Paramilitary Police in America: How Did It Happen?
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It is clear that things have changed in Americaand much of it is due to two wars: the War on Drugs and the War on Terror. These ongoing conflicts have brought about major changes in the way law enforcement does business with Americans every day.
Because of the so-called war on drugs, SWAT teams began springing up across the land, tactically armed and ready to do whatever became necessary to overcome the drug problem that this country faces. The fight against terrorism has also been added to the picture and because of it, the same SWAT teams can be seen herding people out of their homes (without warrants), searching them (illegally), and then the homes they just vacated (also illegally), as was done recently in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing. Amazingly, nearly 90% of people polled believed that the police did a great job. This of course, is in spite of the use of force and restriction of rights.
AP photo shows large gathering of Tea Party protesting the IRS.
Even today – May 21, 2013 – with Tea Party protests against the IRS occurring throughout America, DHS Police have been stationed at IRS facilities as a means of protecting those facilities and employees. This is in spite of the fact that there has not been a case of Tea Party-related violence with any person officially connected to the Tea Party movement, unlike the Occupy Movement.
The fact that Obama has used the DHS to create his own national police force is likely meant to be intimidating. Frankly, I’m not sure how such a force is Constitutional, but lawyers are probably better equipped to respond to that question than I am.
DHS Police Officer
In the meantime, we have members of the DHS police force who are very likely not hampered by state boundaries. This is reminiscent of the FBI, but on a different scale. Sadly, as time moves on, we can assume that the DHS police force will likely be given greater authority by the Obama administration.
In the meantime, Radley Balko has written several white papers and books on the subject of the militarization of America’s police. The problems associated with this are often chilling.
Forty-five minutes later, Diotaiuto was dead from ten bullets to his head and body. How did that happen?
It should be noted that Diotaiuto legally owned guns and also had a permit to carry concealed weapons. Police say they announced themselves prior to breaking down his front door, though neighbors say they heard no such announcement before the raid began. The police also claim that because Diotaiuto had a concealed weapons permit, that made him dangerous. How? For someone to obtain a concealed carry permit in Florida(as in most states), paperwork needs to completed, fingerprints need to be checked and a background check finished. Surely, if Diotaiuto had been dangerous, that information would have come out? Obviously, in spite of his potential possession of marijuana, he had never been in trouble with the law before, or he would not have been granted a concealed weapons permit.
Police say Diotaiuto pointed a gun at police leaving them no choice but to fire on him. They modified that later on and to date, no one really knows exactly what happened. It’s the word of the police against a dead suspect.
In Hawaii, tactically-armed police broke into a home occupied by an elderly couple who had their grandchildren staying with them. The police were searching for a box that was said to contain marijuana. They never found it, though they roughly manhandled the couple, throwing them face down on the floor, holding guns to their heads. Turns out the police had the wrong address. They made the same mistake again with another residence before they finally got it right.
This type of mistake happens too often because many of these raids take place based on the word of some street informant. The militarized demeanor of our police forces have become the norm. If one stops to consider the fact that in many cases, the police are going after minor drug offenses, the question of why such force is used becomes even more important to answer.
Radley Balko points out that until the 1980s, SWAT “were used sparingly, only in volatile, high-risk situations such as bank robberies or hostage situations.” Obviously, in situations where lives are at risk by the criminal element, a response provided by a highly trained SWAT team makes sense. But when the person(s) being tracked down is being sought because of marijuana usage, we are left wondering why that type of force was necessary?
SWAT changed during the administration of Ronald Reagan. More money became available, allowing better tactical equipment to be purchased. More training became the norm. Under Reagan, the War on Drugs became official and the services of many SWAT teams began to play a large and normal part in how this war was fought.
Under and “During the next 10 years, with prodding from the White House, Congress paved the way to widespread military-style policing by carving yawning drug war exceptions to the Posse Comitatus Act, the Civil War–era law prohibiting the use of the military for civilian policing. These new exceptions allowed nearly unlimited sharing of drug interdiction intelligence, training, tactics, technology, and weaponry between the Pentagon and federal, state, and local police departments.”
We have since seen the Posse Comitatus Act – the act that protects American people from military being used as police within America’s borders – all but set aside. Bush signed the Patriot Act into law (2001) that reduced restrictions on law enforcement and Congress passed a Defense Appropriations Act (2006) allowing the president to use federal troops within the US whenever thought necessary. Both whittled away at the Posse Comitatus Act.
This introduces how law enforcement in the United States started to become militarized. We will be back with more detail about what our government has created and how they created it in our next installment. We’ll then look at problems associated with paramilitary raids, as well as what we can expect in the future since it appears as though Obama is deliberately building his national police force that may ultimately have powers equal to the military on foreign soil.
In our – the first of three parts on this subject – we discussed how the paramilitary approach to law enforcement began in earnest under Daryl Gates’ LAPD in 1967 and grew from there. SWAT teams – as they came to be called – were originally used for highly dangerous situations, but over time have come to be used in routine situations as the norm. There has been a wholesale increase in use of these tactical forces over time that should be cause for concern.
To show the type of increase that American cities have been experiencing in SWAT-related events, “By the early 1980s there were 3,000 annual SWAT deployments, by 1996 there were 30,000, and by 2001 there were 40,000.” What does this mean for the average citizen? Because of the increased number and intensity of tactical-style events, it means that law-abiding citizens have something to be concerned about with potential problems related to excessive force, violations of rights, and even deaths of innocent people.
We can see that as SWAT-style police units become the norm, unintended results appear to be part of the picture. In too many cases, innocent people are shot and killed by overzealous police units who treat every situation as if it was part of a war. In fact, many SWAT members believe they are fighting a war (War on Drugs, War on Terror). The trouble with that mentality is there is also an unspoken take no prisoners motto as well. It’s shoot first, then worry about results later, like the foreign battlefield.
In 1998, a SWAT team shot and killed a security guard in Virginia Beach, VA during a gambling raid. In 2006, in Fairfax, VA a SWAT team was used to serve a warrant on an individual for another gambling infraction. As the suspect came out of the house, one of the SWAT team officers’ gun accidentally went off fatally wounding the suspect. Apparently, using the SWAT team to serve warrants is the norm in that area of Virginia.
In yet another situation, a SWAT team in Albuquerque, NMwas called to the scene because a man was threatening suicide. After seeing the tactical unit, the man fled in fear for his life and was cornered behind a tree. At that point a SWAT member shot the man to death from 43-feet away. But wait, weren’t they sent to try to save the man’s life? Maybe they didn’t get that memo.
The biggest problem with the growing use of SWAT teams is “introducing the military culture, military equipment, and the military mindset even to parts of the civilian police force not involved in SWAT teams or like paramilitary units.”
Armored vehicle seen in Nashua, NH
In a speech by , he stated, “AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals; that they belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities.” He obviously did not mean law enforcement, did he? What we are seeing on many of our streets throughout America is the use of the type of military-style equipment that is routinely used in Iraq or Afghanistan. We have light tanks or armored vehicles that roll through city streets.
We also see what appears to be soldiers with those dreaded “assault” weapons. During the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, we know that police also went door to door removing people from their homes and then searching them and their homes illegally. They were in full tactical gear and used military-style vehicles as well. This type of reaction by law enforcement may make some people to feel safe, but it makes my blood boil, frankly.
Soldiers, police…or the same thing?
I have both friends and relatives in law enforcement. I understand the job they do is very difficult and dangerous. The problem though is that because of certain acts of Congress (as well as funding), law enforcement is turning America into a militarized zone. That does not make me feel safe. It makes me feel as though my rights are on the verge of being stripped at any moment…all in the name of “national security.”
It smacks of martial law in the making. SWAT teams do not need to be sent out on suicide calls, neither do they need to be sent out on normal warrants or even minor drug offenses. They should be used as a last resort, not the automatic response. This is America and we have rights. Those rights are in effect and no SWAT team or other tactically-trained and armed law enforcement unit has the right to come into a neighborhood and simply eradicate people’s rights because someone says they can and has given them the money to own military-style weaponry and gear.
Put simply, “soldiers are ‘trained to vaporize, not Mirandize’.” This happens too often, either by overzealous SWAT members with a trigger finger or by blasting into the wrong house. “Given that civilian police now tote military equipment, get military training, and embrace military culture and values, it shouldn’t be surprising when officers begin to act like soldiers, treat civilians like combatants, and tread on private property as if it were part of a battlefield.”
This is the biggest problem that results from the militarization of law enforcement. Cops acting like soldiers and seeing average citizens as the enemy. We’ll be back soon with our third installment by trying to figure out what may be completely obvious. Where does it all lead?
It’s 4:30 in the morning. You are sound asleep, as is the rest of your family. Someone is breaking through your front door. You have absolutely no idea what is happening, but you have enough wherewithal to reach for your loaded .45 sitting on the nightstand next to the bed.
You fly out of bed and move down the hall. You see what appears to be two individuals dressed in black, with ski masks over their faces. They also have weapons. They point theirs at you and start yelling. You wisely drop your weapon and hit the floor. You have no idea who these people are or what they want.
Turns out, it’s just SWAT and they’ve come to serve a “no-knock” warrant on you and your home because an informant says you have illegal drugs. Your family is herded into the living room and handcuffed, with SWAT members training loaded weapons on all of you.
While you, your spouse, and your children are on the floor, other SWAT team members go through your home ransacking it trying to find the drugs that their informant swears you have. What the SWAT team fails to realize until they have turned up nothing is that they have accidentally chosen the wrong home. Your rights have been violated but it’s all for a good cause, right?
They quickly remove the cuffs and without so much as a word of an apology except maybe noting (more to each other than to you), “Wrong house, things happen,” they leave. They exit the front of the house where the door used to be, regroup, then move onto what is hopefully the correct home leaving you with their mess to clean up and emotions to sift through.
We all know this type of situation happens. What many of us are not aware of is just how often this scenario is repeated. Radley Balko’s book “Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America” highlights no less than 130 incidents of problems related to SWAT team searches, from the wrong home, to plants in question turning out to be tomatoes (instead of pot), to people being mildly injured to murdered. shows, “between 1989 and 2001, at least 780 cases of flawed paramilitary raids reached the appellate level, a dramatic increase over the 1980s, where such cases were rare, or earlier, when they were practically nonexistent.” In other words, it’s becoming a huge problem that people continue to disallow.
In many ways, the overkill (no pun intended) has become epidemic. Too often, police units involved in these types of searches get away with little more than a slap on the wrist, if that. Some locales have taken tough measures to ensure that people’s rights are not overthrown by overzealous SWAT teams, but this is rare.
The reality is that if the law was strictly followed, these situations would likely not occur, at least not with the frequency in which they have been happening. SWAT units seem to be under the impression that blasting their way into someone’s home in the middle of the night and treating occupants as though they are guilty (often physically and verbally abused in the process) is something that the Constitution allows.
The militarization of law enforcement has been occurring for some time and shows no signs of letting up. In fact, with Obama’s DHS in the picture, the DHS presence is becoming more obvious as witnessed in the most recent Tea Party protests against the IRS. During these peaceful events, law enforcement helicopters were seen overhead, DHS ground police units, as well as ICE agents were present in a show of force. It is also interesting to note that there was not one single regular police officer to be seen. The situations were controlled by federal Homeland Security police, Obama’s “national police force” at work.
The same person relates that at one point, a woman got out of her car and yelled “I am with ICE!” to which the person responded, “I am with Laguna Patriots!”
ICE is Immigration and Customs Enforcement and one can only wonder why ICE was there at all, but apparently, Homeland Security felt it best to use as much force as possible in attempts to intimidate those protesting peacefully. I could be wrong, but I don’t recall DHS or ICE being at Occupy protests. I’ll have to research that.
If it is not clear to you that there is a growing (and irrational) belligerent attitude whereby many in law enforcement see average citizens as enemy combatants, then you’re not awake. I would suggest you take the red pill.
If the situation continues as it is, there is only one place that it can lead to and that is martial law. The terribly tragic part of this is that in some places, this has already been done without actually calling it martial law (Boston Marathon bombing, Katrina in New Orleans). Because of that, the government has learned that the populace affected by law enforcement’s overbearing (and illegal) posture hasn’t generated complaints. Of course the government has taken note.
Radley Balko has some strong recommendations at the end of his book that are well worth noting. If governments – local, state, and federal – would put these recommendations in place, Americawould be safer for average law-abiding citizens. Our rights would be upheld. Without these recommendations, we are destined to move closer and closer to a police state.
· End the Pentagon giveaways – stop giving military equipment to police units throughout America
· Set a Good Example – Branch Davidian compound, raid on family of Cuban refugee Elian Gonzales, DEA abuses, ATF abuses – all wrong by federal government
· Recommit to Posse Comitatus – military belongs on the battle field, not the streets of America
· Return SWAT policing to its Original Function
· Rescind Asset Forfeiture Policies
· Pass Legislation Protecting Right to Home Defense
· Strict Liability (for SWAT abuses)
· Tighten Search Warrant Standards
· More Transparency
· Civilian Review Boards
· No Intimidation
· More Accountability
If these common sense recommendations are not enacted – and soon – America will become a full-fledged police state. That, coupled with this administration’s desire to take away weapons is all that is needed to lay waste to the Constitution and Bill of Rights.