Extra Military Hardware? Paint it Black and Give it to the Police!
Extra Military Hardware? Paint it Black and Give it to the Police!

The Militarization of The Police


Through the 1033 program, the Department of Defense makes military hardware available for free to local police departments. The Department of Defense has provided over six billion dollars of military hardware to police, and the Department of Homeland security has provided nearly ten times that.

Items given to police for free include over ten-thousand bayonets. Under what circumstances would a peace officer have reason to use a bayonet? Barring the zombie apocalypse or the immanent invasion from the north by Canada, there is no circumstance the police should ever need or use bayonets.

Other items given to police include thousands of armored assault vehicles, grenade launchers, and nearly one million assault rifles. If you have a town of 25,000 people with no recent murders, you can get 1.2-million-dollar armored vehicle built to fight in Iraq – for free.

On top of this, defense contractors now market weapons directly to police departments. If you saw the war zone during the Fergusson protests, that military hardware was purchased by the police department from defense companies.

At the same time, police training courses focused on making police like warriors or soldiers have become mainstream. One of the biggest is Dave Grossman’s “Bulletproof Warrior” classes, where Dave Grossman (aptly named, because he is truly a gross man) tells officers they will have the best sex of their life after a shooting or violent confrontation, and they should consider it a “rare perk” of the job. Analysts find that such programs not only encourage violence, but train police into a paranoid, “everyone is out to get us” mindset.

Official police training, generally provides ten times more training on combat and guns than they do on either de-escalation or resolving conflicts in non-lethal manners.

SWAT teams are the most militant of our police force. The original idea for SWAT teams was to deal with extreme situations with military weapons and tactics. That was a perhaps reasonable goal when the teams were reserved for such as those with hostage situations and raids of heavily-armed locations. But SWAT team usage has increased nearly 100-fold, and now SWAT teams are raiding non-violent offenders to perform searches for marijuana. They break down doors, let off flash grenades in rooms with children, and charge in with assault rifles – all for people who may not even be criminals.

The promotion of military tactics and equipment and violent conflict-resolution has correlated with the increase in brutality and killing by police, including against innocent citizens who are neither guilty of a crime nor any threat to the police

This is a cultural shift for police and police supporters going back to at least the eighties. It is now completely ingrained. Any attempt to change the culture is met with cries about endangering the police. That is nonsense. Few advocates of police reform propose policies that would favor endangering officers. They favor non-violent resolution and limiting use of force to when it is absolutely necessary. De-escalation techniques save both police and civilian lives by preventing violent conflicts, and non-lethal conflict techniques are not significantly less effective than lethal ones.

Some people see the militarization of the police as a conspiracy. I am sure there are some awful people who want our police force to mirror the behavior of a totalitarian state’s police, but the cause is more a series of misguided priorities. One common motivation and excuse for militarizing police is terrorism. Of course, the largest risk for domestic violence comes from right-wing groups, who are generally given a wide berth by police. Another motivation for militarization is the failed war on drugs. Fear of minorities, urban crime, and political unrest also are used to justify militarization. Defense contractors expand their market by selling to police.

In part, the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security both encourage police militarization because The Constitution prohibits using our troops domestically. The militarization of the civilian police force provides a way to side-step The Constitution for domestic defense, and potentially to control our civilians.

And there it is: not only is the militarization of police leading to violent mistreatment of civilians and increasing mistrust of the police, it is Unconstitutional. Solving police violence is not just about body cams or better accountability, it is about changing what police culture has become and putting reasonable limits upon use of military tactics and weapons.

Most Americans are unaware of the severity and specifics of police militarization. We need to inform people, and we need to demand changes to police policy, training, and culture to restore the idea that the job of the police is first and foremost to serve the public, not function increasingly as an Unconstitutional military force with no accountability for their actions.