The American Civil Liberties Union, a nationwide group that advocates for privacy, free speech and other Constitutional rights, has launched a campaign to investigate the widespread militarization of American police forces, including the use of SWAT teams, drones, GPS tracking and use of Federal programs and agencies.
“We’ve known for a while now that American neighborhoods are increasingly being policed by cops armed with the weapons and tactics of war,” said Kara Dansky, senior counsel at the ACLU’s Center for Justice. “The aim of this investigation is to find out just how pervasive this is, and to what extent federal funding is incentivizing this trend.”
Peter Kraska, a criminologist at Eastern Kentucky University, estimated in a recent Huffington Post article that the total number of SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team raids in the United States has risen from just a few hundred per year in the ’70s, to thousands by the early 80s, to around 50,000 annually by the mid-2000s. Kraska also found that after Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates formed the first SWAT team in that city in the late ’60s, by 1995 nearly 90 percent of cities with 50,000 or more people had a SWAT team, including Chico.
According to the Chico Police Department’s website, “Before being chosen as a SWAT team member, candidates undergo a highly competitive selection process. If selected, the new team members are sent to a specialized 40 – hour school operated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). ” Among the aspects of militarization the ACLU study seeks to ascertain is the level of federal involvement in local SWAT operations, including funneling of surplus military hardware and funneling. According to the Huffington Post, since 2001, the Department of Homeland Security has given out more than $34 billion in grants to local police departments, much of which has been used to fund SWAT teams and purchase military hardware for local police forces.
“From all indications, I would think the DHS grants and increased federal funding could only speed up the militarization process,” said Kraska. “And now you have an entire industry that has sprung up just to take advantage of those grants — and to lobby to make sure they keep coming.”