How Did America’s Police…

Become a Military Force on the Streets?

Perhaps when we decided to morph into a police state in exchange for the promise of eternal safety from the government after 9/11?  Your basic Faustain Bargain.

  • vox borealis

    Nope. Just look at the graphic provided in the article: the militarization of American police forces started long before 9/11, as (for example) the number of SWAT raids has increased steadily since the 1990s. Heck, this was being pointed out back in the day on Hill Street Blues.

    • Andy

      It has been a long time in the making – I agree – we can probably go back to the race riots in the 60s to see the militarization begin, before that it was during the anti-union movement in the late 1800s. The real problem is that we let it happen – we elect folks who “promise to keep us safe” and then turn away at their process for keeping us safe. We find ways to rationalize the process and when it runs amok we complain. The American way, I guess.

  • Paxton Reis

    The war on drugs changed thinks too– especially with the onslaught of the crack epidemic in the 1980s. I worked part-time in a county jail at that time, and once crack hit there was a significant and noticeable change in the jail clientele and police attitudes.

    Just my observation

  • Ridge_Runner
  • meunke

    War on Drugs is what REALLY got it going, and what keeps it going. But, thank God we got all the drugs off our streets, amiright? Right?

  • Pavel Chichikov

    SOME OTHER WAR

    A dozen years ago
    this year

    The house came down,
    the towers fell,

    And that began a
    ruling fear

    The end of which no
    one can tell

    Those of us who
    watched them fall

    Incredulous yet not
    surprised

    Imagined then a
    mighty wall

    But not a barricade
    of lies

    I know a woman of an
    age

    Of eighty decades
    and a few

    Who when she reached
    a certain stage

    Took to wheelchairs
    when she flew

    She was rummaged at
    the gate,

    A tiny scissor came
    to light,

    Though it was small was
    made to wait

    While pistols took
    her in their sights

    A gun that’s pointed
    at the head

    Of someone eighty
    years and more

    Is aimed at
    something else instead

    To fight some other
    kind of war

    Pavel

    June
    9, 2013

  • Will

    I really worry about what is being done with those 23 snowblowers given to the Johnston, Rhode Island police.

  • Pavel Chichikov

    I’m as pro-police and law and order as anyone you’ll meet, but there is a limit when the force is turned against harmless people.

  • Pavel Chichikov

    I’m still not seeing what you could see on the streets of Moscow 25 years ago. They have a para-military force called OMON; many if not most of its personnel are ex-special forces. You don’t want to annoy them. I haven’t seen that here yet, but then, I lead a very quiet life and seldom go anywhere.

    • Dillon T. McCameron

      We may see an influx of ex-special forces personnel into the police forces as our current engagements in Asia die down, assuming they do. Provided of course private sector work doesn’t snatch them up.

      That’s tangential to the militarization of police forces, mind.

    • Andy, Bad Person

      Agreed. We’re not there yet. But we’re getting there; we just need more practice. God help us learn the lessons of the Soviet Union before we get there, not after.

      • Pavel Chichikov

        The US has a very different culture, different history. You don’t see four scowling policemen on every other corner.

        But I’ve thought over the last years that all it would take is one very serious incident to tick over into a new system.

        I’ve never agreed with Mark and others here that Boston was an example of over-reaction. But Boston was not a major incident compared with what could happen.

  • KM

    This is the culmination of the Military Industrial Complex that President Eisenhower warned about. There are immense profits to be made in the manufacturing and selling of global and national arms. I had read in a different article that surplus military arms and equipment are awarded to police units across the nation. The profit incentive to produce weapons is stronger than the incentive to promote peace and to solve underlying community issues.

  • Will

    I agree with KM. I also wonder about the escalation of weapons that police have in response to the weapons that criminals have.
    What does this whole situation look like in Europe?

    • meunke

      ” I also wonder about the escalation of weapons that police have in response to the weapons that criminals have.”
      - No. The last time we saw any kind of widespread parity of weapons between criminals and law enforcement in this country was the 30s.

      • KM

        Civilians and criminals can still get machine guns which were popular in the 1930s gangster era. Machine guns weren’t banned, they were made more difficult to get. (Civilians must pass FBI background checks and pay fees to get them.)

        More sophisticated weapons (such as the popular semi-automatic rifles of today) are easily available without checks. So who’s to say that we won’t see more and more of these weapons used as they work their way into society?

        • meunke

          ” Machine guns weren’t banned, they were made more difficult to get.”
          - For all intents and purposes, they are totally impossible. Just as I said above, it is technically ‘possible’ for me to buy a high end private jet. But I’m not sure where I’d come up with the millions to buy it, or the ten thousand dollars cash to buy a worn out, pre-1986 firearm.

          “More sophisticated weapons (such as the popular semi-automatic rifles of today) are easily available without checks.”
          - I think you and I have different definitions of ‘sophistication’. Perhaps you could define that word for me as you use it, because the way you’re using it here makes no real sense. Firearm tech hasn’t really changed much in many years when it comes to personal firearms. And no, you still must have background checks to buy from any store. That’s been the law for a LONG time.

          “So who’s to say that we won’t see more and more of these weapons used as they work their way into society?
          - Because they’ve had 80+ years to work their way into society, and still haven’t. So, I say. Wild speculation doesn’t count as a proof.

          • KM

            Since you mansplained above that I’m “grasping for some reason for this to all make sense,” I must say thanks, but no thanks to any further conversation. Have a good day.

            • meunke

              *sigh* I think you’re just looking for a way to be insulted. You really need to relax. As I already stated above, I was making a general point and was not trying to offer insult at all.

              Of course you’re grasping for some reason for this to all make sense. That’s what we all do. We want things to ‘make sense’. My point here is that, no, militarization of the police DOESN’T make sense at all. There is no reason whatsoever for it. It’s a senseless waste. There is no escalation. There… is… no… way… to… make… “sense”… of… it. Our ruling class just wants the power.

              If modern criminals were rolling around in technicals like Somalians or something, using squad level support weapons to bast open banks, then one could say, yeah, increasing police firepower kinda ‘makes sense’. But violent crime has been falling since the early 90s. There is no escalation driving the police to militarize.

              • KM

                Preliminary 2012 report from FBI reports violent crime up by 1.2 percent nationally (up 3.3 percent in the west) when compared to 2011. http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2013/june/preliminary-2012-crime-statistics/preliminary-2012-crime-statistics

                Much too early to say if 2012 is an aberration year or not, and how 2013 will compare.

                • meunke

                  Yes, one data point invalidates it. :-)

                  As I have said, since the 90s, DRAMATIC drop across the board.

                • meunke

                  By the way, what IS your definition of ‘sophistication’ as you use it applying to firearms in your comments so far?

      • Will

        There are many examples like this on the web.
        http://www.startribune.com/local/17144341.html

  • KM

    Will brings up an interesting point about the escalation of weaponry which helps fuel the militarization of our society. The manufacturers produce more sophisticated weapons and these weapons inevitably fall into criminal and terrorist hands as a side-effect of our very profitable arms trade. In response, our police require these weapons to fight armed criminals. Then civilians claim that they have the right to the same weapons that our military and police forces have. So the militarization keeps increasing piece by piece, year by year.

    The big winners in this are the arms manufacturers, investors and hedge funds, and security companies who are making billions of dollars in profit. War and crime are very profitable businesses.

    • KM

      Why do I bring this up? Here’s the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

      2315 The accumulation of arms strikes many as a paradoxically suitable way of deterring potential adversaries from war. They see it as the most effective means of ensuring peace among nations. This method of deterrence gives rise to strong moral reservations. The arms race does not ensure peace. Far from eliminating the causes of war, it risks aggravating them. Spending enormous sums to produce ever new types of weapons impedes efforts to aid needy populations;111 it thwarts the development of peoples. Over-armament multiplies reasons for conflict and increases the danger of escalation.

      I don’t blame our police forces for what has happened. I blame the actors (politicians, investors, governments, etc.) behind the scenes who profit from misery.

    • meunke

      “The manufacturers produce more sophisticated weapons and these weapons
      inevitably fall into criminal and terrorist hands as a side-effect of
      our very profitable arms trade. In response, our police require these
      weapons to fight armed criminals.”
      - While I’m sure you mean well, your point is hampered by two things:
      1: The fact that you don’t know what you’re talking about.
      2: Facts about weapons used in criminal activity speak otherwise in this country.

      For your observation to be correct, there would have to actually BE some kind of escalation of firepower between law enforcement and the US criminal element. Do we actually see this? No. Most people who insist otherwise seem to be getting their ideas from that last bit of dialog at the end of the Batman Begins. The handgun (indeed specifically the .38 revolver and the .32 and .25 low capacity semi auto pistols overwhelmingly last study I saw) is the weapon of choice for the criminal in this country.

      Civilians do NOT possess weapon parity with Law Enforcement or military. Neither do the criminals. Civilians don’t because we have been banned by law from having it since the 1930s, and the criminal element doesn’t because it is not something to be desired in their work, regardless of what Hollywood tells you. In fact weapons that could even be close to considered ‘military like’ are used so infrequently in any crime that their national statistics are often lest than 1-2%.

      I understand you grasping for some reason for this to all make sense, perhaps that the cops have no choice but to become like the military because our criminals in this country are like heavily armed drug cartels. That’s BS, though. The level of militarization we have in our law enforcement is NOT NEEDED ON ANY LEVEL WHATSOEVER. It is merely the State, fearing its own people, seeks to reassure itself that it has iron control over all its people. It is nothing more than that. This isn’t Brazil, this isn’t Mexico, this isn’t Columbia. The sooner people realize that, the sooner they will understand that the level of militarization of our law enforcement is something that needs to be addressed quickly.

      • KM

        While I agree that handguns are more easy for criminals to get and use, the more sophisticated weapons are also easily available and are being used more by criminal syndicates, like the drug cartels. While they’re used less frequently, they’re far more lethal. I predict we’ll see more of the sophisticated weaponry showing up as time goes on. Law enforcement argues for their need for these same weapons to fight organized crime and terrorism.

        I didn’t say that civilians have weapons parity, only that they use the militarization of our police forces to argue for weapons parity. And you’re wrong that civilians are banned by law from “weapons parity.” For instance, civilians can get a machine gun, as long as they file paperwork, have a background check, and pay the fee.

        I’m arguing the same thing you’re arguing: we don’t need more militarization of our police forces but we have to address the bigger issue: the military industrial complex. Our ruling class’ and society’s love for money and war (Mammon and Mars, as Mark points out) are helping to drive the militarization. Fear only plays into that.

        BTW I’ve never watched Batman Begins so don’t know what dialog you’re talking about. But thanks for the insults.

        • meunke

          “While I agree that handguns are more easy for criminals to get and use, the more sophisticated weapons are also easily available and are being used more by criminal syndicates, like the drug cartels”
          - When you add the words ‘drug cartel’, you totally change the dynamic. A criminal enterprise that has its own, honest to gosh AIR FORCE is not in the same league as civilians.

          ” I predict we’ll see more of the sophisticated weaponry showing up as time goes on.”
          - People have been predicting that since the 60s and have always been wrong.

          And ‘sophisticated weaponry’? Are we still talking about normal firearms? Because if we are, then no. There really hasn’t been any real advance in sophistication when it comes to personal firearms since long before WWII. Take any WWII vet time jumping from Omaha Beach to the 2013 SHOT Show and nothing he sees there will really surprise him. If you’re talking about heavy arms, then again, no, not in this country, as it doesn’t assist the criminal element. Perhaps in other countries with cartel problems, yes. But then again, (and this is just personal speculation) when you are talking about spending hundreds millions on specific heavy weapons to take on a government, a drug cartel would be better served by just BUYING the government. :-)

          “While they’re used less frequently, they’re far more lethal.”
          - False, actually. In terms of actual killing power, less regulated arms, such as my K31, have FAR more power than intermediate rounds.

          “Law enforcement argues for their need for these same weapons to fight organized crime and terrorism. ”
          - Law Enforcement argues for a lot of things because, like the government in general, it is a fan of trying to buy a technological fix for what is not actually a technological problem.

          “And you’re wrong that civilians are banned by law from “weapons parity.” For instance, civilians can get a machine gun,”
          - Perhaps I should have made myself clear. Yes, if you want to fill out the paperwork, get on some watchdog lists, spend ~$10,000 on a worn out M10 as no new machine guns are allowed for civilian purchase since 1986, yes, I could say that it’s technically legal. In that same kind of thinking, I have total parity with Bill Gates as well when it comes to buying private planes… there’s just that whole coming up with a couple of million to buy the private jet to overcome…

          “I didn’t say that civilians have weapons parity, only that they use the militarization of our police forces to argue for weapons parity.”
          - Then the police should have their military ability cut down considerably, as we both agree there is zero need for it, aside from wanting the power to make sure civilians know who’s really in charge.

          “the military industrial complex.”
          - Then we should force the government and police to stop buying all this garbage and starve it. That’s the only thing that will work.

          “But thanks for the insults.”
          - Wasn’t trying to. I actually hear those lines a LOT, in fact, sometimes verbatim from people who think they are really wise, or something. Was merely making a general point.

  • Scotty

    What’s more disconcerting is that municipal and state police units approach policing with a “military tactical mindset.” I’m not as concerned with specialized police units using the protective gear – and, in some cases, the weapons – used by the military.

    After all, if those weapons and accessories help law enforcement officers end their shifts and come home alive to their families, why blame them for using those tools for their survival?

  • TheodoreSeeber

    I think it was more under pressure of well armed gangs from Mexico.

  • John Leavy

    Okay, I’m open to the possibility that I’m a hopeless pollyanna with my head in the sand… but I simply don’t recognize the violent, militarized police state everyone here is describing.

    Is that really what you see around you every day? If so, one of us is plainly delusional… and I’m pretty sure it isn’t me..

    • Barfly_Kokhba

      It’s not just you. It’s you and millions of other oblivious, sheltered Americans whose only understanding of what a militarized police state actually is comes from watching Starship Troopers.

      There is a famous quote from Tacitus about the Roman empire that goes, roughly paraphrased, “She creates desolation and calls it peace.”

      Travel to any authoritarian, militarized police state and observe the streets. Maybe start with North Korea. You won’t find cartoonish scenes of stampeding citizens being herded around by stormtroopers with lassoes on every street corner. That is the point.

      What you will find is eerily calm “peace,” wherein every citizen walks around (when they are allowed to do so) stifling their emotions and tightly controlling their speech and actions, if not their actual thoughts, because they have a dark cloud of knowledge (Ecclesiastes 1:18) that if they dare to step out of line they will be “disappeared” by some form of state agency and most likely have their families and livelihoods taken from them, if not their freedom or actual lives.

      If you think this is not currently happening in America, although to a lesser degree than in, say, North Korea, then perhaps you’re not naïve but you definitely don’t read a lot of news from many diverse sources. People are being actively targeted and persecuted for their political beliefs. Many–though not all–local law enforcement agencies are either oblivious or actively complicit in this decaying state of the union.

      If you’re trying to lose weight and need an appetite suppressant, try this very, very small morsel of recent current events:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHhcXF0Gmog&feature=c4-overview&playnext=1&list=TLyEBKbYeR52E

  • CK

    Under Reagan it was the no-knock warrants associated with the Protestant Puritanical “drug war”.

    Under Bill Clinton, the police state stepped into high gear with the Crime Bill.


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