A SWAT team armed with machine guns and clad in the latest paramilitary gear descended earlier this month on a small organic farm in Arlington, Texas, looking for marijuana. Drones and helicopters scouted the area while the farm’s residents were handcuffed and held at gunpoint. By the end of the 10-hour raid, police failed to find any drugs. Instead, one person was arrested for outstanding traffic violations, and some ordinary bushes and plants were hauled away as “evidence” of nothing more than the growing of tomatoes and blackberries.
As the land’s owner, Shellie Smith, explains, she and her fellow farmers just want to go about their business and be left alone: “We have been targeted by the system because we are showing people how to live without it.” This is an example of how training police to become experts in conducting raids creates an incentive to come up with excuses to conduct raids. It’s becoming more common as America’s police forces adopt military tools, tactics and mindset.
The city of Concord, N.H., found the need the join the bandwagon when it asked the Department of Homeland Security for a $258,000 grant to purchase the domestic version of a tank, a Lenco BearCat G3 armored vehicle. According to the application filed by the local police, the powerful vehicle is needed to protect citizens because “terrorism slants primarily towards the domestic type” in New Hampshire. “Groups such as the Sovereign Citizens, Free Staters and Occupy New Hampshire are active and present daily challenges,” the department explains. City officials are ordering the tanklike vehicle resistant to .50 caliber machine-gun fire and “radiological materials” to deal with a handful of unwashed hippies camping out in front of City Hall singing “Kumbaya.”
It’s the sort of overkill ably documented in Radley Balko’s new book, “Rise of the Warrior Cop.” Fueled by federal grants, it’s not uncommon the find small-town constables stocking up on flash-bang grenades, drones, tanks, grenade launchers, Tasers and an ever-expanding networks of surveillance cameras. “The Founders could never have envisioned police as they exist today,” Mr. Balko writes as he details the growing use of SWAT teams for actions that were run-of-the-mill police work just a few years ago. SWAT teams have been used to raid poker games, arrest accused white-collar criminals and, as happened in Arlington, raid family farms.
A soldier’s job is to accomplish his mission and get home alive. While that works in Afghanistan or Iraq, here at home it can create an attitude elevating police officer safety above the safety of the public. This was seen in February when the Los Angeles Police Department went on a manhunt for Christopher Dorner, a former cop who allegedly shot and killed three officers. Dorner owned a blue Nissan pickup truck, but when overzealous officers happened upon a blue Toyota truck, they riddled it with 102 bullets. Had they bothered verifying their target, they might have noticed that a mother and daughter, not Dorner, were inside the vehicle delivering newspapers. Fortunately, the women survived, as did another innocent truck driver who was also shot at on the same day.
Police have a tough enough job without city leaders begging for federal money to turn them into domestic soldiers. Congress must restore a proper balance by pulling the plug on federal support for militarization efforts. If cities had to pay for these weapons and gadgets of war out of their own pockets, their dreams of raiding harmless family farms looking for unpasteurized milk and blackberry bushes would soon fade away.