31 March 2014, 14:25

Police militarization in US on the rise, SWAT teams dominate small towns

Police militarization in US on the rise, SWAT teams dominate small towns

Police militarization in the US is on the rise with SWAT teams dominating small towns. As stated in research, municipalities with less than 50,000 in population have seen a rise in the amount of police militarization in their districts by more than 300 percent. America is finding reasons to use a higher number of SWAT teams like never before. 

The fight against narcotics, crime, and terrorism are all different types of unlawful acts that have been put forth to justify the spreading of such programs, high-end military weapons and vehicle usage in any and every part of small town USA.

In the past, investigative correspondent Radley Balko wrote that the number of SWAT teams in municipalities with populations around 25,000 to 50,000 "increased by more than 300 percent between 1984 and 1995," and 75 percent of these towns had their very own SWAT teams by 2000. Here are just four jaw-dropping examples of how militarized police have taken over the small towns of America.

The first one on the list is Keene, New Hampshire. Only two people have been murdered in the area since 2009, but the town accepted a $285,933 grant offered from the Department of Defense (DoD) in 2012. The grant money was given to the town in order to buy a Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck, or BearCat for short.

"We don't know what the terrorists are thinking," warned Jim Massery, sales manager for the creator of the Bearcat, Lencor Armored Vehicles, to investigative journalist Radley Balko, before questioning whether residents who took issue with the BearCat "just don't think police officers' lives are worth saving," according to an article on salon.com.

Numerous city council meetings were held by city councilor Terry Clark who revealed a large number of residents were against the acquisition of the local SWAT's BearCat. "This is an agreement between the government and arms dealers, essentially," Clark said after a representative for Lencor revealed that the transfers of military equipment allow for them to tap into the DOD's $34 billion budget on terrorism.

Though resistance was felt, the Keene police force put the BearCat to use in the fall of 2012. As of the summer of 2013, it had been used 21 times. During training drills, it was used 19 times, then once in response to a person who barricaded themselves in and another time on a townsperson threating to commit suicide.

Neighboring cities have signed deals with Keene to be able to borrow the BearCat when needed. Support for the vehicles and those similar to it remain strong. A state bill to stop the purchasing of military tools by New Hampshire police departments was denied in late March. This will make it easier for more departments to request for BearCats from the DoD.

The second American town that comes to mind is Ogden, Utah. Ogden has become a breeding ground for debating over the use of SWAT throughout the entire state of Utah. The climax of the debate sessions arose in January 2011, when team members of Ogden SWAT knocked down the front door of Matthew David Stewart's house. When the army veteran woke up to the sound of screaming voices and boots slamming on the floor, he put on his bathrobe and Beretta and started exchanging gunfire with the officers. One was killed and seven were wounded by Stewart, while the army veteran endured multiple gunshot wounds.

Law enforcement's excessive force during that treacherous event was bookended by death itself, starting off with the killing from the time of the raid and ending when Stewart took his own life in his prison cell. He did this a little while after the judge dismissed his self-defense claim. Still, the questions surrounding the use of military operations have stayed afloat. More recently, three different bills have made it through to Utah's legislature which would impose limits on the SWAT to carry out no-knock raids.

The third location on the list is Columbia, South Carolina. Richland County, where Columbia is situated, caught some advocates' attention after the sheriff bought up an armored personal carrier from the DoD. Cops in the region continued to purchase military-grade vehicles, unchallenged by the public. In the fall of 2013, Columbia's police unit bought a mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicle from the DoD. The vehicle has a turret that can be equipped with a 50-caliber machine gun. Mine blasts, should they ever happen, would not be a bother to this well-equipped vehicle.

The MRAP is worth $658,000 but was basically given to the Columbia police force for free under the special 1033 program. This specific program allows for the DoD to hand off surplus military resources to local police departments. The rules of the 1033 program state that the DoD technically owns the military vehicles and tools and ultimately just loans them out to police forces nationwide for at least a year, before having them returned. However, it is believed that many police forces do not return the equipment to the DoD.

The armored vehicle was needed to "protect our officers and the public during high risk counter drug and counter terrorism operations within the city of Columbia and the state of South Carolina," according to the application details noted on the Columbia Police Department's form.

Last on the list is Paragould, Arkansas. The disaster erupted when the chief of the Paragould police force tried to change the increasing crime rate into an unconditional authority for sending SWAT teams into the community to question every person out in public for their identification. The town's population is only 27,000.

"To ask you for your ID, I have to have a reason," said police chief Todd Stovall at a town hall meeting in December 2012, according to salon.com, "Well, I've got statistical reasons that say I've got a lot of crime right now, which gives me probable cause to ask what you're doing out."

The mayor gave full support to his police chief. "They may not be doing anything but walking their dog, but they're going to have to prove it," he added to Stovall's comments, as stated on salon.com. Though, that way of taking care of the law did not settle well with the residents. The public outcry over the practice pushed city officials to stop using the Orwellian plan.

These are just four examples of how the US is becoming a more militarized country. Every strict policy put in place and each military vehicle or tool purchased to keep civilians in line is just one step away from normality. If this trend continues to rise in the US, there is no telling how such harsh rules will allow for people to live in solace.

Voice of Russia, Salon.com

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