Conservative, progressive, Republican, Democrat, right, left, or whatever it is you define yourself as these days ... This is what your government is doing.
Through its little-known "1033 program," the Department of Defense gave away nearly $500 million worth of leftover military gear to law enforcement in fiscal year 2011 — a new record for the program and a dramatic rise over past years' totals, including the $212 million in equipment distributed in 2010.
The surplus equipment includes grenade launchers, helicopters, military robots, M-16 assault rifles and armored vehicles.
And the program's recent expansion shows no sign of slackening: Orders in fiscal year 2012 are up 400 percent over the same period in 2011, according to data provided to The Daily by the Pentagon's Defense Logistics Agency.
"The trend toward militarization was well under way before 9/11, but it's the federal policy of making surplus military equipment available almost for free that has poured fuel on this fire," Tim Lynch, director of the libertarian Cato Institute's project on criminal justice, told The Daily.
Thanks to it, cops in Cobb County, Ga. — one of the wealthiest and most educated counties in the U.S. — now have an amphibious tank. The sheriff of Richland County, S.C., proudly acquired a machine-gun-equipped armored personnel carrier that he nicknamed "The Peacemaker."
This comes on top of grants from the Department of Homeland Security that enable police departments to buy vehicles such as "BearCats" — 16,000-pound bulletproof trucks equipped with battering rams, gun ports, tear-gas dispensers and radiation detectors. To date, more than 500 of these tanklike vehicles have been sold by Lenco, its Massacusetts-based manufacturer, according to a report in the Orlando Sentinel.
[Lynch] and other critics of the policy highlight incidents in which heavily-armed SWAT teams injured or killed innocent people.
Earlier this year, a grandfather of 12 who was not suspected of any wrongdoing was killed in Framingham, Mass., when a SWAT team member accidentally shot him. In 2008, police raided the home of a mayor of a small Maryland town, broke down his door and killed his two black Labrador retrievers. They interrogated him and his mother-in-law for hours regarding a drug ring to which they had no connection.
As the number of SWAT raids has ballooned from a few thousand per year in the 1980s to 50,000 per year in the 2000s, the risks of such tragedies occurring rises.
For Joseph McNamara, former chief of police in Kansas City, Mo., and San Jose, Calif., the militarization is not only risky, but also counterproductive.
"It's totally contrary to what we think is good policing, which is community policing," he said. "The profile of these military police units invading a neighborhood like the occupation army is contrary to what you want to do ... The idea that some police have that by being really super tough and military and carrying military weapons is a way to prevent crime — this is false ... We have a lot of evidence on how to prevent crime and the major component is to win support for police, that we're not this aloof occupation army."
For some critics, though, the concern is not alienating neighbors, but the change in attitude of police themselves.
Arthur Rizer, a Virginia lawyer who has served as both a military and civilian police officer, stressed that their outlooks and missions are fundamentally different.
"If we're training cops as soldiers, giving them equipment like soldiers, dressing them up as soldiers, when are they going to pick up the mentality of soldiers?" he asked.
"If you look at the police department, their creed is to protect and to serve. A soldier's mission is to engage his enemy in close combat and kill him. Do we want police officers to have that mentality?"
[T]he heavy artillery is not for routine traffic stops. With nearly $500 Million worth of equipment in 2011 versus only just $212 Million last year -- this does not count the billions doled out to local police in federal grant money for anti-terrorism efforts. The Department of Defense's rapid expansion of 1033 coincides with a spike in SWAT team activity, suggesting that the increasingly militaristic capabilities of local law enforcement agencies are actually representative of increasingly militaristic police operations. By now we're all familiar with the pepper-spraying cop epidemic at crackdowns against Occupy protests nationwide. Does The Daily's report about 1033 also mean we may soon get to know tank-driving cops and a grenade-launching cops?
Former San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara, now a scholar at the Hoover Institution, captured the essence of the problem in a November 29, 2006, column he wrote for the Wall Street Journal. McNamara focused on an incident a few days earlier in New York, when several plainclothes police officers fired 50 shots at a car, wounding two men and killing a third, Sean Bell, who was to be married later that day.
How did this and other cases like it happen?
"Simply put," wrote McNamara, "the police culture in our country has changed. An emphasis on 'officer safety' and paramilitary training pervades today's policing, in contrast to the older culture, which held that cops didn't shoot until they were about to be shot or stabbed. Police in large cities formerly carried revolvers holding six .38-caliber rounds. Nowadays, police carry semi-automatic pistols with 16 high-caliber rounds, shotguns and military assault rifles, weapons once relegated to SWAT teams facing extraordinary circumstances. Concern about such firepower in densely populated areas hitting innocent citizens has given way to an attitude that police are fighting a war against drugs and crime and must be heavily armed."
According to McNamara, "Reasonable people accept that a cop's job is difficult and dangerous, and most people understand that sometimes an officer will have to shoot someone. But the police are not and should never be allowed to think of themselves as soldiers or to believe they face the same level of danger."
That's exactly right. Even worse, there is virtually no public oversight or accountability, not only for police who follow these new policies and kill or hurt citizens, but for police who act outside proper authority and abuse their power. In Orange County, deputies spend about seven years patrolling the jail before being sent out onto the streets of our cities. Some critics wonder whether the experience dealing with prisoners leads at least some officers to treat members of the public with a high level of disdain. While police militarization is a problem on city streets, it is even worse for anyone under police custody.
Police use deadly force at their discretion. Police agencies then investigate themselves. They release only the information they choose to release. Few politicians are willing to discuss police procedures, and the courts and legislatures uphold the "right" of police agencies to hide information about misbehaving officers ... America may not be a police state—that is, a political system characterized "by an arbitrary exercise of power by police" — but it's getting too close for comfort.
Is this what's coming to America? (or is it already here?)
- The 1033 Program
- U.S. Military Program Arming Local Police Expands
- When the Police Go Military
- Senate Introduces Disastrous New Detention Bill
- Sheriff Lott's New Toy
Just click your heals and pretend you're still free ...