Does Your Local Police Department Need a Tank?
Imagine a typical American city.
There are bustling restaurants and businesses. Kids go to school, and come home to play in their yards. There are fast food restaurants. Movie theaters. Farmer’s markets. And in every police car… a military-grade high powered rifle.
At a moment’s notice, police officers can summon an armored truck, complete with a rotating turret. (The truck cost the city upward of a quarter million dollars, but officials clearly thought it was worth it.)
Every officer in this city has a high-grade Kevlar jacket and a helmet. Their protective gear is tough enough to withstand the type of ammunition a soldier might encounter in a battlefield.
This one American city has spent more than $8 million already — money that came from federal grants — to outfit its law enforcement officers with high-quality, military-grade gear.
Are you ready to guess which city it is?
If you said New York City or Washington D.C., I’m not surprised. The crime levels in those cities make them good guesses.
But this isn’t New York, or D.C…
It’s Fargo, North Dakota.
But Fargo has an average of just two homicides a year. So we have to ask – is this really necessary? Or is it just a big waste of money?
You know, I shouldn’t single out Fargo.
It’s unfair to them, because lots of other small to medium-sized cities across the U.S. are making very similar purchases.
From surveillance drones in Texas, to bomb-dismantling robots in the (little-bombed) city of Des Moines… small town American police forces are spending big money on fancy toys.
This year alone, police departments in the United States will spend nearly $20 billion on “homeland security” purchases.
That’s nearly 25% more than they spent five years ago.
Why? Is it worth it? Is it even appropriate for civilian law enforcement to be armed like this? And what’s the non-monetary cost? How does arming law enforcement like the military change how law enforcement officers view themselves?
How does it change how they view the citizens they are supposed to protect?
A little bit of research reveals some disturbing answers.
To Serve and Protect …
Or to Overwhelm and Intimidate?
Police and city officials point to past incidents where the police were outgunned as justification for all of this new spending. The historic 1997 bank robbery in L.A. is one of the most often-cited examples.
Police argue that the 1997 L.A. bank robbery and others like it make their new gear necessary. Without it, they say, they might not be able to save lives and to protect citizens.
But those kinds of examples… they’re part of a short list.
Meanwhile, real-world instances of police misusing their military-grade firepower are becoming more and more common…
In 2005, Utah police raided a teen’s dance party armed with high-powered rifles. They released teargas into the crowd, and even used a helicopter in the operation.
Police suspected drug use at the party. They justified the level of force they used by saying the party ‘lacked the proper permits.’
In 2008, a heavily armed raid on a drug suspect turned tragic. Police used flash-bang grenades and a battering ram to enter the home without warning. An unarmed man reacted by charging at what he thought to be intruders, and the police shot and killed him.
In 2011, a former Marine was killed when Arizona police raided his home. Not surprisingly, when he heard the noises of someone trying to force their way into his home, he became concerned for the safety of his wife and child.
He armed himself. But he never removed the safety on his rifle. Never fired a shot.
Police shot him 60 times as they entered his home unannounced. His death could have been prevented if the police had knocked and presented a warrant. Instead they opted for a military-style raid. Police found nothing illegal in his home, and no ties to the drug trafficking ring that they were investigating.
Early in 2014, police officers decked out in body armor used a battering ram to enter a home. They gave no warning. They believed they’d found a ring of suspected credit card thieves. They burst through the door, intimidated the family that lived there, and did extensive property damage.
In the end, it turned out they had the wrong people. They’d terrorized an innocent family.
It’s becoming far too common for police to storm houses rather than to knock and serve a warrant. They enter with overwhelming force. Often, there are no obvious indicators that they are police officers.
This leaves homeowners in dangerous, and often confusing situations. The homeowner must decide, under stress, if they are dealing with police or if they need to defend themselves against armed intruders.
Law enforcement officers will argue that they need to use the element of surprise in these raids. But hundreds of raids in the past decade alone have been conducted improperly on innocent people, and many have turned tragic.
This suggests a change in mindset among our law enforcement. Rather than serving the populace, they are developing an “us-against-them” mentality. The increasing militarization can only feed that mindset.
Perhaps, Jesslyn McCurdy, counsel for the ACLU, said it best:
“With local law enforcement, their mission is to solve crimes after they’ve happened, and to ensure that people’s constitutional rights are protected in the process … The military obviously has a mission where they are fighting an enemy. When you use military tactics in the context of law enforcement, the missions don’t match, and that’s when you see trouble with the over-militarization of police.”
I have a prediction and a warning for you based on this trend. The more militarized our police get, the more pressure they are going to put on us to give up our guns.
Now more than ever, we must be vigilant about our gun rights. A well-armed citizenry is one of the most effective checks against tyranny. And these paramilitary raids are sign of tyranny on the rise.
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