by Jack Minor
A key distinction between the U.S. and other nations, even relatively free nations, long has been American restrictions on domestic use of the military, for police actions, law enforcement and keeping things under control.
However, when the local police officer or sheriff's deputy is equipped with night vision goggles, laser-scope rifles, electronic eavesdropping equipment and body armor and comes up a citizen's driveway in a military-type personnel carrier with shielded windows and oversize wheels, the prohibitions seem to lose some of their teeth.
It's an issue on which WND has reported for more than a decade, and others now are taking note.
Since 1878, with the passage of the Posse Comitatus Act, it has long been an established legal principle that the federal government is not allowed to use the military to enforce federal or state laws.
See the BIG LIST of SWAT-team attacks on innocent Americans.
In recent years, the law has been modified to allow the president to deploy federal troops to enforce the law. Two of the most notable cases are President Dwight Eisenhower's decision to send federal troops into Little Rock, Ark., to enforce desegregation and the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
However, while American armed forces may be limited in their ability to enforce the law, the act is essentially being circumvented by militarizing local enforcement, equipping it with some of the same equipment, training and tactics used in war zones.
Radley Balko raised the issue recently in a Wall Street Journal article, "Rise of the Warrior Cop." He says the trend is to erase the line between military and law enforcement.
"Since the 1960s, in response to a range of perceived threats, law-enforcement agencies across the U.S., at every level of government, have been blurring the line between police officer and soldier," Balko wrote. "Driven by martial rhetoric and the availability of military-style equipment - from bayonets and M-16 rifles to armored personnel carriers - American police forces have often adopted a mindset previously reserved for the battlefield."
Balko said the "war on drugs and, more recently, post-9/11 antiterrorism efforts have created a new figure on the U.S. scene: the warrior cop - armed to the teeth, ready to deal harshly with targeted wrongdoers, and a growing threat to familiar American liberties."
The number of local jurisdictions with SWAT teams has increased dramatically in recent years, employed now by the majority of police departments in small and medium-sized cities.
Balko cites surveys by criminologist Peter Kraska of Eastern Kentucky University, who noted that in 1983 just 13 percent of towns between 25,000 and 50,000 people had a SWAT team. However, by 2005 the figure was up to 80 percent.
With the increase in the number of SWAT teams, local police have increasingly used the new technology and training even in cases in which their use is questionable.
The article noted that along with the increase in the number of SWAT teams has come a corresponding increase in raids by the military-style trained officers. In the 1970s there were just a few hundred raids per year, however, in the 1980s the number of raids jumped to 3,000 per year. In 2005, the number is a stratospheric 50,000.
Balko highlighted the case of Matthew Stewart, a U.S. military veteran. Police got a tip he was growing marijuana in his basement. Stewart was awakened when the battering ram knocked down the door and thinking he was being attacked by criminals, he picked up a firearm and began shooting before being killed by officers.
Read the full report on "How America is Becoming a Police State," in Whistleblower.
After the shooting, police found 16 marijuana plants, and although the plants were illegal, there was no evidence he was selling the drug. Stewart's father said his son suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and may possibly have used the marijuana to self-medicate.
While many Americans are concerned about the increased firepower possessed by local law enforcement, Balko said the problem is more pervasive than just local police departments, noting that many federal departments now have their own personal SWAT department.
Among the government agencies with their own SWAT teams are the Department of the Interior, NASA and the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Even the Department of Education has its own "special forces" team.
Balko noted the federal department has sent SWAT team members to raid the home of a woman who authorities said was suspected of defrauding the federal student loan program. The raid raised eyebrows because it was the first time the public was aware the Education Department possessed such a unit.
Whenever the issue is brought up, officials claim the increased armament and hardware is needed because of threats faced by law enforcement that were not present decades ago. In the 1980s the rationale was the war on drugs, while in recent years it has been preventing domestic terrorist attacks.
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