Militarized bureaucracies

Militarized bureaucracies August 28, 2014

We blogged about whether police are too militarized.  But, as Mark Hemingway shows, in what his wife Mollie calls the new administrative state, our federal bureaucracies–including those that have nothing to do with law enforcement–are also militarized.  He shows that the Department of Health & Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education, the Department of Agriculture, and even the Peace Corps and the Railroad Retirement Board–among many others– have their own armed criminal investigators and in many cases their own SWAT teams.  And they use them.

From Mark Hemingway, Bureaucrats Bearing Arms | The Weekly Standard:

The riots in Ferguson, Missouri, have spawned a heated and, one hopes, productive debate about the “militarization” of the police. While one can argue about the tactics and weaponry used by police, however, there’s little debate about the necessity of cops being armed. The real problem is the thousands of agents in federal regulatory bodies who likely have no business being armed at all.

According to the Wall Street Journal, in 1973 there were 507 federal criminal investigators, excluding those in federal departments with explicit law enforcement duties such as Treasury, Justice, and Defense. By 2011, the ranks of armed federal agents in civilian regulatory agencies had swollen to 3,812. In 1973, the forerunner to the Department of Health and Human Services had exactly one armed investigator. Today, HHS has 686 criminal investigators—more than any other agency. Even the Peace Corps now has four criminal investigators in-house.

Of these thousands of investigators, a great many are armed. The Department of Education, Railroad Retirement Board, and dozens of other federal agencies have their own SWAT teams. In May, the Department of Agriculture put in a request to procure .40 caliber submachine guns. The hazard here should be obvious—as Homer observed millennia ago, “iron by itself can draw a man to use it.” And sure enough, in recent years we’ve seen a spate of uses of force by regulatory agencies.

Last October, the EPA examined the paperwork of a family-owned mining operation in Chicken, Alaska—population seven—by showing up in flak jackets and M-16s, provoking outrage among members of Congress. Thanks to a recent regulatory change, the FDA is no longer required to get a court order before seizing food it deems unsafe. The result has been multiple armed raids on sellers of raw milk, including a health food store in California and an Amish farmer in Pennsylvania—twice. In 2011, a SWAT team from the Department of Education kicked down a man’s door at 6 a.m., handcuffed him, locked his three kids in a police car for hours, and ransacked his house because his estranged wife was suspected of student loan fraud. A federal SWAT team raided the studio of an Atlanta deejay in 2007 in an attempt to enforce copyright laws, though the suspect was apparently uninvolved in any commercial piracy. And so on.

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