has been a couple years since I saw the video and don’t remember the name of it.

AJ says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I’ll play…

I could post a thousand links if you want. But it’s all bullshit. Here is the truth….

“Australian citizens do not (and never did) have a constitutional right to own firearms ? even before the 1997 buyback program, handgun ownership in Australia was restricted to certain groups, such as those needing weapons for occupational reasons, members of approved sporting clubs, hunters, and collectors. Moreover, the 1997 buyback program did not take away all the guns owned by these groups; only some types of firearms (primarily semi-automatic and pump-action weapons) were banned. And even with the ban in effect, those who can demonstrate a legitimate need to possess prohibited categories of firearms can petition for exemptions from the law.

Given this context, any claims based on statistics (even accurate ones) which posit a cause-and-effect relationship between the gun buyback program and increased crime rates because “criminals now are guaranteed that their prey is unarmed” are automatically suspect, since the average Australian citizen didn’t own firearms even before the buyback.


G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Actually we not only never had a ‘gun’ culture, we are very apathetic towards authority normally.

Also what a lot of people don’t realise in Australia is that violent crime (murder, rape, kidnapping etc) have actually HUGELY decreased across the country since the 1960/70’s.

Other crime with weapons currently are normally only ever pistols or sawn-off shotgun variants. Automatic weapons are rarely seen in crime stats and never really ahve been any sort of ‘norm’ here.

We have the rights to protect ourselves, others, and property that is reasonable though, and regional (country) areas have firearm licenses (mainly for rifles, shotguns – NOT pistols) that could be used if an assailant had a weapon in certain instances (rare but possible).

We are not really a violent nation, no matter what hype the local media try to spin all the time, in fact death by shootings is a statistical anomaly nowadays (though it deos happen and gets huge media attention – due to it’s rarity), though in need we will volunteer en mass to protect our way of life.

madasahatter (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Listen carefully. Obama, et. al. talk about “assault weapons” being in the public’s hands. The correct definition of an assault rifle is a rifle capable of either burst or full automatic fire and uses an intermediate size round between a pistol and full rifle round. Burst/automatic fire weapons have for practical purposes been illegal to own in the US since the 1930’s which actually predates the development of the assault rifle by about 10 years. In the 1920’s and early 1930’s submachine guns and automatic rifles were sold to the public and often were used by bootleggers and criminals. The Thompson submachine gun was nicknamed the “Chicago Typewriter” and Bonny and Clyde used BARs (Browning Automatic Rifle). If someone is willing to be very sloppy about their terminology you should worry about their agenda.

The effective range of guns from shortest to longest is: pistols (~50m), assault rifle (~400m), and conventional bolt action deer rifle (~1000m). The range of the assault rifle is deliberate based on the typical ranges for combat.

Anonymous Coward says:

Don't forget Conservatives, gun owners, etc

will apparently be populated by US citizens returning from the “old” war zones.

Well, the President has labeled nearly half of America as potential terrorists. That half being the conservatives, gun owners and veterans. So send the tanks, MRAPs and the most feared of all, the IRS after them.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m not worried about cops getting military gear. I think the MRAPs can be useful for public safety in certain situations (you know, shootouts, barricaded suspects, etc.)

But here’s the thing – police already have deadly weapons, i.e. their sidearms. Nevermind getting worked up over all the tactical gear, they already are a menace (as you mention) with shooting your dog, killing innocent bystanders, and etc.

The MRAPs don’t really change that equation, unless you had this wingnut fantasy of singlehandedly taking on the police with your collection of assault weapons.

Rather than moaning that the police are getting what *could* be useful tools in law enforcement, we should be focusing on how the police behave and what protocols they adhere to. THAT is what the problem with police is today. Absent those MRAPs, they’re still a big danger right now.

AJ says:

Re: Re:

You’ve got good points… but IMO being able to call in an airstrike on a fleeing suspect would be “useful” however I don’t think that type of hardware belongs on our streets any more than a tank.. or vehicles that look like tanks. I’ve never seen a suspect fleeing the scene in a “tank”…errr.. scratch that.. i do recall it did happen ONCE .. but that’s not a call to start passing out military grade hardware to police… if bank robbers start rolling up to banks in armored personal carriers then ok… it’s tank time…but until then I think they should keep the military hardware on the battlefield and off our streets.

Although the visual I’m getting of the coast guard pulling up next to my pontoon boat for a “safety” inspection in an aircraft carrier is quite entertaining….

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Indeed… nothing shoots a hole in an argument like a tank driving down the interstate. LOL

I feel like there’s more you could have done with that. 😉

Actually to make an on topic comment, this was a criminal with an actual battle tank. Military hardware used in the incident by the police = 0. Civilian casualties = 0. Yet they need MRAPs because school shootings? Does not compute.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I was watching a situation unfold in Dallas a month ago (approx). Guy was about to be arrested on active warrants but bolted and drove away before the cop could nab him.

He gives chase and starts leading the cops around town.. Eventually stops in a crowded mall parking lot. Starts waving a pistol around. Cops have to back off.

DPD calls in their SWAT team and they show up in an APC (basically a lighter-weight and non-mine-resistant version of the MRAP). You can see a picture of it right here in fact –

This allowed them to get up and close to the suspect without putting the officers in danger. The standoff ended when the suspect waved his gun around the scene which prompted officers to open fire.

An APC is probably the better vehicle, compared to the MRAP, but for smaller towns that don’t have big-city budgets, the MRAPs are basically being given away to them.

I respectfully disagree with you that these vehicles don’t serve legitimate purposes on our streets.

zip says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

If it’s to face some pistol-toting crazies, why would a police force need a vehicle designed to withstand military-grade heavy-machinegun fire?

Don’t the body armor that all cops wear already stop the vast majority of pistol bullets?

Or are police preparing themselves for the time when (they predict) criminals will start carrying around Browning machine guns?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I think the MRAPs can be useful for public safety in certain situations (you know, shootouts, barricaded suspects, etc.)

MRAPs are useful for patrolling where protection against attack is required. They are almost useless as an attack vehicle, especially when a shooter is inside a building. Also unless they happen to be nearby, going and getting one to approach an incident just allows the body count to build up.
On the rare occasion they may be useful, like approaching an isolated farm that is the suspected base of terrorists or the like, a better option is to request the assistance of the military. If you do not have time to plan an operation against such a site it is almost certain the MRAP will be back in the barn when it is needed. Also, feeling brave because you have the equipment, but lacking training is a sure recipe for disaster.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

See here where an APC was deployed by an urban police department:

pics of their APC:

The APC definitely was useful that day and helped quickly end the situation without further risk to the public.

Anonymous Coward says:

“You have a lot of people who are coming out of the military that have the ability and knowledge to build I.E.D.?s and to defeat law enforcement techniques”

The MRAPs they are getting are still relatively easy to defeat by someone with military training. Tougher than squad cars obviously but not some sort of impenetrable tank either. It’s not like they’re getting the full up-armor packages on the police versions.

And really, should we be afraid of our veterans? They volunteered to serve our country yet the law enforcement officials talk about them like they are hardened criminals waiting for the perfect moment to strike.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Perhaps instead of spending money to defend ourselves against IED’s built by former military, we should spend the money on mental health care and better transition back to civilian life.

And if that doesn’t work, let’s equip them with proper explosive devices while they are overseas so they don’t have to learn how to improvise them.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

And really, should we be afraid of our veterans? They volunteered to serve our country yet the law enforcement officials talk about them like they are hardened criminals waiting for the perfect moment to strike.

The rest of this is stupid and dangerous, but that part is offensive as well. I hope that guy heard from the public after his comments about veterans.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Not to mention how incredibly backwards it is. Soldiers spend their time disarming IEDs not building them! It is an inevitable consequence of their foes being outmatched in a straight up fight so laying a ton of traps and the occasional ambush is how their foes remain close to effective.

Meanwhile the soldiers have pretty much no need to build IEDs when they have a supply chain that can provide explosives better and cheaper than building them all by hand. If they wanted to set up explosive traps they would start hiding claymore mines.

Anonymous Coward says:

Fix the problems that lead to the violence (wealth inequality, poverty, discrimination, loss of civil liberties, etc) and the violence goes away. Happy people are generally not violent. Stop the scapegoating. Fix the VA so that those returning from war zones can get the mental help they need. This is common sense people.

Call me Al says:


It reminds me of a quote from Jim Gordon in one of the recent Batman films:

“What about escalation?… We start carrying semi-automatics, they buy automatics. We start wearing Kevlar, they buy armor piercing rounds”.

Too often it seems law enforcement (including NSA, GCHQ etc) only consider one side of that equation and don’t think through the potential consequences of their actions.

Of course it is that and local police departments wanting new toys to play with. They must love showing up at schools in a tank… it would make them feel like big, damn heroes. As I kid I would have cheered such a sight.

Anonymous Coward says:

“The United States of America has become a war zone,”

And yet the crime rate has been declining for some time now – and continues to do so.

So, what does this idiot mean when he says “has become” ?
What was it before, and how long ago was that?
Are there not minimum requirements for holding positions of authority?

Gabriel J. Michael (profile) says:

In case anyone wants a simple, CC licensed graphic to drive home the point about crime being at its lowest point in years, I made one, available here:

Data is from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports. The trends are similar across all violent crimes, and across all property crimes, too. The drop off has been so dramatic that even the total number of crimes has gone done in all categories, despite the population increasing.

Furthermore, law enforcement deaths have also been trending downward, though not as quickly. In most years, law enforcement officers are more likely to die by accident (car and motorcycle crashes, being struck by cars, training accidents, etc.) than to be killed by a criminal. Many ordinary jobs, such as truck driving, are more dangerous than being a police officer.

Like the idiot Annapolis police chief who cited a hoax story in his testimony before the state legislature on marijuana legalization, anyone claiming that law enforcement needs military-grade equipment because the U.S. is more dangerous than it used to be is unfit for their job and should be fired.

It’s fine for there to be elite police units that can respond to especially dangerous situations. But there is no reason to deploy a SWAT team to handle road closures on Independence Day (Arlington County, VA did this last year).

zip says:

NY Times Hates Cops

It’s always nice to see MSM publications like the New York Times finally starting to notice what the “cop hating” bloggers have been reporting on for ages.

Kudos to Tim Cushing for staying ahead of the curve and helping to spearhead this revolution of ideas (and like all pioneers, taking the arrows).

Something that’s rarely mentioned is that the police departments don’t actually “buy” this military equipment — they basically lease it (for free) on contract, with strings attached. As the Feds still own title to it, they can take it back any time they wish. This is another one of the many ways that the federal government exerts control over state and local governments — something the Constitution was supposed to prevent.

In some ways, it’s not unlike the model used in providing military aid to foreign nations, with the goal of building both loyalty and dependence.

Anonymous Coward says:

Using military hand me downs to defeat military vets? Talk about irony. I’m also reminded of that episode of American Dad, where Stan uses a mind reading device to pick up what his neighbors think of him (all of it negative) and through process of elimination, evict them one by one until there was no one left. I know referencing a Seth Macfarlane product lacks some real impact on a lesson but there is still insight to be had.

With all the tracking they are doing, they are getting largely paranoid over what people SAY, and not what they’d DO. All this wanton data collecting is bad for all of us, even them. But they will never admit it, because they want some bad to justify their own authority…plus years of jealousy towards the military. Got the hardware, lack the discipline.

andypandy says:

Oh well

At the moment these military devices are in the hands of very poorly trained people who have proven over and over that they cannot restrain themsleves when a situation arises, eg the barbers. What happens when a few of them go crazy as has happened many many time, now they have weapons that instead of shooting a few students can demolish a school with kids in it.

Bergman (profile) says:

Treason and the Geneva Convention...

In a democratic, constitutional republic, The People ARE the government. The State is simply the people’s employees for the day to day operation.

One of the definitions of the crime of Treason in the US is a citizen of the US making war upon the US. It’s not too big a stretch to go from talking about waging war upon The People to actually committing treason.

Then there’s the Geneva Convention. Among the treaties regarding the laws of war that the US is signatory to is a definition of what makes someone a lawful combatant.

Put simply, if you obey the laws of war and wear a recognizable uniform (which for rebels and insurgents could simply be a symbol sewn onto clothing or an armband) you are a soldier, not a civilian. It’s a war crime to subject a soldier to a civilian criminal trial for acting like a soldier — for killing the enemy, for example.

It’s worth noting that most gang colors exceed the minimum requirements to qualify as a uniform under the treaty.

Sure, a POW is interned for the duration of the war, which may well effectively be for life the way things are going. But there are laws about how POWs must be treated, and anyone resisting the State and surviving is likely to be imprisoned for life anyway. And when the war ends, POWs are released without punishment, providing they didn’t commit any war crimes themselves.

Something to think about, eh?

Zonker says:

Contrary to popular belief, the job of the police is not public safety but *law enforcement*. They are even referred to as “law enforcement officers”. Their purpose is to enforce the laws on the public, not take a bullet for them or protect them from harm but to arrest the shooter or assailant for breaking the law. As we have no other agency empowered and tasked with enforcing the law on the enforcers we are forced to hope that the police will police themselves.

Protecting and defending the public is the job of the National Guard, historically known as the state militia. The National Guard is “to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions” (note the wording of “execute” vs “enforce”). If the United States has become a war zone it is the National Guard who should be called on to defend the people.

So why is the Federal government donating military surplus to the police (law enforcement) instead of our National Guard (state militia)? What does this say about the priorities in this country?

GEMont (profile) says:

Actually, since the US Federal Government secretly declared war on the US public – the Adversary – after 9/11, the USA IS a warzone. Its just that the public doesn’t know it yet, because the Federal Government no longer declares war publicly on persons, only on things and activities such as drugs and terrorism. You see, persons might fight back if they knew someone was waging war on them, whereas things and actions do not. For-warned is for-armed and all that.

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