Warrior Cops; The Ominous Growth of Paramilitarism in American Police Departments

Over the past 20 years Congress has encour- aged the U.S. military to supply intelligence, equipment, and training to civilian police. That encouragement has spawned a culture of para- militarism in American law enforcement.

The 1980s and 1990s have seen marked changes in the number of state and local para- military units, in their mission and deploy- ment, and in their tactical armament. According to a recent academic survey, nearly 90 percent of the police departments surveyed in cities with populations over 50,000 had para- military units, as did 70 percent of the depart- ments surveyed in communities with popula- tions under 50,000. The Pentagon has been equipping those units with M-16s, armored personnel carriers, and grenade launchers. The police paramilitary units also conduct training exercises with active duty Army Rangers and Navy SEALs.

State and local police departments are increasingly accepting the military as a model for their behavior and outlook. The sharing of training and technology is producing a shared mindset. The problem is that the mindset of the soldier is simply not appropriate for the civilian police officer. Police officers confront not an “enemy” but individuals who are protected by the Bill of Rights. Confusing the police func- tion with the military function can lead to dan- gerous and unintended consequences—such as unnecessary shootings and killings.

One of the most alarming side effects of the federal government’s war on drugs is the militarization of law enforcement in America. There are two aspects to the mili- tarization phenomenon. First, the Ameri- can tradition of civil-military separation is breaking down as Congress assigns more and more law enforcement responsibilities to the armed forces. Second, state and local police officers are increasingly emulating the war-fighting tactics of soldiers. Most Americans are unaware of the militariza- tion phenomenon simply because it has been creeping along imperceptibly for many years.



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