Let’s check our weaponry: 93,000 machine guns, 533 planes and helicopters, 180,000 magazine cartridges and 432 mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles. OK, let’s roll!
Only, this is not the U.S. military. It’s your and my local police departments patrolling our cities. Remember “Officer Friendly,” the beat cops who were known as “peace officers”? The friendlies have largely been transformed into militarized forces, literally armed with and garbed in war gear and indoctrinated in military psychology, rather than the ethic of community policing.
Twenty years ago, Congress created the military transfer program, providing federal grants so chiefs of police and sheriffs could buy surplus firepower from the Pentagon. In a stunningly short time, our local police forces have become macho-military units, possessing an armory of Pentagon freebies ranging from 30-ton tanks to rifle silencers. They’ve gone from peacekeeping beats to over-the-top SWAT team aggression, unleashed on the citizenry tens of thousands of times a year, mainly for ordinary police work. For example, a gung-ho Florida SWAT team raided area barbershops in 2010 to stop the horror of “barbering without a license.” And masked police in Louisiana launched a military raid on a nightclub in order to perform a liquor law inspection.
Militarization is a dangerous and ultimately deadly perversion of the honorable purpose of policing — and it is literally out of control. The New York Times notes that 38 states have received silencers to use in surreptitious raids. A sheriff in a North Dakota rural county with only 11,000 people told a Times reporter that he saw no need for silencers. When it was pointed out that his department had received 40 of them from the Pentagon, he was baffled, saying: “I don’t recall approving them.”
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.