On the Militarization of U.S. Law Enforcement
By Rachel Ehrenfeld, William Scott
Thursday, August 14th, 2014 @ 11:44PM
The facts of the incident that led to the killing of Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Missouri, by a police officer, are still foggy. However the killing was followed by a massive show of force by cops decked out in military gear, exposed a dangerous issue that, until now, had been largely overlooked by the mainstream news media and Washington’s political establishment: An alarming militarization of American police departments. As a result of Brown’s killing and the ill-advised police response, several politicians are finally echoing a call-to-action written a year ago by ACD Senior Fellow William B. Scott.
The growing militarization of U.S. law enforcement agencies does not necessarily help to protect Americans in their homeland. Increasing the number of heavily armed uniformed policemen who abuse their power and even shoot to death innocent citizens, not only blacks, is finally becoming a cause for concern. Scott questions the increased use of SWAT teams, here, and in his book, “The Permit”.
Starve the Beast, By William B. Scott*
In an excellent July 19, 2013, Wall Street Journal essay entitled “Rise of the Warrior Cop,” author-journalist Radley Balko described the alarming militarization of police forces across America. He cited myriad cases of innocent citizens being killed by over-zealous police officers, particularly Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams serving warrants for alleged, often petty, offenses.
The WSJ essay, which is based on Balko’s newly released book, “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces,” details several egregious cases, where gunned-up, overzealous SWAT forces executed citizens in the name of enforcing gambling laws and mere regulations. “In 2006,” the author writes, “38-year-old optometrist Sal Culosi was shot and killed by a Fairfax County, VA, SWAT officer,” after an undercover detective overheard Culosi betting on college football games. “The department sent a SWAT team after Mr. Culosi, who had no prior criminal record or any history of violence. As the SWAT team descended, one officer fired a single bullet that pierced Mr. Culosi’s heart. The police say that the shot was an accident.”
That tragedy was hardly an exception. Today, elite police units often break into the wrong houses and kill innocent “civilians,” as cops now refer to citizens, the same people who pay officers’ salaries. The response given to families, friends and communities traumatized by such senseless killings? “So sorry. Just a mistake. Move on now; nothing to see here.”
Balko notes that “longtime and retired law-enforcement officers have told me of their worry that the trend toward [police] militarization is too far gone.” He offers a number of potential courses to reverse this slide to a Soviet-style, oppressive state, including “community policing” and “ending the federal grants that encourage police forces to acquire gear that is more appropriate for the battlefield” than protecting and serving honest taxpayers.
Nothing would be faster or more effective than the latter: Curtailing funds that have enabled the explosive growth of an aggressive, above-the-law police culture across the nation. Elected officials should immediately cut off federal money being funneled to local police departments.
Balko noted that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has given “first responders” $35 billion in grants, since the agency’s creation in 2002, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting. Much of that was used to buy military hardware, such as armored vehicles. When U.S. combat units are being disbanded and front-line fighter aircraft grounded for lack of funding, there’s absolutely no justification for giving high-powered automatic weapons, night vision goggles and armored vehicles to thousands of burgs across America. If cities truly need SWAT teams, local residents should pay for them. Eliminate federal bucks and thousands of SWAT units will simply be dissolved, because there’s no need for them.
Equally effective would be the immediate banning of “No Knock” practices, which have claimed countless lives. When heavily armed, black-uniformed officers break into a home, often in the dead of night, how is the owner supposed to determine that those cops aren’t criminal invaders bent on harm? More often than not, an innocent homeowner, trying to protect himself and his loved ones, is killed-despite doing nothing that warranted being shot to death.
Federal, state and local officials also would be well-advised to start listening to outraged citizens, rather than self-serving police unions. Anger is sweeping the nation, thanks to an epidemic of abhorrent, heinous abuses and killings, typically by young, inadequately screened and poorly trained police officers.
For example, more than 30 California families of police-shooting victims marched through Anaheim on July 21 to protest the killing of loved ones. The Austin, Texas-based Peaceful Streets Project, which was founded by a former Army Ranger falsely accused of spitting on a police officer, has expanded at warp speed, with chapters popping up across the country. PSP members routinely follow police officers and video-record their actions. Although unlawful practices are showcased via YouTube, where millions now watch video clips of uniformed officers harassing, beating, abusing and brutalizing citizens, Peaceful Streets members are just as quick to applaud, when an honorable cop does the right thing.
Another asymmetric-warfare tool for exposing bad police behavior is a new genre of novels called “Justice Through Fiction.” By wrapping an intriguing story around the facts of illegal activities and senseless murders committed by law enforcement officers, authors are leveraging the considerable power of fiction and entertainment (books, movies, TV shows, etc.) to lay bare the dark misdeeds of today’s malevolent, rogue cops. Novels and movies also are delivering a thinly veiled warning to honorable officers and every police chief and sheriff: Either clean up your departments, by getting rid of uniformed thugs and killers, or outside forces will.
Americans and their elected leaders are reluctant to accept the truth that a minority within largely professional police forces are routinely abusing and killing innocent citizens, then blatantly lying to protect their own tails. But every taxpayer, community leader and law enforcement official had better wake up and start holding rogue cops accountable for their crimes. Millions are fed up with officialdom blindly accepting sloppy cover-up “investigations” and winking at abuses via courtroom farces structured to ensure killer-cops are routinely exonerated.
And the natives are ready to revolt. That sounds far-fetched, but it’s a fact-and it’s imminent. Unless victims are assured of justice, with killer-cops indicted, prosecuted and imprisoned, today’s pandemic of police officer abuse of authority willspark a violent, bloody backlash. Aggressive, imperious police departments that behave like terrorists must be gutted, revamped and restored to a protect-and-serve culture, or cops will become hunted prey. That’s a one-way road to anarchy, and no American wants to go there.
The first step is to cut off funding for unnecessary SWAT units and any department having a record of corruption, abuse and murders-by-cop. Starve the militarized-police beast, and the monster will die with nary a whimper.
* William B. Scott, a Senior Fellow at ACD, is a former aerospace journalist and author of “The Permit,” a techno-thriller novel based on actual events associated with the murder of his eldest son, a successful businessman, decorated ex-Army officer, and West Point graduate with an MBA from Duke University.