Monday, July 09, 2007

Cops or Special Ops?

Balko asks for a little more common sense from Congress (fat chance) and the local PD's in Congressional testimony.

I’m here to talk about police militarization, a troubling trend that’s been on the rise in America’s police departments over the last 25 years.

Militarization is a broad term that refers to using military-style weapons, tactics, training, uniforms, and even heavy equipment by civilian police departments.

It’s a troubling trend because the military has a very different and distinct role than our domestic peace officers. The military’s job is to annihilate a foreign enemy. The police are supposed to protect us while upholding our constitutional rights. It’s dangerous to conflate the two.

On SWAT teams:

But beginning in the early 1980s, they’ve been increasingly used for routine warrant service in drug cases and other nonviolent crimes. And thanks to the Pentagon transfer programs, there are now a lot more of them.

This is troubling because paramilitary police actions are extremely volatile, necessarily violent, overly confrontational, and leave very little margin for error. These are acceptable risks when you’re dealing with an already violent situation featuring a suspect who is an eminent (sic) threat to the community.

Peter Kraska, a criminologist at the University of Eastern Kentucky, estimates we’ve seen a startling 1,500 percent increase in the use of SWAT teams in this country from the early 80s until the early 2000s. And the vast majority of these SWAT raids are for routine warrant service.

These violent raids on American homes, when coupled with the imperfect, often ugly methods used in drug policing, have set the stage for disturbingly frequent cases of police raiding the homes not only of recreational, nonviolent drug users, but the homes of people completely innocent of any crime at all.

Balko goes on to mention that "ooops!!" raids (wrong address, wrong "information" from a tipster, etc.), are occurring at the rate of one/week across the country.

Fortunately, SWAT teams are not over-used in Wisconsin---yet.

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