Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky
November 14, 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 S.W.A.T. 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.”