My friend Radley Balko, who has done more than any other person in the country to document and combat the militarization of law enforcement, and the inevitable abuses that come with it, is finally getting some serious institutional help. The ACLU is launching a major project on the subject:
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has launched a nationwide campaign to assess police militarization in the United States. Starting Wednesday, ACLU affiliates in 23 states are sending open records requests to hundreds of state and local police agencies requesting information about their SWAT teams, such as how often and for what reasons they’re deployed, what types of weapons they use, how often citizens are injured during SWAT raids, and how they’re funded. More affiliates may join the effort in the coming weeks.
Additionally, the affiliates will ask for information about drones, GPS tracking devices, how much military equipment the police agencies have obtained through programs run through the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security, and how often and for what purpose state National Guards are participating in enforcement of drug laws.
“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, which is coordinating the investigation. “The aim of this investigation is to find out just how pervasive this is, and to what extent federal funding is incentivizing this trend.”
Bravo to the ACLU for taking this issue seriously. The use of SWAT teams even by small police forces, often to serve warrants on non-violent offender, has created a huge problem with the violation of civil liberties and a significant number of casualties. The more light we can shine on this, the better.