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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  1. icon
    nasch (profile), 12 Jun 2014 @ 3:25pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    A city like Dallas having equipment like that doesn't seem like such a stretch, it's when podunk farm towns have military hardware that we wonder what the frick is going on.

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