There’s certainly a lot of overlap between the war on drugs and police militarization. But if we go back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, there were two trends developing simultaneously. The first was the development and spread of SWAT teams. Darryl Gates started the first SWAT team in L.A. in 1969. By 1975, there were 500 of them across the country. They were largely a reaction to riots, violent protest groups like the Black Panthers and Symbionese Liberation Army, and a couple mass shooting incidents, like the Texas clock tower massacre in 1966.
At the same time, Nixon was declaring an “all-out war on drugs.” He was pushing policies like the no-knock raid, dehumanizing drug users and dealers, and sending federal agents to storm private homes on raids that were really more about headlines and photo-ops than diminishing the supply of illicit drugs.
Overarmed federal officials increasingly employ military tactics as a first resort in routine law enforcement. From food-safety cases to mundane financial matters, battle-ready public employees are turning America into the United States of SWAT.
FBI agents and U.S. marshals understandably are well fortified, given their frequent run-ins with ruthless bad guys. However — as my old friend and fellow columnist Quin Hillyer notes — armed officers, if not Special Weapons and Tactics crews, populate these federal agencies: the National Park Service; the Postal Inspection Service; the Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Labor, and Veterans Affairs; the Bureaus of Land Management and Indian Affairs; the Environmental Protection Agency; and the Fish and Wildlife Service. Even Small Business Administration and Railroad Retirement Board staffers pack heat!
These “ninja bureaucrats,” as Hillyer calls them, run rampant. They, and often their local-government counterparts, deploy weapons against harmless, frequently innocent, Americans who typically are accused of non-violent civil or administrative violations.
As [Deroy] Murdock points out, such brutal military-style tactics are incentivized by the War on Drugs, and by federal subsidization of state and local law enforcement agencies’ acquisition of military training and military weapons. They are also exacerbated by the criminalization of an extraordinarily wide range activities that should either be completely legal or at least are better dealt with through civil penalties.
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UPDATE #2: I should spell out the fact that the reason why overcriminalization contributes to this problem is that, if there were fewer crimes on the books, agencies such as the Education Department and the Agriculture Department would have no reason to maintain militarized law enforcement units. And there would also be fewer opportunities to engage in abusive raids for those military-style law enforcement units that would still exist.
Police officers confront not an “enemy” but individuals who are protected by the Bill of Rights. Confusing the police function with the military function can lead to dangerous and unintended consequences—such as unnecessary shootings and killings.
Warrior Cops: The Ominous Growth of Paramilitarism in American Police Departments, from Cato (14-page PDF)
We’ll look back and wonder how America turned into a fascist state.
Tags: 35COFmEZJZs, 9XCJFHh48OI, Bill of Rights, cowards, crony capitalism, cronyism, Deroy Murdock, Ilya Somin, jVf-iintxio, overcriminalization, Paramilitarism, police abuse, police misconduct, police state, Radley Balko, Rise Of The Warrior Cop, SWAT, tE8Xom38Rd8, war on drugs, warrior cops