Why do even small towns now deploy paramilitary forces?
By Aaron Cantú
June 25, 2014
For nearly half a century, America’s police forces have undergone a process of “militarization.” They’ve upped their cache of assault weapons and military defense gear, increasingly deployed SWAT teams to conduct ops-style missions on civilians, and inculcated a warrior attitude within their rank. While major metropolitan areas have maintained SWAT teams for decades, by the mid 2000s, 80 percent of small towns also had their own paramilitary forces.
But beyond deep reporting of individual journalists and scholars, little is known about the extent of militarization across the country. The ACLU has attempted to bridge that knowledge gap with a new report called War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing.
“Our investigation is the first to conduct an analysis using raw data received directly from police departments, by looking directly at incident reports themselves,” says Kara Dansky, Senior Counsel at the ACLU’s Center for Justice and the primary author of the report. The ACLU sent public records requests to 260 law enforcement agencies in 25 states plus Washington D.C., asking for records of all SWAT deployments between 2011 and 2012. Below are some of its most significant findings.
1. The federal government’s war on drugs is the single greatest catalyst for local police militarization.
Far from being used for emergencies such as hostage situations, the ACLU found that 62% of all SWAT deployments were for the purpose of drug searches, and 79% were to search a person’s home with a search warrant—usually for drugs.
These deployments are usually violent and feature bands of heavily armed officers ramming down doors or chucking flash bang grenades into homes. Innocent people are often caught up, and sometimes killed, in the ensuing chaos, including Eurie Stamp, a Massachusetts grandfather who was shot dead by an officer as police attempted to locate Stamp’s girlfriend’s son for a drug offense. Other SWAT-induced tragedies abound: The ACLU found that 46 people were injured as a result of paramilitary deployment.