Americans, it seems, have had enough police militarization, with the latest Reason-Rupe poll finding a full 58 percent of respondents believing that the use of drones, military weapons, and armored vehicles by local police departments as already going “too far.” That includes a full 60 percent of both Democrats and Tea Partiers. Opposition is under 50 percent among non-Tea Party Republicans.
Policing in the United States has seen rapid militarization, fueled by the war-like mentality that comes with the “drug war,” as well as by the abundance of military surplus available to local police departments from the federal government, especially since 9/11. The military gear ends up at agencies across the country, from New York to Wyoming. Earlier this year, the Defense Department even sent “free” (original cost to taxpayers: $658,000 each) mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles to 500 local police departments; vehicles the Pentagon didn’t think the military needed are now being used by local police forces. Disturbingly, an ACLU FOIA request revealed one police department, that of Concord, New Hampshire, cited the presence of Free State Project and Occupy New Hampshire activists as domestic terror threats for which the military vehicles were necessary. Concord had spent some time trying to get the feds to cover the cost of a military vehicle, and ended up getting at least the one for “free.”
The Super Bowl has become one annual display of such a post-9/11 dedication to security theater. Next month’s Super Bowl, to be held in New Jersey, has the NYPD promising “unprecedented” security for the event. Police militarization is difficult to ignore. Evidence of the policy greets Americans at nearly every transit center in the country, and at countless other points of interest. It’s inherent danger is displayed every time a story about police abuse pops up; not many may make it into the national news cycle, but there’s a constant stream of such stories in the local news. Former Reason editor Radley Balko’s new book, Rise of the Warrior Cop, chronicles the history of police militarization in America, helping make the policy part of the national debate and not an inevitability to be resigned to.
The opposition to police militarization even (or especially) extends to the use of drones by cops, the least readily identifiable of domestic law enforcement’s military toolbox. Earlier this year, the FBI acknowledged using drones for domestic surveillance in “a very minimal way,” but it’s impossible to point to a drone the way you can point to an automatic weapon, a military vehicle, or full body armor. Nevertheless, wherever a local cop or politician has suggested the acquisition or deployment of drones, there’s been a backlash from concerned residents.
Related: Watch Reason TV’s “Cops With Machine Guns: The Killing of Michael Nida,” a piece from 2011, below