The Militarization of Police: Harming Civil Liberties, Impacting Children, and Creating War Zones.
News reports frequently show police wearing helmets and masks, wielding assault rifles, and riding in mine-resistant armored vehicles. These are not isolated incidents — they represent a nationwide trend of police militarization. Federal programs providing surplus military equipment have equipped police officers with firepower that is far beyond what is needed for their jobs as protectors of their communities. Sending a heavily armed team of officers to perform routine police work can dangerously escalate situations that never needed to involve violence in the first place.
Throughout the United States, heavily armed SWAT teams are raiding people’s homes in the middle of the night, often just to search for drugs. Military-style police raids have increased dramatically in recent years, with one report finding over 80,000 such raids last year. It should enrage us that people have needlessly died during these raids, that pets have been shot, and that homes have been ravaged. Sometimes children are in the crossfire — often with deadly results.
Our neighborhoods are not warzones, and the police should not be treating us like wartime enemies. And yet, every year, billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment flows from the federal government to local police departments. The main beneficiaries of this militarization are military contractors who now have another lucrative market in which to sell their products. Companies like Lockheed Martin and Blackhawk Industries are making record profits by selling their equipment to local police departments that have received Department of Homeland Security grants.
Police departments use these wartime weapons in everyday policing, especially to fight the wasteful and failed drug war, which has unfairly targeted people of color. According to a recent ACLU report, “of all the incidents studied where the number and race of the people impacted were known, 39 percent were Black, 11 percent were Latino, 20 were white.” The majority of raids that targeted blacks and Latinos were related to drugs — another metric exposing how the “war on drugs” is racist to the core.
(adapted from https://www.aclu.org/feature/war-comes-home)
The Truth about Police Militarization
by David Hagner
Over the last few years the role of police in American society has increasingly drawn harsh criticism. Much is made of the militarization of police, from their acquisition and use of surplus military equipment, their training with and adopting similar tactics to the military, and intrusive search procedures. These criticisms are disproportionate and do not take into account the everyday facts of policing, including:
- The nature of the threat has changed: Terrorist attacks on American soil have risen in frequency. Though none have been as destructive as those of 9/11, many more recent attacks have occurred at the local level and have to be confronted by police. When these incidents occur, officers need the best available equipment in order to neutralize heavily armed opponents before they can inflict serious harm on civilians.
- There is little evidence that new procedures have increased causalities: Statistics of police killings of civilians do not show any significant increase, while deaths of officers in the line of duty are at an all-time low, indicating the newer procedures have helped save lives.
- The vast majority of police-civilian interactions are peaceful: Criticisms about the overuse of SWAT teams and officers decked out in military gear ignore the fact that most officers patrol the streets in standard uniforms and interact peacefully with multiple civilians during a given day. Rates of violent crime are down in most parts of the country. Violent confrontations are the exception, not the rule.
- Taking valuable tools away from police officers endangers lives: The stability of police shootings of civilians, the decline in violent crime, and the decline in police officer fatalities all suggest that current procedures are working. If officers lose the tactics and equipment they have come to rely on, these trends could be adversely affected and officers could be put in harm’s way without adequate protection.
Police exist to serve their communities, and while accusations of over-militarization are exaggerated, officers do still need to focus heavily on community outreach and dialogue. The only way misconceptions can be corrected is through transparency, so civilians can see and understand why certain approaches are warranted.
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