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ACLU to Examine SWAT, Police Militarization

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #775)
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

The American Civil Liberties Union announced this week that it was seeking data from police departments across the country in an effort to determine the extent to which law enforcement agencies are using federally-subsidized military-style weapons and tactics. The group said it had filed 255 public records requests with law enforcement agencies in 23 states, as well as with the National Guard.

Paramilitarized SWAT teams are one example of what the ACLU will be looking at. Originally conceptualized as specialized units to be used in limited circumstances, such as hostage-rescues or armed standoffs, SWAT teams have been subject to mission creep and are now used routinely by some departments for, among other things, executing drug search warrants.

"Equipping state and local law enforcement with military weapons and vehicles, military tactical training, and actual military assistance to conduct traditional law enforcement erodes civil liberties and encourages increasingly aggressive policing, particularly in poor neighborhoods and communities of color," said Kara Dansky, senior counsel for the ACLU's Center for Justice. "We've seen examples of this in several localities, but we don't know the dimensions of the problem."

The ACLU will be seeking information on the number and purpose of SWAT deployments, the types of weapons used, injuries sustained by civilians, training materials, and funding sources for them.

The group will also be looking more generally at the use of advanced weapons and cutting edge technologies, including unmanned drones, GPS tracking devices, detainee restraint devices ("shock-cuffs"), and military weaponry, equipment, and vehicles obtained directly through the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security or funded by them.

They will also seek information from state National Guards regarding incidents of direct contact with civilians, as well as examining cooperative agreements between local law enforcement agencies and the Guard's counter-drug program.

"The American people deserve to know how much our local police are using military weapons and tactics for everyday policing," said Allie Bohm, ACLU advocacy and policy strategist. "The militarization of local police is a threat to Americans' right to live without fear of military-style intervention in their daily lives, and we need to make sure these resources and tactics are deployed only with rigorous oversight and strong legal protections."

The affiliates which filed public records requests are: Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Once the information has been collected and analyzed, if needed, ACLU plans to use the results to recommend changes in law and policy governing the use of military tactics and technology in local law enforcement.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


William Aiken (not verified)

While I applaud the ACLU for conducting this study, I mystifies me why they chose not to include the State of New York. In Buffalo and Albany, the use of these Large scale SWAT-style raids have become routine in poor minority communities. Given that a substantial amount of New York State's budget is devoted to participating in these investigations, I wouldn't be surprised that other Upstate cities regularly partake in these SWAT-style raids as well. The ACLU missed the mark by ignoring New York State in this study.


 Buffalo in particular has aggressively engaged in  the kind of the ghetto-sweeping tactics that have resulted in hundreds of arrests which feeds our prison industrial complex. Dozens of Law enforcement agencies are deployed in these raids and the police have publicly stated that city of Buffalo will continue these investigations for the foreseeable future. And the Buffalo media gives Law Enforcement a pass on the cost of the raids as well as the failure for these raids to reduce the availability of drug in that community. It's unfortunate the ACLU is giving them a pass, too.

Fri, 03/08/2013 - 8:24pm Permalink
Attorney at Law (not verified)

In reply to by William Aiken (not verified)

It is even worse in the rural towns and small cities south of Buffalo near the PA border.  They are bloated with all kinds of military weapons, dogs that they walk around neighborhoods with and take into the schools, they are training bus drivers how to shoot, they have infrared search devises that they use secretly.  Recently a college dorm in the southern tier was stormed by swat style cops, without any apparent warrant, the faculty and staff were never warned, the administration kept it secret, their was no arrest and nothing ever in the local papers.  It was alleged their may have been a college kid selling pot.  These people are nuts.

Fri, 03/15/2013 - 11:30am Permalink
kickback (not verified)

Sen. Jim Webb [D- Va.] tried to put together a " Criminal Justice Commission " to do a top to bottom review of this morass , only to see it get shut down . Wonder why ? What would it have uncovered ? What are Congressional members afraid of ? Is the light of day on such an issue too dangerous to the " system " ? Maybe the A.C.L.U. will have more success with this than some members of Congress .?.

Sat, 03/09/2013 - 12:36am Permalink
sicntired (not verified)

While our courts have been vocal about things like the use of the Taser and para military response to ALL drug raids.The police are still getting around these decisions by either ignoring them or circumnavigating.People are still being killed and dogs have been even less lucky.However,the carnage has gone down,as police have been put on notice by the courts that they continue at their peril.There is a new civilian oversight board,but it is too new to make any kind of assessment as to how they will rule on; in action police deaths of civilians?I don't see the A.C.L.U. having much better luck as America's gun culture will be even less shocked than Canadians.Until we get rid of this prohibition and the mentality that has grown along with it.People will continue to have their homes violated by heavily armed goon squads hyper as hell and all too ready to shoot to kill.Anyone with a television has seen how hyped up these SWAT guys get.A remote control will get you killed every time.

Sat, 03/09/2013 - 6:53pm Permalink

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