ACLU Digs Deep Into The Law Enforcement War Machine
from the might-as-well-lock-the-door;-they're-just-going-to-break-it-down-anyway dept
“Advocates from every corner of the political compass have produced a mountain of disinformation about the ‘militarization’ of American law enforcement.”- Doug Deaton, Lieutenant, Plano (TX) Police, writing for PoliceOne
- 32 bomb suits
- 704 units of night vision equipment
- 712 rifles
- 42 forced entry tools, like battering rams
- 830 units of surveillance and reconnaissance equipment
- 13,409 personal protective equipment (PPE) or uniforms
- 120 utility vehicles
- 64 armored vehicles
- 4 GPS devices
- 17 helicopters
- 21,211 other types of military equipment
Zambia, Slovakia, Somalia, Ghana, Hungary, Estonia, Mozambique- Some of the countries (out of a total of 17) whose militaries have fewer helicopters than Arizona law enforcement agencies (according to statistics gathered by the CIA and posted at GlobalFirePower.com)
The ACLU's extensive report on police militarization shows a nation at war with itself. The War on Terror -- a 13-year windmill joust that has generated an excess of military equipment -- has merged with the War on Drugs, an exercise in futility seven years removed from the half-century mark.
Actual military combat, utilizing enlisted soldiers, has given birth to the same equipment now routinely being deployed to fight the crime formerly policed by normal police officers. Cell tower spoofers, surveillance drones, Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected personnel carriers (MRAPs) -- all of these were developed for use by the military. And all of these have now found homes in local law enforcement armories.
The requisition forms are littered with terrorism-related terms, but the reality of the situation is much more banal. Low-level drug dealers are being dealt with like enemy combatants. Law enforcement agencies claim with straight faces that they're falling behind in the arms and technology race, all the while acquiring the best weaponry and technology tax dollars can buy.
These are then handed over to SWAT teams, special police forces developed to take on truly dangerous situations like riots, active shooters, hostage situations and barricaded suspects. They are outfitted in military gear and sent out to perform the everyday task of serving search warrants.
These teams prefer to do this mundane task with a maximum amount of chaos and violence. Warrants are delivered with no-knock raids, ostensibly to give the police department the upper hand on the presumed-to-be-dangerous occupants. In reality, this is the sort of thing that happens far too frequently.
[B]efore 3:00am on a night in May of 2014, a team of SWAT officers armed with assault rifles burst into the room where the family was sleeping. Some of the kids’ toys were in the front yard, but the Habersham County and Cornelia police officers claimed they had no way of knowing children might be present. One of the officers threw a flashbang grenade into the room. It landed in Baby Bou Bou’s crib.Three weeks later, it's still unclear whether the child will survive. The SWAT predicated its warrant on a $50 drug purchase from someone who didn't even live at that residence. No drugs or guns were found. No arrests were made.
It took several hours before Alecia and Bounkahm, the baby’s parents, were able to see their son. The 19-month-old had been taken to an intensive burn unit and placed into a medically induced coma. When the flashbang grenade exploded, it blew a hole in 19-month-old Bou Bou’s face and chest. The chest wound was so deep it exposed his ribs. The blast covered Bou Bou’s body in third degree burns.
Note that the police defended their actions by claiming they had "no way of knowing" if children might be present. But that lack of crucial knowledge had zero effect on its tactics. Officers didn't throw a flashbang grenade into the house because they were sure there were no children present. Officers threw a flashbang grenade into the house because that's what SWAT teams do when they serve no-knock warrants. The question of children was never raised, at least not until their actions had placed a child in a medical coma and now needed to be defended. A safer assumption would be that nearly every house being raided has a child in it. Most houses do.
This is how law enforcement's new toys get used: to take down lowball drug dealers. A large majority of warrants served are drug-related. The ACLU has the stats.
The problem is more troubling than mere mission creep. The new armor and weapons are begging to be used. These acquisitions, often obtained over the protests of the populace under the agency's "protection" (or just as often, without their knowledge), need to be justified. The terrorism threat cited in requisition forms just isn't going to present itself. And so, law enforcement agencies deploy these against the next best thing: the neighborhood drug dealer boogeyman.
The whole report is, by turns, fascinating, brutal and deeply concerning. Some claim the militarization of the police is a misconception, an illusion generated by a handful of vocal journalists. But the ACLU has the numbers that say otherwise.
Law enforcement knows this is the truth. The government's misguided generosity has allowed local law enforcement to stockpile weapons and armor, but hasn't given it any limitations or guidance. And the stated reason -- terrorism -- simply isn't common enough to justify a one-sided arms "race," no matter how far the definition of "terrorist" is stretched. So, the weapons and armor are used to carry out search warrants, bringing unnecessary amounts of chaos and violence to something police used to handle with an authoritative knock and possibly a scuffle or two if things went south. Now, it's de rigueur. The tools can't be allowed to gather dust and the War on Drugs can't risk any more casualties -- at least not on the part of the enforcers.