Why America's Police Are Becoming So Militarized.Submitted by Repo Our Republic on Fri, 03/28/2014 - 23:46
Peter Kraska, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University's School of Justice Studies, estimates that SWAT teams were deployed about 3,000 times in 1980 but are now used around 50,000 times a year. Some cities use them for routine patrols in high-crime areas. Baltimore and Dallas have used them to break up poker games. In 2010 New Haven, Connecticut sent a SWAT team to a bar suspected of serving under-age drinkers.
He estimates that 89% of police departments serving American cities with more than 50,000 people had SWAT teams in the late 1990s--almost double the level in the mid-1980s. By 2007 more than 80% of police departments in cities with between 25,000 and 50,000 people had them, up from 20% in the mid-1980s (there are around 18,000 state and local police agencies in America, compared with fewer than 100 in Britain).
The number of SWAT deployments soared even as violent crime fell. And although in recent years crime rates have risen in smaller American cities, Mr Kraska writes that the rise in small-town SWAT teams was driven not by need, but by fear of being left behind. Fred Leland, a police lieutenant in the small town of Walpole, Massachusetts, says that police departments in towns like his often invest in military-style kit because they "want to keep up" with larger forces.
The courts have smiled on SWAT raids. They often rely on "no-knock" warrants, which authorise police to force their way into a home without announcing themselves. This was once considered constitutionally dubious. But the Supreme Court has ruled that police may enter a house without knocking if they have "a reasonable suspicion" that announcing their presence would be dangerous or allow the suspect to destroy evidence (for example, by flushing drugs down the toilet).