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19/05/2015 | How America's police became so well armed

The Economist Staff

ON MAY 18th Barack Obama will bar the federal government from providing some military equipment to American police departments.

 

The extraordinary arsenal maintained by some departments—which includes body armour, powerful weapons and armoured vehicles—has been highly visible over the last year, a result of outbreaks of unrest in response to police violence. In August of 2014 Darren Wilson, a police officer, shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man in Ferguson, Missouri, sparking large local demonstrations. Two days after the shooting, tactical officers—paramilitary police generally referred to as SWAT (for Special Weapons and Tactics)—were called in to help clear protestors from in front of Ferguson's police department. They arrived dressed for war, in riot gear and gas masks, bearing long truncheons and automatic weapons. Americans have grown used to seeing police respond to protests with tear gas, carrying automatic weapons and sniper rifles, and riding in vehicles that would not look out of place in Baghdad or Aleppo. The days of the beat cop walking the street with nothing more than a trusty old revolver seem distant indeed. How did America's police forces get so well-armed?

In this as with so much else in American governance, it starts with federal cash. Every year Congress passes the National Defence Authorisation Act, which sets out the Defence Department's budget and expenditures. The version passed in 1990, in the wake of a sharp rise in drug-related violence, allowed the Defence Department to transfer military gear and weapons to local police departments if they were deemed "suitable for use in counter-drug activities". Between 2002 and 2011 the Department of Homeland Security, established after the attacks of September 11th 2001, disbursed more than $35 billion in grants to state and local police forces. In addition the "1033 programme" allows the Defence Department to distribute surplus equipment to local police departments for use in counter-terrorism and counter-drug activities. The American Civil Liberties Union found that the value of military equipment used by American police departments has risen from $1m in 1990 to nearly $450m in 2013.

And they have been used. In 1980 SWAT teams across America were deployed around 3,000 times. Deployments are estimated to have risen nearly seventeen-fold since, to 50,000 a year. Tactical police units are not just common in big cities: though nearly 90% of American cities with populations above 50,000 have SWAT teams, so do more than 90% of police departments serving cities with 25,000 to 50,000 people—more than quadruple the level from the mid-1980s. This tremendous rise in paramilitary police forces has occurred as violent-crime levels have fallen. And while SWAT teams remain essential for high-risk and dangerous situations, most SWAT teams are deployed to serve routine drug-related warrants on private homes, often with disastrous consequences. Radley Balko, a journalist who wrote the essential book on police militarisation, has found at least 50 innocent people who died as a result of botched SWAT raids. Tactical teams have also been deployed to break up poker games, raid bars suspected of serving under-age drinkers and arrest dozens of people for the distinctly non-life-threatening crime of "barbering without a licence". Such tactics often draw contempt from members of the armed forces. Veterans have criticised police in Ferguson for intimidating the crowd rather than controlling it, for failing to share information with the crowd and for escalating the standoff. One noted that "we went through some pretty bad areas in Afghanistan, and we didn't have that much gear."

Americans, at last, appear to have had enough. A Reason-Rupe poll released in December of 2013 found that 58% of Americans believe police militarisation has gone "too far". Politicians are at last paying attention. Rand Paul, a Republican senator from Kentucky and a contender for his party's presidential nomination in 2016 has argued that it is time to "demilitarise the police". Yet legislation has not been forthcoming. Money may have something to do with that. In June of 2014 Alan Grayson, a liberal Democrat from Florida, sponsored an amendment that would have forbidden the Defence Department from transferring to local police "aircraft (including unmanned aerial vehicles), armoured vehicles, grenade launchers, silencers, toxicological agents (including chemical agents, biological agents, and associated equipment), launch vehicles, guided missiles, ballistic missiles, rockets, torpedoes, bombs, mines, or nuclear weapons." It failed: not a single House leader of either party voted for it. America's defence industry donates millions of dollars to politicians, and spends even more on lobbyists. Those who opposed Mr Grayson's bill received, on average, 73% more in defence-industry donations than those who voted for it. Mr Obama, with no more campaigns to run, faces no such constraints, however.

The Economist (Reino Unido)

 



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26/08/2009|
21/08/2009|
19/08/2009|
19/08/2009|
15/08/2009|
15/08/2009|
15/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
19/07/2009|
19/07/2009|
18/07/2009|
18/07/2009|
27/03/2009|
22/03/2009|
22/03/2009|
27/01/2009|
27/01/2009|
27/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
11/01/2009|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
23/11/2008|
23/11/2008|
16/11/2008|
16/11/2008|
04/11/2008|
04/11/2008|
03/11/2008|
03/11/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
06/09/2008|
06/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
22/08/2008|
22/08/2008|
17/08/2008|
17/08/2008|
16/08/2008|
16/08/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
19/07/2008|
19/07/2008|
24/05/2008|
24/05/2008|
03/05/2008|
03/05/2008|
29/04/2008|
11/02/2008|
05/01/2008|
09/12/2007|
18/11/2007|
10/11/2007|
10/11/2007|
06/11/2007|
06/11/2007|
06/09/2007|
26/08/2007|
25/08/2007|
11/07/2007|
16/06/2007|
16/06/2007|
10/06/2007|
10/06/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
24/04/2007|
24/04/2007|
14/04/2007|
14/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
28/02/2007|
28/02/2007|
05/02/2007|
05/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
20/12/2006|
20/12/2006|
17/11/2006|
30/09/2006|
28/07/2006|
12/04/2006|
12/04/2006|
12/04/2006|
06/03/2006|
21/02/2006|
17/02/2006|
31/01/2006|
10/01/2006|
28/12/2005|
31/10/2005|
26/09/2005|
29/08/2005|
11/08/2005|
08/08/2005|
24/06/2005|
24/06/2005|
24/06/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|

ver + notas
 
Center for the Study of the Presidency
Freedom House