Cato Institute Briefing Paper Warns of "Culture of Paramilitarism" in Law Enforcement 9/10/99

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Members of the Compton community in Los Angeles County were horrified at the shooting death last month of Mario Paz at the hands of a SWAT team from El Monte. Paz, a 64-year old grandfather, was shot twice in the back by police. No one in the Paz household was named in the search warrant, but their address was found among papers in the home of a neighbor who was suspected of drug dealing. The police expected to find "marijuana and cash." The 20-member SWAT team shot the locks off the door, shot out a window, set off diversionary explosives within and outside the house, and invaded at 11:00pm, when Paz and his family were asleep. A neighbor told the LA Times, "It was like war." No drugs were found. (See Week Online coverage at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/106.html#badraid.)

A briefing paper released last month by the Cato Institute explains disproportionate police use of military style force as a consequence of federal policies that have blurred the traditional separation between police and military forces. In "Warrior Cops: The Ominous Growth of Paramilitarism in American Police Departments," Diane Cecilia Weber outlines legislative and policy initiatives -- motivated primarily by the war on drugs -- that have led to a proliferation of heavy weaponry and paramilitary tactics in domestic policing.

According to Weber, "Police departments have evolved into increasingly centralized, authoritarian, autonomous and militarized bureaucracies." One of the most disturbing developments has been the dramatic increase in the number of SWAT teams across the country, in communities both large and small, and their deployment in routine policing activity, as opposed to the hostage, sniper and other extraordinary situations for which SWAT teams were originally formed.

Weber writes, "Because of their close collaboration with the military, SWAT units are taking on the warrior mentality of our military's special forces," and "The mindset of the warrior is simply not appropriate for the civilian police officer charged with enforcing the law." While soldiers are trained to confront an "enemy" and to use overwhelming force, officers of the peace are obligated to use the minimum force necessary to apprehend suspects, to bring them alive to a trial with presumption of innocence, and to respect individuals' Constitutional rights. Confusing the police function with the military function has led to dangerous and unintended consequences, including unnecessary killings, such as Mario Paz in Los Angeles and Esequiel Hernandez near the Texas-Mexico border.

"Warrior Cops" is available on the Cato Institute site at http://www.cato.org/pubs/briefs/bp-050es.html. Also, read about Cato's "Beyond Prohibition" conference in Washington next month, featuring New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, at http://www.cato.org/events/drugwar/.

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Issue #107, 9/10/99 First National Student Conference on Drug Policy and Justice, November 5-6, Washington, DC | New Mexico Poll: 60% Agree Drug War is Failing, Disagree on Solutions | Australia: UN Drug Official Slams Safe Injecting Room | Canada: Starbucks Needle Disposal Prompts Investigation | Insurance Company Reimburses Patient for Seized Marijuana | SAMHSA Study Calls for More Workplace Drug Treatment, but Also Supports More Drug Testing | Quote of the Week | Cato Institute Briefing Paper Warns of "Culture of Paramilitarism" in Law Enforcement | Editorial: Standing Up 101
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