Police Militarization Roundup

Friday, June 17th, 2011

A few militarization stories that have been collecting in my inbox . . .

Here’s the latest addition to the Roanoke, Virginia, police force, thanks to a DHS grant:

Here’s photo of the police APV making appearances around Lancaster County, Pennsylvania this month. The city bought the vehicle in 2009 thanks to a quarter million dollar grant, also from DHS. I always wonder about the cammo. Why do so many SWAT teams wear camouflage? Are they really serving many warrants in the woods? I’ve been reporting on and researching this issue for more than five years now. I can’t recall a single story in which a SWAT team needed to sneak up on a drug dealer, fugitive, or hostage taker who was hiding in the trees.

Here’s one of a number of military-style pieces of equipment the Sun-Sentinel recently reported have been acquired by Florida police departments through DHS grants or the Pentagon’s surplus program. (Screen cap from a video you can watch at the link.)

Here’s an article about similar vehicles DHS has funded to fight the terrorism threat in terrorist hotspots like Garfield County, Colorado. And here’s a local news commentary about the city of Portland, Maine’s acquisition of a Sherman tank in 2009. (Actually, it’s a modified M-113 APC.)

Note the easy conflation of cops and soldiers in this article, headlined, “Area officers hone combat skills.”

And finally, for the kids . . .

The last time Chris Jones was at the Simi Valley police station, the matter was somewhat serious: She was filing a report for her stolen GPS.

But on Saturday, she and her family visited just for fun.

Her 4-year-old son, Brandon, had already checked out the SWAT team’s armored vehicle, but suddenly he was sprinting toward it again. He climbed in the side door and within seconds was popping his head in and out of the top hatch, a big grin on his face.

Hope they also handed out pellet guns and stuffed dogs for target practice. Here’s one more:

Michael Haecker and his 4-year-old son went to see the firetruck and the police department’s armored personnel carrier first, but then visited the Board of Health table and learned about brushing their teeth.

There’s something appropriate about juxtaposing the APC to an activity mundane as teeth-brushing. These sorts of images have become about that common.

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63 Responses to “Police Militarization Roundup”

  1. #1 |  Bob | 

    “RESCUE”. heh. That’s what it says on the green one.

    As to the Camo paint scheme, of course! It wouldn’t be able to fulfill it’s role as Mercenary Wannabe Vehicle without that!

    I wonder if SWAT here in Fairfax has any of these?

  2. #2 |  hamburglar007 | 

    Police rescue, ha. The only rescue when police are driving one of these things is if it blew up.

  3. #3 |  the innominate one | 

    “Why [do] so many police SWAT teams wear camouflage?”

    Because many cops are soldier wannabes, I’d guess, just like many security guards seemingly are cop wannabes. Playing dress-up and pretend is fun!

  4. #4 |  Jesse | 

    I’ve always wondered if there’s every been an incident, anywhere in the USA, where one of these police-commandeered vehicles actually saved lives or otherwise proved more useful than the standard police cars and vans. Call me skeptical but I seriously doubt it. In practice I’ll bet it’s never used for anything more than just a cool toy for the SWAT team to ride in to a raid and thus get all amped up about it as if they were actually in the military.

  5. #5 |  Kristen | 

    We’re so fucked, man.

  6. #6 |  Difster | 

    If you or I drove around in vehicles like that, we’d be stopped constantly and searched because they’d assume we were up to something BAD. But when government has it, it’s for “Public Safety” and nothing bad can come of it unless you’re a criminal.

    The third picture looks a lot like the Dragoon I used to drive a bit while stationed at NAS Adak in the late 80′s.

  7. #7 |  Jack | 

    Gosh, reminds me of when I was a kid and put on camo from the local military surplus. Except when I played dress-up, my guns were made out of plastic, and I didn’t get an armored personnel carrier to play with.

    I would be interested to hear some honest intra-PD opinions of these vehicles. Do cops get super stoked about it? Do they grimace in a manly fashion and think about how many drug dealers they’ll crush, or do they see it as a new toy to play with?

  8. #8 |  Bob | 

    “Area officers hone combat skills.”

    Great article! This is the most useful skill for police officers, right here: “properly deploy the various weapons platforms from vehicles,”

    What they REALLY need, though… is to hone the skill of serving a search warrant without acting like a storm trooper on roid-rage.

  9. #9 |  Joe | 

    This would be Lancaster County, PA, best known for its Amish community, correct? Yeah, a SWAT team and armored assault vehicle seems appropriate.

  10. #10 |  Jesse | 

    And as I suspected, in the Lancaster piece one of the cops even states outright that it’s never been needed. Never been fired upon (how often are police vehicles fired upon anyway?)

    And the one it replaced is being used by the sherriff’s department to serve warrants on “potentially” dangerous suspects (meaning everyone that has a warrant served against them, no doubt.) How it helps having an armored vehicle in the driveway when conducting a raid is less clear.

  11. #11 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    “Why so many police SWAT teams wear camouflage? ”

    C’mon, get serious, everyone knows most suburban tracts are full of
    mangrove swamps, poisonous ivies, bamboo and carnivorous
    flowers. Especially in the la-la lands in which these Soldier-of-Misfortune not-fit-for-military guys reside.

  12. #12 |  Frank Hummel | 

    Anybody notice how the guys are lined up there on the running board for easy shootin’? It definitely ain’t cool to ride inside the APC. What’s point of having all that stuff strapped to your body of no one sees it?

  13. #13 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    So many SWAT teams wear cammo for two reasons;

    1) As Rambo wannabes the actual SWAT guys are the kind of lame-o’s who want to.

    2) Since every military on earth buys some kind of cammo in job lots, it’s available cheap, which pleases the bean-countrs.

    Which brings up an interesting thought; if we could somehow require that any psuedo-military crap the Police want to have must be bought at “market value” (i.e. without discounts for being ‘surplus’, grants, etc.), paniced accountants the country over would calla halt.

    *snerk*

    yeah, yeah. Dream on….

  14. #14 |  Marcus | 

    None of the vehicles pictured is camouflaged. Military color schemes, yes; camo, no.

    I agree that they are overkill and probably not needed, but the vehicles pictured are not camouflaged.

  15. #15 |  Irving Washington | 

    Ruby Ridge, Radley.

  16. #16 |  Bob | 

    Jesse,

    Yup. I would also hazard a guess that they don’t fully utilize their 13 “Crisis Negotiators”, either. That’s a Crisis Negotiator for every 38,000 residents.

  17. #17 |  MassHole | 

    Ha! I read about the Roanoke one this morning and immediately thought “I should send this to Radley”. I love that their justification for it is one guy shot an officer and then ran in a house and wouldn’t come out 4 years ago. Wouldn’t some tear gas and patience be more cost effective? But hey, if the government would give me free military toys, I’d take them too.

    The irony is that the biggest story in Roanoke currently is a Franklin County deputy sheriff drove out of his jurisdiction in a squad car to meet his ex-wife shooting and killing her. He then led VA State Police on a chase, wounded a trooper in a gun fight and was shot multiple times himself. The best part is his current wife (also a po-po) called 911 to report that he left the house with a rifle claiming he was on his way to kill his ex-wife. The Sheriff told dispatch to sit on it hoping he could handle it quietly instead of issuing an alert to the relevant police departments. On top of that, the deputy had been “disciplined” for taking the chiefs teenage daughter on patrols and drug buys. It’s like something out of the Dukes of Hazzard.

    http://www.roanoke.com/news/roanoke/wb/289618

  18. #18 |  Danny | 

    Two things:

    * Nobody wants to see a SWAT team or an armored car outside their house, but the largest danger of police brutality comes from ordinary street encounters with regular uniformed officers or even plainclothes officers. Rodney King, Amadou Diallo, Abner Louima, Sean Bell — none of these victims were harmed by SWAT teams.

    * It seems wasteful to deploy all these armored cars to all these far-flung communities, but only because the need for such vehicles is (1) exceedingly rare and (2) almost totally unpredictable. If, however, Lancaster County or Roanoke Virginia just so happen to have the next “three-crazy-guys-with-hostages-at-the-dollar-mart” episode, the acquisition of these up-armored white elephants will look like divine prescience.

  19. #19 |  Kristen | 

    @Marcus: Radley wrote

    Why so many police SWAT teams wear camouflage

    (emph mine)

    It says nothing about the vehicle being camouflaged whatsoever. Those soldiers police officers standing next to it are clearly wearing camouflage.

  20. #20 |  Marcus | 

    My mistake, I took the focus to be on the vehicles.

  21. #21 |  Doubleu | 

    My small home town, population of 21,200 has a paid SWAT team, and a volunteer fire department.

  22. #22 |  Brandon | 

    Ah, Garfield County, Colorado. A wretched hive of scum and villainy. And, you know, vineyards, mountain chalets and ski resorts. They probably need the tank to keep the Russians from invading the hot springs.

  23. #23 |  2nd of 3 | 

    Caouflage pattern is probably used because it’s the cheapest and most widely availible due to mass production for the military. The soldier costume aspect is likely just a nice bonus.

  24. #24 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    These things are hugely expensive to run and maintain. Adding many thousands to budgets.

  25. #25 |  Radley Balko | 

    This would be Lancaster County, PA, best known for its Amish community, correct? Yeah, a SWAT team and armored assault vehicle seems appropriate.

    Hey, they may need it the next time they have to raid farmer Karl for selling raw milk!

    http://reason.com/blog/2011/05/16/raw-milk-raid-on-amish-farmer

  26. #26 |  J.S. | 

    I’d say one of the primary reasons for camo uniforms/vehicles these days is to get away from the “black/blue ninja” image they’ve gotten in the past 10-20 years. People still generally like/respect soliders so that helps the police’s image by association.

    Anyone else see this article on “lockdown high”? Shooter drills (with blanks) in schools….

    http://freedominourtime.blogspot.com/2011/06/you-can-no-longer-think-of-yourselves.html

  27. #27 |  Dante | 

    Radley, if you think the police behave poorly when behind the wheel of an armored jeep, just imagine the misconduct when our military gives them a spare nuke and the missile platform to launch it with.

    Reporter: “So, why did you nuke Los Angeles?”

    Cop: “We smelled something like pot, and there were labradors all over the place.”

    You think I’m kidding, don’t you?

    Protect & Serve (Themselves!)

  28. #28 |  Dante | 

    #1 Bob:
    “I wonder if SWAT here in Fairfax has any of these?”

    Fairfax County has EVERYTHING! They have multiple SWAT Teams, water rescue teams, mountain rescue teams, cave-rescue teams, hazardous materials teams, why I’d bet they have outer-space teams and even thought-crime teams. They also have teams of lawyers and lobbyists to help when they break the law and need things covered up. They have everything in mass quantities.

    All these teams are diligently playing Nintendo back at their bat-caves even as we speak, sucking up huge amounts of taxpayer funds and keeping the children safe (because they aren’t deployed & shooting them).

    Protect & Serve (Themselves!)

  29. #29 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    “Fairfax County has EVERYTHING! They have multiple SWAT Teams, water rescue teams, mountain rescue teams, cave-rescue teams, hazardous materials teams, why I’d bet they have outer-space teams and even thought-crime teams..”

    Do they have any anti-Runaway Police/Military Expenditure teams?

  30. #30 |  Laben | 

    I live in Lancaster City and have seen that monstrosity in action. They went after a supposed drug house. People were all supportive of the thing which made me sick.

  31. #31 |  Frank Hummel | 

    Talk about cops wearing field cammo pattern. I remember a long time ago, in a place that doesn’t exist any more told me that the best cammo for urban warfare is civilian clothing.

    That would, of course, be illegal according to Geneva accords but the man had a good point.

  32. #32 |  BSK | 

    Re: Roanoke

    Well, there WERE allo those crazy, unexplained disappearances. The cops would do well to protect themselves.

    Wait… what’s that you say? That happened over 400 years ago???

    Shit.

  33. #33 |  BSK | 

    I like how the one vehicle says “rescue” on it. Who are they rescuing people from? They do know that JJ Abrams makes fictional movies, right? Not documentaries?

  34. #34 |  hamburglar007 | 

    #31, the field cammo makes sense. It is so that they can conceal themselves in the marijuana plants.

  35. #35 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    “Hope they also handed out pellet guns and stuffed dogs for target practice”

    Aww shit, Radley. Well played.

  36. #36 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    #3

    “Because many cops are soldier wannabes, I’d guess, just like many security guards seemingly are cop wannabes. Playing dress-up and pretend is fun!”

    Yeah yeah yeah,the whole security wants to be the POlice thing. A fair number of people working in private protection have an interest in police work. This does not mean they are necessarily wannabes. I work in healthcare security, and I have looked into policing, probation/parole, fire and EMS since I graduated from college. I have served as a trainee with a volunteer FD in my area as well as an auxiliary police officer. I have an interest in protective services in general, not policing specifically. Recently, I have decided, however, that I really have no desire to work in a government law enforcement role because it would probably violate many of my principles. Not because I’m Paul fucking Blart, thank you.

    Too many citizens are fawning slaves for government agencies, as many Agitator readers know. They believe that only government can provide protective services (“the real police,” as some of the brain deads I deal with call them in order to insult security personnel). Radical libertarians, particularly anarcho-libertarians believe that there would be a more predominant role for private security in a free society. But if people continue to discuss those who work in private protection in a condescending manner, the public will never, ever take such theories seriously. The innonimate one may have just been using that analogy to make his/her point, but this is a symptom of the larger problem.

    Ok, I am descending from my soap box now.

  37. #37 |  Mannie | 

    It’s not surplus clothing. I sell the stuff. Most military surplus today is neither. it all comes from Korea. But the other commenters are right. It’s cheap, but no cheaper than the Police Blue BDUs from the same wholesalers, and it looks cool. Especially, it looks cool.

  38. #38 |  jcalton | 

    “I can’t recall a single story in which a SWAT team needed to sneak up on a drug dealer, fugitive, or hostage taker who was hiding in the trees.”

    Why do police ever need to sneak? If our police can’t do their job openly and publicly, they aren’t police, they are something else.

    I always say SWAT should have to wear bright colors. When a bunch of scary guys wearing black break into your house in the dark, what are you going to assume? Assume they are nice people and roll over for them, or arm yourself? Tough call.

    But if they were all wearing construction orange or yellow, there wouldn’t be any issue for the homeowner anymore, and if he was firing, the officers would know it’s because he wanted to shoot cops. This would save police lives.
    Once they change, no home invasion crew is going to run around in day-glo colors pretending to be cops.

  39. #39 |  Bob | 

    Oh Hey! The second picture (The green one with RESCUE! under the windshield.) Is a link to a video! Watch it! It’s hilarious!

    At no point do the donut chompers ‘training’ ever actually go into the vehicle or attempt to use it for cover of any kind. They all hang onto the outside, then line up outside the target building like they’re waiting to get onto the Tilt-O-Wheel, then shuffle into the building single file on cue.

    My tax dollars at work!

  40. #40 |  Bob | 

    Oh wait. Sorry, the video is in the first article linked. But it’s the same picture.

  41. #41 |  croaker | 

    Threadjack:

    Texas official gets TSA nut-punch

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AKE98sJpGig&feature=player_embedded

  42. #42 |  Aresen | 

    All these surplus military vehicles being turned over to the police makes me nervous about the planned reduction in military nuclear weapons.

    :P

  43. #43 |  Andrew Roth | 

    There are a lot of sick, twisted, reactionary bastards in and around Lancaster County. I lived in Lebanon and Cumberland Counties for almost twenty years and went to high school in suburban Lancaster. Lebanon in particular had a way of electing and appointing sick puppies to law enforcement positions. I was lucky enough to miss a middle school assembly featuring Brad Charles, the DA at the time. It sounded as though his main goal was to scare the shit out of the student body. Another time, when he was serving as a criminal court judge, the Lebanon Daily News reported that he told a convict from the bench, “I hope you packed a toothbrush.” As bad as he was, there were people in his office who made him look like Mister Rogers. Also, by far the worst cop I’ve ever personally encountered, a profoundly delusional and stupid loose cannon, was on the Cornwall Borough police force.

    So it’s definitely not a good idea for the local cops in that part of Pennsylvania to be given military gear. They’re trouble enough as it is. It might, however, be a good idea to give the Pennsylvania State Police limited artillery for the express purpose of bombing townie cops when they cross the Rubicon. Some of the PA Staties take the soldier-of-the-law persona a bit far, but I’d generally trust them to enforce the “bad cops don’t go home” rule.

  44. #44 |  MPH | 

    While the camo pattern shown is not the new universal one, we’ll probably see more SWATters wearing it soon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Camouflage_Pattern). The new pattern doesn’t try to make you blend into the surroundings by imitating the surroundings. It turns out that the human eye-brain system is very good at picking out human shapes from the background, and the old patterns don’t help too much at that. The new pattern is designed to break up the pattern of the human shape, making it harder to pick the shape out of the background. So the new pattern will help SWATters hide in yard of the house next door to the one being raided (unfortunately), regardless of what the landscaping looks like.

  45. #45 |  Marty | 

    we walked into a sports bar for lunch and a bunch of national guard people were there in camouflage. not one of them laughed when I asked them if it was turkey season. Everyone else did, though.

    I wish the cops would disguise themselves as peace officers familiar with the constitution…

  46. #46 |  Andrew Roth | 

    Actually, the artillery proposal was tongue in cheek–mostly. It really would be a good idea to disband most of the local SWAT teams in Pennsylvania and have the PSP assume SWAT duties, limited to situations involving genuinely violent, erratic or disturbed people. The PSP would be more amenable than most townie forces to restrictions on its SWAT responses. As I mentioned, PA Staties often act superficially jackbooted in public, which gives them a needlessly bad rap, but they’re head and shoulders more composed and civilized than most local forces.

    The local agencies are just too undiscriminating in their hiring practices. They tend to hire more laid-back, goodhearted people who have exactly the right motivations for becoming cops and do their jobs properly in spite of bad political and command environments, but they also hire more Dirty Harries, punks, thugs, busybodies, creeps, idiots and other assorted assholes. They have poorer discipline and oversight, too.

    In fact, it would be a good idea to entirely disband many local forces in Pennsylvania and have the PSP assume lead patrol jurisdiction. A lot of local agencies in other states would do well to get the same treatment.

  47. #47 |  Mendelism | 

    @ #36

    Sing it brother. One of my favorite things to point out is that if you’re looking to prevent a crime, you want a security guard. If you want someone to take notes as you describe the crime after the fact, and then expend minimal effort trying to catch the person who did it, without any pretense that you’ll ever be remunerated for your losses, then you want “real police”.

  48. #48 |  Marty | 

    #18 | Danny

    ‘…none of these victims were harmed by SWAT teams.’

    you haven’t followed along while the people, dogs, and property destroyed by swat teams has been pointed out, have you?

    ‘If, however, Lancaster County or Roanoke Virginia just so happen to have the next “three-crazy-guys-with-hostages-at-the-dollar-mart” episode, the acquisition of these up-armored white elephants will look like divine prescience.’

    which would automatically make me suspect a govt set up… which, history tells us, is how they operate.

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  50. #50 |  Michael | 

    The good news is that a proven system of undermining and winning a conflict against this militarization has been developed for us in Afghanistan.

  51. #51 |  CharlesWT | 

    Sources of grants for police specialty vehicles.

  52. #52 |  CharlesWT | 

    “Why do so many SWAT teams wear camouflage? Are they really serving many warrants in the woods? I’ve been reporting on and researching this issue for more than five years now. I can’t recall a single story in which a SWAT team needed to sneak up on a drug dealer, fugitive, or hostage taker who was hiding in the trees.”

    Well, there is this, Waco writ small:

    It was like a “war zone” in Wisconsin

    All to serve a civil process. Another case of where it is likely the person could have been approached while he was off his property.

  53. #53 |  CharlesWT | 

    [...]
    No arrests were made during the sweep in the $250,000 armored vehicle, paid for with Homeland Security money. But the show of force sent a message.

    Whether it was the right message is a matter of debate.

    With scores of police agencies buying armored vehicles at Homeland Security expense, some criminal justice experts warn that their use in fighting crime could do more harm than good.
    [...]
    Law enforcement agencies say the growing use of the vehicles, a practice that also has its defenders in the academic field of criminal justice, helps ensure police have the tools they need to deal with hostage situations, heavy gunfire and acts of terrorism.

    “We live on being prepared for ‘what if?’” said Pittsburgh Sgt. Barry Budd, a member of the SWAT team.

    Critics say that the appearance of armored vehicles may only increase tensions by making residents feel as if they are under siege.

    Most departments do not have “a credible, justifiable reason for buying these kinds of vehicles,” but find them appealing because they “tap into that subculture within policing that finds the whole military special-operations model culturally intoxicating,” said Peter Kraska, an expert on police militarization.
    U.S. police departments deploying heavy armor

  54. #54 |  Joe | 

    I have been watching the Andy Griffith show on Netflix. It should go without saying, but cops should be acting more like Andy Taylor and less like Barney Fife.

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  56. #56 |  Overkill | 

    The vehicle in the third picture down looks suspiciously like the M-1117 Guardian Armored Security Vehicle that I used during my tour in Iraq. I don’t know what all the fuss is about, don’t the police have an obvious need for the sort of protection that can only an 8 foot tall 15 ton armored vehicle can provide?

  57. #57 |  David | 

    They like to buy toys but they don’t train. It’s not the arrow, it’s the Indian. Calling them “militarized” is an insult to the military.

  58. #58 |  David | 

    OP:
    “Why [do] so many police SWAT teams wear camouflage?”

    the innominate one:
    “Because many cops are soldier wannabes, I’d guess, just like many security guards seemingly are cop wannabes. Playing dress-up and pretend is fun!”

    @ the innominate one:
    This is not correct. The reason is; SWAT teams have learned over the years that solid black uniforms make for an easy target. The green and camo uniforms are simply what is available from supply houses.

  59. #59 |  David | 

    It’s good that people are concerned, but it’s really less nefarious than it seems.

  60. #60 |  albatross | 

    David:

    So, after we’ve made sure that every two-bit town, federal or state agency, and rural county in the US has a paramilitary force with military weapons and at least some military tactics, what do we imagine will happen next? Is there any way this could plausibly work out well for us?

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