With the sight of cops in Ferguson, Missouri and Boston resembling totalitarian warriors out of a stereotypical dystopian novel, many Americans have become alarmed at the apparent transition of law enforcement to a role as an occupation force.
They also wonder where the police got the money to pay for it.
According the Center for Investigative Reporting, the answer is that most of it comes from the federal government. In the past decade alone, police departments throughout the country have received a total of $34 billion in federal grants.
Police getting new toys on the
fed’s taxpayer’s dime is nothing new. Ever since the War on Drugs was declared in the 1970s, the feds have offered equipment and resources to local law enforcement agencies to help enforce their unconstitutional laws.
SWAT-team methods converged with the drug war.
Enter the SWAT teams, once a rare sight, usually in an urban city rife with crime or civil unrest, now a staple in every community. In 1983, only 13 percent of cities with populations of 25,000-50,000 had a SWAT team. By 2005, it had reached 80 percent.
At the same time, the U.S. saw a massive increase in no-knock raids, from negligible in the early 1970’s to 70,000 in 2010. The current rate is about 150 such raids every day.
The War on Terror has only increased the flow of money, with billions of dollars since 9/11 going from the feds to local police in the form of Homeland Security grants. In 2011, the Pentagon gave away $500 million as part of a program for improving law enforcement capabilities.
Mind you, this was just one program.
DHS grants allow police in small rural towns, with virtually no crime, to obtain equipment, weapons, and vehicles more fitting for a battlefield than Main Street.
In Fargo, N.D., the police received a $256,643 armored truck with a rotating turret, kevlar helmets and assault rifles they carry with them as they patrol the streets in their squad cars.
The rationale? They needed to be prepared for a terrorist attack. Operating from a “what-if?” premise, police inevitably seek out more advanced vehicles, weaponry, and gear for what they perceive as a necessity to respond to any potential attack, no matter how unlikely it is to occur.
In fact, most of the equipment goes unused. When it is, it’s used for incidents for which they are totally unnecessary, such as a raid on an Amish farmer’s property by a SWAT team from the Food and Drug Administration property for the seemingly horrendous crime of selling raw milk.
These grants are also used to carry out surveillance. Earlier this year, the Santa Monica Police Department received nearly $800,000 from DHS to purchase an automated license plate reading system and equipment in the event of an urban riot.
Most disturbingly, the police are using the equipment to target political dissidents. Last year, Concord, N.H. police filed an application to DHS asking for over $250,000 to purchase a BearCat, an armored personnel carrier. What made it all the more disturbing was the police chief’s motives, claiming they needed it due to the perceived threat of “domestic terrorists” such as the Free State Project and Constitutionalists. Though the DHS approved the application, application was withdrawn after it was published and public outrage grew.
Then there’s the growing use of StingRays, a phone tracker that tricks a cell tower into providing information about a cell phone user. This, too, is paid for mostly by DHS grant money.
While many Americans see police militarization as a local problem, it is merely a symptom. A combination of unconstitutional laws, flawed foreign policy, and corrupt use of taxpayer dollars is the real root-cause.
While the police departments are to blame for their individual actions, one has to ask what would occur if they stopped receiving these billions of dollars from the feds. Left to local resources, the police would be at the mercy of the taxpayers who suffer the consequences when they get out of line. People ultimately obey those who pay them, and as long as it’s the feds funding the police, we can’t expect them to listen to us.
If we are to stop the militarization, then we have to cut off the flow of funds enabling them to amass such power. This will only happen when the money spigot in D.C. is turned off. And that will only happen when state and local governments twist the handle.