The Militarization of Your Local Police

October 17th, 2013 - by admin

Danny Biederman and Noel Brinkerhoff / All – 2013-10-17 01:37:02

$4.2 Billion in Military Hardware Donations Fuels Militarization of US Police Forces
Danny Biederman and Noel Brinkerhoff / All

(October 12, 2013) — From major metropolises to small towns, America’s police forces increasingly resemble military units, thanks in part to billions of dollars in free equipment from the Pentagon.

The giveaways to date are valued at $4.2 billion, which the Department of Defense began distributing after Congress adopted legislation in 1997 authorizing the little-known 1033 Program. It appeared in fine print buried inside the National Defense Authorization Act.

In 2012 alone, the Pentagon gave away a record $546 million in surplus military hardware to municipal law enforcement agencies.

The program’s expansion in recent years has been attributed to sequestration budget cuts, post-9/11 fears, and excess equipment after winding down two wars.

Police have received not only assault rifles and grenade launchers for use by SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams, but also armored vehicles and even tanks. Many of the weapon donations far exceed law enforcement needs in towns with relatively small populations.

In South Carolina, the sheriff of Richland County acquired a tank (dubbed “the Peacemaker”) with 360-degree rotating machine gun turrets.

In Jefferson County in upstate New York, the sheriff’s department guarding a community of about 120,000 people now has a 20-ton Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle, which was developed for the US military to survive roadside bomb attacks. It was given to the county sheriff by the Pentagon.

The billion-dollar donations don’t include the $34 billion in “terrorism grants” that the Department of Homeland Security has handed out to local polices forces to arm themselves with high-powered weaponry.

Some of this military equipment has been on display by police during the recent Boston post-bombing lockdown and operations against Occupy Wall Street demonstrators.

In 2012, scandal disrupted the program when an investigation conducted by the Arizona Republic found that the Pinal County Sheriff’s Department had not maintained control of the military weaponry it had acquired from the Pentagon. Evidence surfaced that the Sheriff’s office had given some of the equipment to non-police agencies and was planning to sell other military gear at auction.

The Pentagon responded by temporarily shutting down the program and requesting that all law enforcement agencies that had received donations provide an accounting of their holdings.

The 1033 program has no oversight and has never been audited, according to several media reports.

The Militarization of Your Local Police
Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky /

(November 13, 2011) — Local law enforcement agencies in the U.S. have increasingly become more militaristic in tactics and look in response to the wars on drugs and terror.

Writing in The Atlantic, Arthur Rizer and Joseph Hartman note “a proliferation in incidents of excessive, military-style force by police SWAT teams” in recent years as a result of police departments relying more on “black-garbed, body-armored” specialists to carry out “routine domestic police work.”

Not that long ago, SWAT units only existed in large cities and were used only in high-risk situations, such as bank robberies as hostage takings. Now they can be found in places as small as Middleburg, Pennsylvania (population: 1,382).

To better deal with potential threats of terrorism, police forces have stocked up on military equipment, “adopted military training, and sought to inculcate a ‘soldier’s mentality’ among their ranks.”

Up until September 11, 2001, the average police officer might have had at his or her disposal a shotgun, maybe even a high-power rifle in addition to their service revolver. Today, it’s become more common to see police armed with assault rifles and dressed in black full-battle uniforms while patrolling airports and other locations. In some cities police arsenals now include bazookas, machine guns and armored vehicles.

Rizer and Hartman do not condemn the use of improved technology to fight crime, but they do point out that the mindset of police is different from the mindset of soldiers. Law enforcement officers are on the streets “to protect and to serve,” and they treat people they apprehend as “suspects.”

Soldiers, on the other hand, are trained to view people as either “enemies” or “non-enemies” and to “engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.”

Retired Seattle police chief Norman Stamper, writing at AlterNet, claims “there are more than 50,000 police paramilitary raids in the United States each year—more than 130 every day. Virtually all are for prosecution of drug warrants, the vast majority involving marijuana. Many jurisdictions use SWAT teams for execution of every search warrant for drugs.”

To Learn More:
“America’s Police are Looking More and More Like the Military,” by Michael Shank and Elizabeth Beavers, The Guardian

“Little Restraint In Military Giveaways,” by Michael Kunzelman, Associated Press

“Pinal County Policies Spur Pentagon to Order Military-Gear Crackdown,” by Dennis Wagner, Arizona Republic

“US Dumps Excess Equipment on Police Departments that Don’t Need It,” by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov

“How the War on Terror Has Militarized the Police,” by Arthur Rizer and Joseph Hartman, The Atlantic

“SWAT Teams, Flash-Bang Grenades, Shooting the Family Pet: The Shocking Outcomes of Police Militarization in the War on Drugs,” by Norm Stamper, AlterNet

“New “Less-Lethal” Weapons Spread to Police,” by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov

“Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America,” by Bradley Balko, Cato Institute (pdf)

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