Militarizing the Police

by Mark Wilson

It’s hard to say that the cost of militarizing America’s civil police forces doesn’t outweigh the benefit. Stephan Salisbury, writing in Salon, observes:

Yes, it’s true that Montgomery County, Texas, has purchased a weapons-capable drone. (They say they’ll only arm it with tasers, if necessary.) Yes, it’s true that the Tampa police have beefed the force up with an eight-ton armored personnel carrier, augmenting two older tanks the department already owns. Yes, the Fargo police are ready with bomb detection robots, and Chicago boasts a network of at least 15,000 interlinked surveillance cameras.

[. . .]

“We have a new boat on order,” Kelly said recently, alluding to a bullet-proof vessel paid for by, yes, Homeland Security (cost unspecified). “We envision a situation where we may have to get to an island or across water quickly, so we’re able to transport our heavy weapons officers rapidly. We have to do things differently. We know that this is where terrorists want to come.”

With submarines available to those who protect and serve (and grab the grant money), a simple armored SWAT carrier should hardly raise an eyebrow. The Tampa police will get one as part of their security buildup before the city hosts the Republican convention this summer. Tampa and Charlotte, which will host the Democratic convention, each received special $50 million security allocations from Congress to “harden” the cities.

Marc Hamlin, Tampa’s assistant police chief, told the Tampa city council that two old tanks, already owned and operated by the police, were simply not enough.  They were just too unreliable. “Thank God we have two, because one seems to break down every week,” he lamented.

Like the USA PATRIOT Act, very, very (very) few of the weapons and surveillance purchased by municipalities and states will ever be used against terrorist suspects. More likely, these new toys will be used in old-fashioned crimefighting, except that crimefighting now costs billions of dollars to fight threats that amount to a fraction of that.

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