Towns Don't Need Tanks, But They Have Them

Keene, New Hampshire has a population of 23,409, except during the months of July and August when campers flock in for the summer. Keene's violent crime index? 134.4, compared to a national average of 213.6. Most common crime? Theft. Good thing the federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) gave Keene money to buy a BearCat, an armored counter-attack vehicle. What is Keene using its BearCat for? Good question.

Here's what we do know: a Keene City Councilmember has admitted that the city lied to DHS about its need for terrorism-prevention tools. To explain why the police included the word "terrorism" on their application for federal funding for the Bear Cat purchase, a city councilmember said, "Our application talked about the danger of domestic terrorism, but that's just something you put in the grant application to get the money.” He continued, “What red-blooded American cop isn't going to be excited about getting a toy like this? That's what it comes down to."

And then there's Richland County, South Carolina, population 389,116. Richland's violent crime rate is down 3.7%; its overall crime rate is down 3.8% compared to last year. Many of the crimes that take place there relate to drug use or gambling. Nonetheless, Richland's Sheriff's Department has an armored personnel carrier they dubbed "The Peacemaker." The carrier can shoot weapons that the U.S. military specifically refrains from using on people— this type of firepower is generally reserved for use against armored vehicles. Sheriff Leon Lott insists that the "Peacemaker" will save lives. Really? Is this type of firepower truly necessary for routine law enforcement?

Disturbingly, Keene and Richland do not seem to be anomalies among state and local police departments. Law enforcement agencies throughout the country have sweeping access to military equipment and to billions of dollars in federal grant money to purchase heavy weaponry designed for overseas combat missions, as well as access to anti-terrorism tactical training.

Here's another thing we do know: the war on drugs has been waged most aggressively on poor people and people of color. If, as anecdotes suggest, police are using these military weapons and tactics to make drug arrests, we're concerned about the effect of militarization on these communities.

We all need to know more about how and why our local police departments are arming themselves with weapons of war.

Do tools like BearCats – that were traditionally reserved for wartime enemies – actually increase the safety of our communities? Or are we unnecessarily risking massive damage to innocent people and bystanders that these combat tools can inflict? Do you want your town to have a tank?

On March 6th, ACLU affiliates in 23 states filed over 255 public records requests with law enforcement agencies and National Guard offices to determine the extent to which federal funding and support has fueled the militarization of state and local police departments.

Here are some of the questions we want answered: what technologies and training are local law enforcement agencies obtaining from the federal government to use in their everyday policing? What legal protections are in place before these tools and tactics are obtained and used? And what oversight mechanisms, if any, exist? It's time for some answers, because the militarization of law enforcement in America encourages unnecessarily aggressive policing that too often results in tragedy.

Stay tuned as this project develops.

Click here more information about the ACLU's project on the Militarization of Policing in America.

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Vicki B.

OMG. My supervisor's from Richland County, South Carolina. He never talked about police having tanks though.
And he was a paramedic when he worked in Richland County too.

He's a laid-back kind of person. When his mom wanted him to get activist and help South Carolina secede from the union after President Obama was elected again, he said "Mom. I can't help you secede from the union. I'm working - and I'm not in South Carolina."
I just about died trying not to laugh my ass off at that.

Anonymous

Why are members of the public called civilians by police & some media? Aren't the police civilians.? I think citizen is the proper term.

Anonymous

I think they needed a show of force in the situation where my bank was robbed and instead of giving himself up peacefully the lead robber said to one of his goofball followers, "Get on the phone...and tell those pigs we got hostages."

The SWAT team had to become involved in the matter and they're not regular police. This wasn't a "regular crime." Not after he refused to give himself over to police and held hostages for 5 hours instead. He also shot the teller right away b/c the teller "took to long to move away from the counter."
He thought the teller was tripping a silent alarm. To this day, I don't know for SURE if he was right. Maybe someone else called 911 and just didn't respond and left the line open as a way of asking for help. I don't know. All I DO know is that to this day it's still more upsetting to have seen another person be shot with bullets than even my own gunshot wound has been.
I've never been able to do ANYthing with destroying that image. It doesn't care what I want; it comes into my mind withOUT my permission and DOESN'T leave even when I demand that it vacate the premises. It's been more apt to laugh in my face, and it does feel like its own entity, than do anything *I* want of it.
In short, I'll never be able to get that upset with Special Weapons and Tactics units. In fact I have no ability to see that ANYthing they do isn't completely necessary. But I never noticed any tanks at my shooting. They did have special weapons, b/c that's what they're KNOWN for: part of SWAT includes special weapons and they're taught similar to military training.
You people never saw the guy who held us hostage, tortured us on purpose b/c he wanted police to "hear and know they can't do shit about it" and then shot another hostage while he was handing her over to police.
I swear to God I can't think of ANYthing that's too extreme for him, and I even think prison's too GOOD for him. I think DEATH is too good for him.
I'm not in a forgiving mode. I only WANT to be able to forgive him; in reality, I'm as far from doing it as Timbuktu is from where I live now.

Anonymous

You guys wanted this by voting fascist(I mean democrat).

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