America’s police are becoming military soldiers

Kush Azrael | 7/10/2014, 8:48 a.m.
The report documents numerous tragedies caused by police carrying out unwarranted SWAT raids, including a 26-year-old mother shot with her ...

The American Civil Liberties union has just released a report called the War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing. The ACLU focused on more than 800 SWAT raids conducted by law enforcement agencies in 20 states and on agencies’ acquisition of military weaponry, vehicles and equipment according to a press release.

They found out that police overwhelmingly use SWAT raids not for extreme emergencies like hostage situations, but to carry out basic police work as serving search warrants and searching for small quantities of drugs. They also found that these paramilitary raids complete with assault rifles, flash bang grenades and battering rams, disproportionately affect people of color. Police tactics across the country already often unfairly target people of color.

The report documents numerous tragedies caused by police carrying out unwarranted SWAT raids, including a 26-year-old mother shot with her child in her arms and a 19-month-old baby critically injured when a flash bang grenade landed in his crib.

Among the notable findings were: 62 percent of SWAT raids surveyed were to conduct needless searches for drugs; just under 80 percent were to serve a search warrant, meaning eight in 10 SWAT raids were not conducted to catch a school shooter, hostage taker or escaped felon (the common justification for these tactics), but to investigate someone only suspected of committing a crime; just 7 percent of SWAT raids were “for hostage, barricade, or active shooter situations.” In at least 36 percent of SWAT raids studies, no contraband of any kind was found, and the report notes that due to incomplete police reports on these raids this number could be as high as 65 percent; SWAT tactics are disproportionately used on people of color; 65 percent of SWAT deployments resulted in some kind of forced entry into a private home, using battering rams and flash bang grenades, and in over half those raids, the police failed to find any sort of weapon, which is commonly cited as the reason for the violent tactics.

The report also found that there is almost no oversight on the use of SWAT tactics.

The report calls for federal government to halt incentives for police to militarize. The ACLU also asks that local, state, and federal governments track the use of SWAT and the guns, tanks and other military equipment that end up in the hands of police.

The report also recommends that state legislatures and municipalities develop criteria for SWAT raids that limit their deployment to the kinds of emergencies for which they were intended, such as a hostage situation.

On a positive note the ACLU did find that when SWAT teams are used in a way they were intended to be used, they are used carefully and cautiously.