The ACLU has released a new report about the dangerous militarization of law enforcement in America.

The ACLU focused on more than 800 SWAT raids conducted by law enforcement agencies in 20 states and on the agencies’ acquisition of military weaponry, vehicles, and equipment.

“We found that police overwhelmingly use SWAT raids not for extreme emergencies like hostage situations but to carry out such basic police work as serving warrants or searching for a small amount of drugs,” said Kara Dansky, Senior Counsel with the ACLU’s Center for Justice. “Carried out by ten or more officers armed with assault rifles, flashbang grenades, and battering rams, these paramilitary raids disproportionately impacted people of color, sending the clear message that the families being raided are the enemy. This unnecessary violence causes property damage, injury, and death.”

The report calls for the federal government to rein in the 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 police hands.

In addition, the report 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 an active shooter situation.

Download (PDF, 4.61MB)

A few of the incidents highlighted in the report:

— “In 2010, 7-year-old when, just after midnight, a SWAT team threw a flashbang grenade through the window into the living room where she was asleep. The flashbang burned her blanket and a member of the SWAT team burst into the house, firing a single shot, which killed her.”

— Jose Guerena, a 26-year-old Iraq War veteran, whose wife heard a noise that turned out to be a SWAT team. Guerena “picked up his rifle, with the safety on, and went to investigate. A SWAT team fired 71 shots at Guerena,

Among the ACLU’s findings:

— 62 percent of SWAT raids were for the purpose of conducting drug searches.

— Just 7 percent of SWAT raids were “for hostages, barricade, or active shooter scenarios.”

— SWAT raids are directed disproportionately against people of color — 30 percent of the time the “race of individual people impacted” was black, 11 percent of the time Latino, 20 percent white and 30 percent unknown.

— Armored personnel vehicles that local law enforcement agencies have received through grants from the Department of Homeland Security are most commonly used for drug raids and not school shootings and terrorist situations.

— In cases in which police cited the possible presence of a weapon in the home as a reason for utilizing a SWAT team, weapons were found only 35 percent of the time.

Other media that have been discussing this are the NY Times and The Economist. The CATO Institute discussed this in 2006 and has an interactive map of botched raids.

This site has also posted about militarization several times.

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