Drawing down military action in Iraq and Afghanistan could mean ramping it up back in the U.S. The NYT reports that police departments across the country are buying up, or receiving for free, surplus equipment no longer needed abroad. Much of this equipment comes through a Pentagon transfer program established in the 1990s. It includes everything from big, scary supplies like grenades and tanks to smaller but unnecessary items like silencers. The piece links these supplies to the troubling militarization of the U.S. police force:
During the Obama administration, according to Pentagon data, 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.
The equipment has been added to the armories of police departments that already look and act like military units. Police SWAT teams are now deployed tens of thousands of times each year, increasingly for routine jobs. Masked, heavily armed police officers in Louisiana raided a nightclub in 2006 as part of a liquor inspection. In Florida in 2010, officers in SWAT gear and with guns drawn carried out raids on barbershops that mostly led only to charges of “barbering without a license.”’
That SWAT teams are swarming barber shops isn’t surprising: When you pump expensive military equipment into a country with declining violent crime, idle police departments are much more likely to use that equipment while responding to smaller crimes. Radley Balko has covered these disturbing trends here at the American Interest, in his piece “SWATted: The Militarization of America’s Police.” He offers continual, on-going coverage of fresh incidents of excessive police force at his Washington Post blog. Read his work to get sense of how our SWAT problem endangers the civil liberties we all prize.