The Militarization of Police

The Boston Bombings provided a platform for the debate about the militarization of police and the imposition of martial law and other warlike practices on civilians. The hunt for the Tsarnaev brothers saw the full power of paramilitary police brought to bear on Boston. And may have given us all a glimpse of the future of rights infringing community policing. One year later in June 2014 and the American Civil Liberties Union brought more attention to the issue when it compiled a comprehensive report titled: “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing.” The ACLU documented 46 cases in which people were injured in paramilitary style raids and seven cases in which innocent people were killed. The report shows that in the cases where police utilized unannounced “breach entries” because they thought weapons would be there, they were wrong two thirds of the time. The report also highlighted the racial demographic breakdown of reported SWAT deployment saying: “of all the incidents studied where the number and race of the people impacted were known, 39% were Black, 20% were white and 11% were Latino.” The majority of raids that targeted blacks and Latino individuals were related to drugs. Perhaps most shockingly though the report put a number on the value of military equipment used by American police departments, which rose from $1 million in 1990 to nearly $450 million in 2013.

What’s in the inventory?

In 2013 the Department of Homeland Security made a still continued purchase order of 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition, some of it hollow point frangible rounds and a large number of modified sniper ammunition. In the same year they spent $21 million acquiring 16 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles that were being returned from deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan and were being appropriated for use on American streets.

More recently the Environmental Protection Agency received an independent audit of the department’s spending conducted by Open the Books, a nonprofit organization pushing for more transparency in federal government budgetary management. Open the Books found that the agency has secretly spent millions of dollars over the last ten years on guns, ammo, body armor, camouflage equipment, unmanned aerial vehicles, amphibious assault vehicles, radar, night-vision, and other military-style weaponry and surveillance equipment. It appears clean air, pure water and stopping forest fires now requires full tactical warfare equipment in line with the militarization of police.

While these major government agencies have the budgetary clout to make huge purchase orders from military contractors and weapons manufacturers they are at least passing those bulk order savings on to local law enforcement. Between 2002 and 2011 over $34 billion in DHS grants have gone to police agencies to buy military-style equipment. This money has gone to purchase items as varied as drones, bomb-disarming robots, tanks and armored people carriers. But the mainstay of the purchases comprise tactical gear, arms and ammunition. Companies like Lockheed Martin, Blackhawk Industries and Lenco are exploiting new revenue streams to the tune of billions of dollars by selling their equipment directly to police departments and sheriff’s offices flush with DHS grants. Contractors also sponsor training events for SWAT teams, like Urban Shield, a major equipment and tactics exposition that has recently attracted increasing attention from both law enforcement agencies and protesters and conspiracy theorists. This years Urban Shield, to be held in September in Pleasanton, California will be the largest meeting yet of law enforcement and manufacturers to promote and sell equipment and training programs.

A growing number of agencies are also now taking advantage of the Department of Defense’s “1033” program. Every year Congress passes the National Defence Authorisation Act, which essentially sets out the Pentagon’s budget and expenditures. The version passed in 1990, in the wake of a sharp rise in drug-related crime and civil unrest violence, allowed the Defence Department to transfer military gear and weapons to local police departments if they were deemed “suitable for use in counter-drug activities”. The number of police agencies obtaining military equipment like MRAP vehicles has increased sharply since 2009. This “surplus military equipment” is largely cost-free for the police agencies who receive them. But this kind of free equipment has become of ever lessening importance as a new avenue of self-funding unregulated budgetary spending has emerged. And government grants may soon take a back seat to this new method of arming police.

Money and drugs make guns

Current legislature on civil asset forfeiture allow the police to seize anything which they believe were the proceeds of a crime or used in a criminal enterprise. As long as they can plausibly explain a connection they don’t need evidence to back it up. In fact, the registered owner of the property need not have been convicted of that or any crime. If the police find drugs in a premises they seize the drugs, the cash and the contents and even the property itself in some cases. With lengthy and costly court cases the only means of recovering seized assets and Police auctions becoming ever more regular occurrences this has become a highly unregulated industry within police forces across the U.S.

New Yorker columnist Sarah Stillman reported in August 2013 that “thousands of police departments nationwide have acquired stun grenades, armored tanks, counterattack vehicles, and other paramilitary equipment, much of it purchased with asset-forfeiture funds.” Stillman suggests there has to be some influence on the behavior of police. SWAT teams have a huge incentive, that directly impacts their own operations and resources, to conduct raids where they seize property and cash. That money can then bolster budgetary spending. One influence could be seen in the use of informants who she describes as “the foot soldiers in the government’s war on drugs. Up to eighty per cent of all drug cases in America involve them” as being used to highlight the targets with most assets and not necessarily the most pressing need for arrest or the completion of an investigation. Some raids are even timed to take place after a contraband material has been sold and turned into cash which is then seized. Investigations would focus on the arrest of suspects inside their houses, which can then be seized too. It all provides an unwritten incentive for police to focus on drug-related crimes, which come with a potentially lucrative windfalls to law enforcement agencies rather than rape and murder investigations, which do not. The War on Drugs is flawed, corrupt and doomed to failure. But it is now funding the militarization of police and what appears to be an ever escalating War on the People.


The use of necessary force

The use of military style equipment and techniques are not just for SWAT team drugs busts. It is varied across many different agencies in many different jurisdictions and for many different reasons. In 2014 the LA Times reported that law enforcement experts had found that the California Border Patrol had killed 19 people from 2010 to 2012, including some of whom when the agents were under no lethal, direct threat. These accusations of excessive force used by Border Control agents are commonplace. In 2010 in New Haven, Connecticut a full SWAT team raided a bar suspected of serving under-age drinkers. During the wave of Occupy protests in 2011 heavy criticism was aimed at the militarization of police and their inflammatory and provocative behavior. Tear gas, rubber bullets, advancing walls of riot shields, water cannons and a host of other techniques were employed on what were mainly peaceful protesters. In August 2014 police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri. It sparked huge local demonstrations by an outraged public hurriedly marshaled by community activists and again the vast majority were law-abiding citizens. But just two days after the shooting, SWAT teams and riot control squads were called in to help clear protesters from in front of Ferguson’s police department. Ready for war in body armor, gas masks, blast shields, batons and automatic weapons. There were accusations of unnecessary force, unconstitutional arrests and attitudes that only escalated the atmosphere of violence.

Peter Kraska, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University’s School of Justice Studies, estimates that SWAT teams were deployed about 3,000 times in 1980 but are now estimated to have risen nearly seventeen-fold since, to 50,000 a year. 80% of police departments in relatively small cities, with populations of just 25-50,000 people, now have tactical paramilitary forces, up from only 20% in the mid-1980’s. This tremendous rise in paramilitary police forces in smaller cities occurred throughout the last 30 years as violent-crime levels fell drastically overall. In recent years crime rates have begun to rise again in these areas but Kraska believes that the rise in small-town militarization was driven not by need, but by fear of being left behind and that most SWAT deployments are not in response to violent or life-threatening situations, but to serve drug-related warrants in private homes.

As incredibly unbelievable as it may seem 2015 was the first time that a full year of police killings had been tabulated from a coast to coast statistics. It was then that real information on gun violence made it clear quite how unremarkable police shootings were. And a shocking statistic rose: Last year 1 in 11 people killed by gun crime in the U.S. were killed by police. The Guardian reported that 1,019 people were killed by police gunfire last year and that number represents 9% of all gun-related homicides annually in the United States. It’s the simplest metric of how likely an American citizen is to be killed by their own government.

Armed Posse and martial law

An alarming microcosm of all these trends is reflected in Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) in south central Arizona and it’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio is peculiarly perhaps most famous for his continued public stance that Barrack Obama’s birth certificate is a fake and a 2008 judgement in which his department was found to have entrapped an 18 year old named James Saville in a fake plot to assassinate Arpaio in 1999. Not to mention his numerous county and federal cases of misconduct and discrimination. As Sheriff he has overseen the purchase of a .50 caliber high powered machine gun, 120 assault rifles, five armored vehicles and ten helicopters. On January 8, 2011 the Tuscon shootings occurred in which Jared Lee Loughner shot nineteen people, killing U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, a Federal Supreme Court judge and 4 other people during a constituent meeting held in a supermarket parking lot in Casas Adobes, Arizona. The event has it’s own conspiracy theories of a false flag event in the vein of Sandy Hook. But in it’s aftermath Sheriff Arpaio had the answer for the danger of mass shootings in broad daylight of public places. The plans were to organize “Volunteer Posse” groups. Armed civilians, mainly comprised of veterans and ex-police and security personnel who had never been convicted of a felony and had no outstanding misdemeanor charges in the last 12 months. Vigilante groups, in modified uniform, that patrol the streets and communities under partial police jurisdiction. Arpaio explained that the groups provide their own licensed weapons and the Sheriffs department provide the ammunition. Figures he released in March 2016 showed the county raised approximately $240,000 by selling guns seized at crime scenes or otherwise recovered to fund the Posse Program. He claims the volunteer man hours save the county somewhere in the region of $8 million per year. Featured groups include the Buckeye Mounted Posse, Special Operations Air Posse, Street Crime Intervention Posse, Cyber Posse, Cold Case Posse and the Special Assignment Unit Posse to name but a few. The San Bernardino shootings, whether they were a False Flag event or not, officially presented the issues of public privacy and paranoia as their direct result. The FBI vs Apple iPhone security war highlighted the governments position of their perceived need for unfettered access, no matter the cost, to all private personal information. And the media coverage of the accused shooters Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik by their friends, co-workers and family and the mass media dissection of their home on live television presented the picture of anonymous “normal” citizens operating a completely undetected terrorist cell in Californian suburbia. A situation in which literally anyone could be the enemy. In this climate the formation of improperly regulated vigilante “Volunteer Posses” can only be seen as the most troubling and frankly dangerous propagation of the current militarization of police and the air of mistrust and discrimination in society. Incidentally if you wish to join a Maricopa Volunteer Posse you can do so here, recruitment drives are monthly, except December.

Where will it all end?

58% of Americans believe militarization of police has gone “too far”

Paramilitary police were around before the Boston bombings, and the rise in resources and deployment has risen steadily since September 11th 2001. One theory is that Boston served more to legitimize a trend that was well under way. To explain both the expenditure and escalating war-like tactics. It may be hard to excuse their use for drugs busts or execution of bench warrants, but not for domestic terrorism in the form of the Boston Bombings or San Bernardino attacks. It could have backfired though as a Reason-Rupe poll released in December of 2013, in the wake of the Boston bombings, found that 58% of Americans believe militarization of police has gone “too far”. Not conspiracy theorists, just the general public.

The truth is that most SWAT units and paramilitary police activities are usually at the discretion of that particular agency to reveal, and most of them really don’t like anyone knowing what they’re getting up to. Rand Paul, Republican senator from Kentucky and a presidential nomination candidate in 2016, argued on the platform that it is time to “demilitarize the police”. In June 2014 Alan Grayson, Democrat from Florida, sponsored an amendment that would have forbidden the Defense Department from transferring to local police “aircraft (including UAVs/drones), armored vehicles, grenade launchers, silencers, toxicological agents (including chemical/biological agents and associated equipment), launch vehicles, guided missiles, ballistic missiles, rockets, torpedoes, bombs, mines, or nuclear powered devices.” Which all seems a fairly prudent list of banned weaponry unnecessary for the remit of police to protect and serve. However the amendment failed spectacularly with not a single House leader of either party voting for it. Grayson suspects incredibly powerful weapons manufacturing lobbies sought to crush any future possibilities of similar constitutional amendments. In 2009 then Governor of Maryland Martin O’Malley, a Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, signed state legislature requiring the police to report such SWAT deployment information every six months. Three published reports showed that serving search warrants on suspects of crimes involving drugs and other contraband was by far the most common reason for SWAT use in Maryland. The law expired in 2014.

Washington Post reporter Radley Balko has found at least 50 cases where innocent people died as a result of mishandled or incompetent SWAT raids. Instances where “no knock” warrants have allowed police the use of surprise entry and flashbang grenades. Where people who were “lawfully killed” in a hail of SWAT bullets as they reached for their own weapon fearing a home invasion. Where unarmed people, even infants, have died at the hands of overzealous techniques that were originally formulated for use in the most dangerous war-zones across the globe. Tactical teams were also deployed for reasons as frivolous as to break up poker games and raid underage drinkers and unlicensed salons.

Fargo, North Dakota, despite the exploits of Steve Buscemi and Billy Bob Thornton, average fewer than two murders a year and yet has a landmine proof vehicle with a rotating sniper turret. Keene, a small town in New Hampshire that recorded only three homicides from 2000- 2012 spent $285,000 on an armored personnel carrier, the BearCat (Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck). It’s beyond argument that a pressing need is not what is driving the militarization of police.

Perhaps in one way it could be seen that the Military Industrial Complex having the DHS or state authorities to purchase it’s surplus weapons of war means they may be less inclined to lobby for all out international conflicts to create the market need for their wares. When a campaign, like say the one currently happening in Syria, begins to cool down that same artillery can be sold domestically either privately on large government approved contracts or publicly to the emerging market of the new breed of the armed “Volunteer Posse”. But the alarming point that cannot be overlooked is that the kind of weaponry and resources being stockpiled rarely go unused forever. Bullets must be fired to be replaced, anti-personnel equipment can be used in any situation of civil unrest and budgets must be spent in full if expected to expand. The conspiracy theories speak of the grand Agenda 21 and New World Order depopulation and societal control master plan, of FEMA camps, prisoner trains and plastic coffins. In some ways the existence of a high reaching secret society scheme of Orwellian proportions, and your belief in it, is irrelevant. A simple constant remains true when it comes to local police forces and their own low level agendas, discrimination issues, shady financial practices and escalating paramilitary tactics. Tear gas has an expiration date, so you better smoke ’em if ya got ’em.


  1. I just dont understand how the public just looks away. It scares me with the things police in america are willing to do to its own people. Big government sure knows how to take our rights and most ppl say thank you take some more. thank u paul for this well written info.

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