War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing

Read the 'War Comes Home' report

All across the country, heavily armed SWAT teams are raiding people’s homes in the middle of the night, often just to search for drugs. It should enrage us that people have needlessly died during these raids, that pets have been shot, and that homes have been ravaged.

Our neighborhoods are not warzones, and police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies. Any yet, every year, billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment flows from the federal government to state and local police departments. Departments use these wartime weapons in everyday policing, especially to fight the wasteful and failed drug war, which has unfairly targeted people of color.

As our new report makes clear, it’s time for American police to remember that they are supposed to protect and serve our communities, not wage war on the people who live in them.

 

War Without Public Support

Nearly 80% of the SWAT raids the ACLU studied were conducted to serve search warrants, usually in drug cases. With public support for the War on Drugs at an all-time low, police are using hyper-aggressive, wartime tools and tactics to fight a war that has lost its public mandate.

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Unnecessary Tragedy

It’s not uncommon for SWAT teams to brutalize bystanders in their search for a suspect. One family in Atlanta was woken up in the middle of the night when officers burst into their home and threw a flashbang grenade into the playpen where a toddler was sleeping. This is their story.

 

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Disparate Impact on Communities of Color

It is widely known that policing tactics across the country often unfairly target communities of color. According to our investigation, the use of paramilitary weapons and tactics appears to be no different. These maps show the distribution of SWAT raids by racial composition of neighborhoods in two cities, but this trend is echoed nationwide. Read the complete report for more.

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Austin, TX and Cinncinnati, OH SWAT Deployments by Racial Composition of Census BlocksCinncinnati, OH Austin, TX
 

Nationwide Trend

Hyper-aggressive policing won’t go away simply by identifying a couple “bad apples” or dismissing the problem as a few isolated instances. As this map makes clear, excessive militarization is a nationwide trend.
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To Serve and Protect, Not to Raid and Ravage

Not every situation requires 20 heavily armed SWAT officers and an armored personnel carrier. And yet, we collected reports of full deployments to homes where no contraband was found, where there was no clear reason for thinking the people inside would be armed or awake, and where children and the elderly were present. We need to ensure that hyper-aggressive tools and tactics are only used in situations where they are truly necessary to protect people. It’s also time to push for greater transparency and ensure that the federal government is not incentivizing the militarization of our state and local police.

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