The 'War on Terror' is Fueling the Militarization of Police and the Drug War

Radly Balko’s latest article at the Huffington Post details the increased and disturbing militarization of US law enforcement since 9/11. Following the 2001 attacks, “the need to protect the country from terrorism” provided a new pretext for strengthening the policing powers of local law enforcement. But these new powers have largely been used to combat drug use instead of terror. According to Balko:

New Yorkmagazine reported some telling figures last month on how delayed-notice search warrants -- also known as "sneak-and-peek" warrants -- have been used in recent years. Though passed with the PATRIOT Act and justified as a much-needed weapon in the war on terrorism, the sneak-and-peek was used in a terror investigation just 15 times between 2006 and 2009. In drug investigations, however, it was used more than 1,600 times during the same period.

I covered the disturbing trend of militarization several months ago in my article Why Do the Police Have Tanks?, where I wrote that “The line between military and civilian law enforcement has been drawn for good reason, but following the drug war and more recently, the war on terror, that line is inconspicuously eroding, a trend that appears to be worsening by the decade.”  I specifically highlighted the danger in remaking local police officers in the image of military soldiers: “Traditionally, the role of civilian police has been to maintain the peace and safety of the community while upholding the civil liberties of residents in their respective jurisdiction. In stark contrast, the military soldier is an agent of war, trained to kill the enemy.”

Since 2001, local police departments have acquired enormous amounts of military weaponry from the Department of Defense with federal grant money provided by the Department of Homeland Security and more recently from the stimulus.  Balko explains that “In 2009, stimulus spending became another way to fund militarization, with police departments requesting federal cash for armored vehicles, SWAT armor, machine guns, surveillance drones, helicopters, and all manner of other tactical gear and equipment.”


The threat of terrorism has also broadened the role of SWAT teams, which have since been deployed to combat nonviolent crimes that have no relevance whatsoever to the drug war. Balko writes:

SWAT teams have been used to break up neighborhood poker games, sent into bars and fraternities suspected of allowing underage drinking, and even to enforce alcohol and occupational licensing regulations. Earlier this year, the Department of Education sent its SWAT team to the home of someone suspected of defrauding the federal student loan program.

Read the entire article here.

AlterNet / By Rania Khalek

Posted at September 12, 2011, 7:05am

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