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MuckReads Podcast: The Militarization of American Police Forces

For this week’s MuckReads podcast, ProPublica’s Justin Elliott spoke to the Center for Investigative Reporting’s G.W. Schulz about his reporting on the militarization of local police forces in the U.S. Andrew Becker and Schulz have been the chief reporters on the series, “America’s War Within,” which has shown how federal grants have led local law enforcement agencies to stockpile high-tech combat gear without much oversight.

Elliott wanted to go behind the scenes to find out how the project got started, how they obtained and analyzed the data, their findings and ultimately, who should be held accountable for how the money is spent.

If you have a watchdog reporting story that you would like to share, tweet it using the hashtag #muckreads or email it to muckreads@propublica.org.

I can’t listen to it now, but will sometime this weekend.

However, it’s about time someone started this discussion.  In my lifetime, I’ve watched police forces degenerate from friendly walking the streets to help people to SWAT-armored “agents” cowering in their patrol cars in empty parking lots.  Why are we spending tax money to protect our public servants from…us, exactly?

And then we can move the further discussion of why we grant fewer restrictions and greater protection to our government officials, whose jobs don’t put them in any danger.

paranoid rethuglican politicians feel they need mp’s a throwback from Nazi Germany, their hero of history who used people control like never before, and hopefully {as long as we throw em out of politics} never again!

For me, this wasteful spending is less troubling than knowing our local police departments are playing GI Joe. For years, the conspiracy theorists have talked about this possibility, much to the amusement of mainstream corporate media. Makes one wonder how long it will be before our citizenry succumbs to martial law. But that’s just another conspiracy theory…

It may be emotionally gratifying to blame a particular party but maybe not so useful.

It is the local departments that received the funds.  It is the local departments that made procurement decisions.  It is the local departments that have converted themselves to light infantry. 

They may claim that the armored vehicles, and M4 carbines are for the drug lords and the 1 in a million chance that a terrorist will arrive in their town.  But the fact is that most individuals will find a reason and a justification to use the tools that are available.  Police are no different.  If they have a tool, it is a pretty good bet that they will eventually find a reason to use it.

Unfortunately, it is ordinary citizens who are most likely to be on the receiving end of what are essentially weapons of war.

Of course the weapons are perhaps the least of our worries.  A far greater concern is the erosion of constitutional rights and due process in the name of security.  Even local police forces in the most peaceful communities conduct themselves as though they rule a conquered province.

Standards of conduct for police officers are too important to be left to the myopic view of professional managers.  Local politicians have to exert civilian control over local police forces and require that they adhere to broad community standards.

Michael McMurtrey

April 17, 2012, 1:32 p.m.

This has been going on for quite sometime. Remember LA Police Commissioner Gates in response to the La riots in the late ‘60’s created SWAT. This para-military force was created with one thing in mind-to quell ethnic rioting.
Project Censored covered this story in 1999. I had reviewed the story and have done research regarding the militarization of local police forces. Many small protect and serve departments would justify having post-cold war weaponry by calling out the “force” for very mundane and non-warranted calls. Add to this the constant media portrayal of a violent America and ten years of a racist war and the result is a public that is afraid and supportive of having guns as big as the bad guys.
Now, we have a million veterans returning home, many of which will join police forces with an attitude of “the occupier” and, we as American citizens will be looked at as the “other” and as much the people that will be the focus and target of military style force.

Really? This is a problem? Yes, it is when the bad guys are using water pistols. But guess what, they’re not. Has anyone posting here ever had the responsibility to apprehend the bad guys in our society? Have you ever seen the arsenal that street gangs carry? Do you really believe that a civilized society should put its police out there when they are out-gunned by the dregs of society?

Personally, I think that if you think this a problem then you should try being a cop for about a year. Then, you will be able to have a sensible conversation about the topic.

It is amazing to me that out of all the problems facing this country we have people worried about the police being armed. Get real, see what’s going on out in the street for yourself rather than allowing other people to do the job for you what you sit comfy at night in your home knowing the phone with the numbers “9-1-1” are within reach.

Apparently people may not have yet commented on our ,“against the U.S. Costitution”, so called Supreme Court that very recently ruled that we now can be pulled over and aent to a police station to be ,“strip searched"even if it is for a monor infraction.  Bob

Lloyd Sauvante

April 18, 2012, 1:02 p.m.

There are significant restraints on police use of violence.  Police kill an average of only 700 people per year in the US.  In every instance there appear to be very thorough investigations into the justification for the violence.  My guess is that arms sales to the police are like arms sales to DOD, subject to intensive lobbying because of the big bucks involved.

Excellent comment!

@bigfatmike

“Of course the weapons are perhaps the least of our worries.  A far greater concern is the erosion of constitutional rights and due process in the name of security.  Even local police forces in the most peaceful communities conduct themselves as though they rule a conquered province.

Standards of conduct for police officers are too important to be left to the myopic view of professional managers.  Local politicians have to exert civilian control over local police forces and require that they adhere to broad community standards.”

Nabil Al-Murabit

May 1, 2012, 7:50 a.m.

Speaking as a former cop of the 3rd largest agency in Los Angeles County, this article is about 50 years too late.  Police departments have long been militarized.  Most police academies are set up like boot camp, most of the terminology is military and most of the people that work that profession have military backgrounds. What has really alarmed me is the news that some police departments are chomping at the bit to implement UAV’s in policing of their cities.

I said years ago when all Police Departments went into the Blue Uniforms that it reminded me of the Schutzstaffel or SS which I am old enough to remember and have know some of Germany’s finest from WW 2. The uniform brought fear to the public in Germany and the Death Camps. It worked. It worked in this Country for a long time also but not so much any more as the thugs just fade into the crowds. One thing I have never understood is the need for Police Departments to have APC’s or Drones. Even in this County the Sheriff’s Dept has an ultra lite air craft for a Deputy to fly around in. Seems like a waste of Tax Payers money.

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