Warrior Cops: ‘We Need an Armored Truck for the Pumpkin Festival’

Warrior Cops: ‘We Need an Armored Truck for the Pumpkin Festival’

 

Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams are getting bigger guns and more dangerous equipment. Some want drones. Does that mean our communities are getting worse…or is it just “warrior cops” wanting bigger toys?

Paramilitary cops are for dangerous jobs like big drug busts and hostage situations. (Wait, doesn’t the DEA and FBI handle those too?) However, it might all come down to money for these warrior cops.

According to The Economist, “SWAT raids can be profitable. Rules on civil asset-forfeiture allow the police to seize anything which they can plausibly claim was the proceeds of a crime. Crucially, the property-owner need not be convicted of that crime. If the police find drugs in his house, they can take his cash and possibly the house, too. He must sue to get them back.”

“Many police departments now depend on forfeiture for a fat chunk of their budgets. In 1986, its first year of operation, the federal Asset Forfeiture Fund held $93.7m. By 2012, that and the related Seized Asset Deposit Fund held nearly $6 billion.”

Last year, Jesse Lava and Sarah Solon of HuffPost wrote that:

“Under many civil asset forfeiture laws around the country, cops can take people’s money and property without proving anyone guilty, or indeed without even making an arrest. The police just have to suspect the assets are tied in some way to illicit activity.”

“…Money that cops generate from such seizures bankroll their departments, including sometimes even funding their own salaries. That gives police a strong incentive to abuse civil asset forfeiture laws, search people unconstitutionally, engage in racial profiling, and over-enforce minor offenses, needlessly increasing people’s contact with the criminal justice system. The more they seize, the better off their departments are. Sometimes law enforcement officials seize a car knowing that they’ll be able to drive that very car on the job.”

We’re not just talking about raids on hardcore drug cartels. SWAT teams are hitting small-time poker games, 92 year old grandmothers asleep at home, and even barber shops.

Peter Kraska, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University’s School of Justice Studies, estimates that SWAT teams were deployed about 3,000 times in 1980 but are now used around 50,000 times a year. …[In 2010], heavily-armed police raided barber shops around Orlando, Florida; they said they were hunting for guns and drugs but ended up arresting 34 people for “barbering without a license.” (The Economist)

I had no idea cutting hair was so dangerous.

From 2002 to 2011, The Economist reports that the Department of Homeland Security gave $35 billion in grants to state and local police for the “War on Drugs” and the “War on Terror.” So not only is there an incentive to ‘seize assets’ from a bust, but law enforcement agencies were taking advantage of grants.

“…it is hard to see why Fargo, North Dakota—a city that averages fewer than two murders a year—needs an armoured personnel-carrier with a rotating turret. Keene, a small town in New Hampshire which had three homicides between 1999 and 2012, spent nearly $286,000 on an armoured personnel-carrier known as a BearCat. The local police chief said it would be used to patrol Keene’s ‘Pumpkin Festival and other dangerous situations.” (The Economist)

I live in a town with less than 30,000 people. We have a SWAT team with an Armored Personnel Carrier, a Mobile Command Vehicle (a modified 40 foot RV) and enough high powered weapons to take on an army. All of this in a town known for…sponges.

The HuffPost writers nail it when they ask: When Did ‘To Serve and Protect’ Become ‘To Seize and Profit’?

Give us your take on the rise of “warrior cops” in the comments below. If you have something really important to say, then join us on Facebook or Twitter.

 

(Photo courtesy of Manny Marko, via Flickr CC By 2.0)

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