from the when-all-you-have-is-a-bunch-of-armed-officers... dept
It seems as if nearly every police department, no matter how small or unthreatened by criminal activity, wants to outfit their officers with military-grade equipment (something the DHS is only to happy to help with -- provided someone invokes the codeword "terrorism" at some point during the requisition). The outcome is inevitable, tragic and more than a little ridiculous. Local SWAT teams are now rolling up on suburban lawns like they're storming Normandy, executing no-knock warrants in the dead of night to unverified addresses. Some occasions result in little more than completely freaked-out citizens. Others end in death and injury. Sometimes it's just the family dog that takes a bullet. Other times, it's innocent civilians.
But this militarization goes even further than various police departments. It also permeates other government agencies, agencies that really shouldn't be utilizing heavily-armed SWAT teams to enforce regulatory policies. It's not as if anyone should be expecting the kind of resistance these teams are armed for -- at least not in these situations.
This is the bold new face of American enforcement -- squads of armed men sent on a life-or-death mission to… check water quality.
Miners from the Chicken area -- a gold mining town of just 17 full-time residents and dozens of seasonal miners off the Taylor Highway, between Tok and the Canadian border -- said that during the third week of August they were surprised by groups of four to eight armed officers, who swarmed onto their mining claims with little or no warning.Men with guns, checking water supplies. That's the new EPA -- an agency that backs up its policies with armed officers. I'm guessing it's done handing out fines for violations. No more "30 days to comply with federal PPM standards." No more Mr. Nice Regulatory Agency.
The officers were armed and wearing body armor. They were part of the Alaska Environmental Crimes Task Force and were there to check for violations of section 404 of the Clean Water Act, according to several miners who were contacted by the group. Section 404 governs water discharges into rivers, streams, lakes and oceans.
So, why did the EPA feel it was necessary to send armed officers to verify water quality?
The EPA has refused to publicly explain why it used armed officers as part of what it called a “multi-jurisdictional” investigation of possible Clean Water Act violations in the area.None of your business, citizen!
One "helpful" staffer suggested it was probably because drugs and sex.
According to one Senate staffer, the federal agency said it decided to send in the task force armed and wearing body armor because of information it received from the Alaska State Troopers about “rampant drug and human trafficking going on in the area.”Drug dealing, human trafficking and potentially unsafe water? That's quite the trifecta. Let's go to the State Troopers for a little more explanation.
“The Alaska State Troopers did not advise the EPA that there was dangerous drug activity. We do not have evidence to suggest that is occurring,” said Trooper spokesperson Megan Peters.This is what happens when you have an excess of tactical gear and nothing to deploy it against. The "dangerousness" bar continues to be lowered until it ultimately bottoms out, and once that happens, officials just start making up their own justifications. And once that happens, people start getting hurt.
You can't amp up your squad, hand them tactical gear and loaded weapons, and then send them out to maintain a defensive perimeter while someone obtains a water sample, and not expect someone to misread something, anything, about the situation and react in a regrettable fashion. You've set them up for danger and delivered a glorified science fair project. Someone's trigger finger's going to get itchy. Someone's going to see normal movements as "furtive" and disgruntled exclamations from the victims as "threats."
Here's one more example of regulatory agencies acting like paramilitary strike teams in order to handle yet another life-threatening situation -- a baby deer that had ended up at a local "no-kill" animal shelter.
Two weeks ago, [shelter employee Ray] Schulze was working in the barn at the Society of St. Francis on the Kenosha-Illinois border when a swarm of squad cars arrived and officers unloaded with a search warrant.Agents rounded up the staff and kept them controlled while they went in search of the fawn, which they then killed. Sure, the animal shelter might have released it alive, but Dept. of Natural Resources policy says seized animals must be killed to prevent the spread of disease. A spokesman for the DNR said "its heart was in the right place" when it stormed the animal shelter with armed officers and seized the very much alive fawn and killed it. (There's some dispute as to whether the DNR killed it at the shelter or euthanized it later, but the end result is the same.)
"(There were) nine DNR agents and four deputy sheriffs, and they were all armed to the teeth," Schulze said.
Agents told staff they came to seize the deer because Wisconsin law forbids the possession of wildlife.
"I said the deer is scheduled to go to the wildlife reserve the next day," Schulze said.
When reporter Colleen Henry asked if the department could have called first and asked for a voluntary surrender instead of expending all of these resources, she received one of the most ridiculous answers ever.
"If a sheriff's department is going in to do a search warrant on a drug bust, they don't call them and ask them to voluntarily surrender their marijuana or whatever drug that they have before they show up," [DNR Supervisor Jennifer] Niemeyer said.When all else fails, start talking about drugs (see our first story). Obviously, harboring a wild animal is the same as possessing drugs and should be treated as such -- with an armed response. To compare an animal shelter to a drug dealer is more than simply disingenuous -- it's the nadir of rhetoric. It's a painfully weak fallback argument which is solely designed to allow the embarrassed "enforcement" party to extricate themselves from the discussion.
And now the DNR is complaining its receiving angry comments and death threats. I would never condone death threats (and there are laws in place to deal with those) but the agency deserves every negative comment and complaint it receives. It looked at all the possible ways to handle this and decided storming the animal shelter with a quasi-SWAT team was the best response. If you don't like being treated like terrible human beings, stop performing terrible acts.
The police state isn't just the police. It's the entire government, which has a large number of tools at its disposal, but always reaches for the bluntest, weightiest one first.