War on the Home-front: Law Officers or Infantry Officers?
Many small-town police departments now boast the same weaponry once wielded by U.S. military units in Afghanistan — including tanks with 360-degree rotating turrets, battering rams, and automatic weapons. Those weapons are today deployed against Americans suspected of crimes in their own homes. Every day, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams connected to local police conduct 124 paramilitary-style raids in the U.S., according to a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union. One of them recently drew national attention when a SWAT team in Atlanta burst into a private home and threw a live flash grenade into a 2-year-old's crib, severely injuring the toddler. Most raids by SWAT teams are conducted against suspected drug dealers, but they've also been deployed against a private poker game; a gay bar in Atlanta; a New Haven, Connecticut, bar suspected of serving minors; and even people suspected of credit card fraud. "Neighborhoods are not war zones," says the ACLU in its report, "and our police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies."
The first SWAT team was created by the Los Angeles Police Department in 1967 and reserved for the most extreme circumstances: riots, hostage scenarios, and active-shooter or sniper situations. But the "war on drugs," coupled with the sense of danger promoted by tragedies like the Columbine massacre in 1999 and the 9/11 terror attacks, encouraged police departments even in small towns and rural areas to create special units equipped and trained for worst-case scenarios. "There's violence in schools, and there's violence in the streets," said Sheriff Michael Gayer of Pulaski County in Indiana. "If driving a military vehicle is going to protect officers, that's what I'm going to do."
In recent years, the Department of Homeland Security has provided $35 billion to local police throughout the country to help buy weapons for "the war on terror." The...