A new study released Monday, by the American Civil Liberties Union, confirms what we all know. With the help of equipment and strategies imported directly from the United States army, police have become dangerously and unnecessarily militarized.
The report, entitled War Comes Home, looks at 818 Swat incidents from July 2010 to October 2013, that were carried out by more than 20 law enforcement agencies in only 11 states – a small portion of what is going on around the country. Seven cases were found were civilians died in connection with the deployment of the Swat teams, two of which appeared to be suicides. An additional 46 civilians were injured as a result of officer force.
The study finds that not only are people dying and being injured by police teams deploying war-time tactics; there are also many accompanying lesser transgressions. For example, the growing use of battering rams to smash down doors, which routinely causes property damage to homes.
Swat teams, a 1960s invention, were initially utilized by officers to help react to perilous situations like riots and hostage takings. In recent years however, they have developed into something entirely different.
The study found that the majority, 62 percent, of Swat team deployments were for drug searches. Likewise, 79 percent involved raids on private residences. In fact, only about 7% were used for incidences the technique was originally developed for.
“Law enforcement agencies are increasingly using paramilitary squads to search people’s homes for drugs,” the study says, adding that, “Neighborhoods are not war zones and our police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies.”
In the 1980s there were as few as 3,000 Swat raids a year. According to Peter Kraska, a University of Kentucky professor, that number increased to around 45,000 by 2005. Kraska tracks the growth of the use of paramilitary tactics in the United States.
Such a rapid proliferation has been actively encouraged by the federal government across multiple administrations, but has increasingly been promoted by the Dept. of Homeland Security and Dept. of Defense after 9/11.
The study found that the Pentagon channeled around 15,000 items, including battle uniforms and personal protective gear directly from Iraq and Afghanistan battlefields to the 20 or so local police organizations looked at during the 34 month survey period.
Armoured personnel carriers, or APCs, have been proliferated substantially under the Pentagons “1033 programme.” About 500 law enforcement agencies throughout the nation are believed to have received military vehicles built specifically to resist roadside bombs.