Getting What We Really Want: Heavily Armed Police Forces

A couple of months ago, I made note, yet again, of the steady militarization of US police. Today, we have more news from that ‘front.’ (A word that seems ever more appropriate).

The New York TimesMatt Apuzzo reports:

[A]s President Obama ushers in the end of what he called America’s “long season of war,” the former tools of combat — M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, silencers and more — are ending up in local police departments, often with little public notice.

During the Obama administration…police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.

Nothing quite brings out the idiocy of this relentless arming than the deployment of an armored combat vehicle in Neenah, Wisconsin, “a quiet city of about 25,000 people” with “a violent crime rate that is far below the national average.” It has “not had a homicide in more than five years.”


Congress created the military-transfer program in the early 1990s, when violent crime plagued America’s cities and the police felt outgunned by drug gangs. Today, crime has fallen to its lowest levels in a generation, the wars have wound down, and despite current fears, the number of domestic terrorist attacks has declined sharply from the 1960s and 1970s.

And of course, these weapons contribute to changing self-perceptions among police forces:

Recruiting videos feature clips of officers storming into homes with smoke grenades and firing automatic weapons. In Springdale, Ark., a police recruiting video is dominated by SWAT clips, including officers throwing a flash grenade into a house and creeping through a field in camouflage.

The indiscriminate arming also seems to have corroded police officers’ intelligence:

In South Carolina, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department’s website features its SWAT team, dressed in black with guns drawn, flanking an armored vehicle that looks like a tank and has a mounted .50-caliber gun. Capt. Chris Cowan, a department spokesman, said…police officers had taken it to schools and community events, where it was a conversation starter.

“All of a sudden, we start relationships with people,” he said.

These “relationships” terminus might, unfortunately, be a violent death.

Two ‘wars’–the one on drugs, and the one on terrorism–are having entirely unsurprising effects: the steady arming of domestic police forces, the evisceration of civil rights, the indiscriminate use of violence against citizenry (more often than not, of the darker-skinned persuasion). The citizens of this land continue to be socialized to the norm of the stop and frisk, the warrantless scan of communications, the invasive entry, the carefully circumscribed public protest. In all of this, the image of the policeman has morphed from neighborhood peacekeeper to external enforcer. One armed with the best weaponry available.

The US is awash with guns, often owned by those who claim they do so to protect themselves against governmental tyranny; their arguments often seem risible, but when news reports like these make the rounds, they seem a little less so.

Imagine that: finding yourself nodding in unison with armed militia wingnuts. Never thought you’d see the day? It might be here.

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