War on Drugs

More Militarized Than the Military


A reader who asks his name not be used writes about the drug raid video from Columbia, Missouri:

I am a US Army officer, currently serving in Afghanistan.  My first thought on reading this story is this:  Most American police SWAT teams probably have fewer restrictions on conducting forced entry raids than do US forces in Afghanistan.

For our troops over here to conduct any kind of forced entry, day or night, they have to meet one of two conditions:  have a bad guy (or guys) inside actively shooting at them; or obtain permission from a 2-star general, who must be convinced by available intelligence (evidence) that the person or persons they're after is present at the location, and that it's too dangerous to try less coercive methods.  The general can be pretty tough to convince, too.  (I'm a staff liason, and one of my jobs is to present these briefings to obtain the required permission.)

Generally, our troops, including the special ops guys, use what we call "cordon and knock":  they set up a perimeter around the target location to keep people from moving in or out,and then announce their presence and give the target an opportunity to surrender.  In the majority of cases, even if the perimeter is established at night, the call out or knock on the gate doesn't happen until after the sun comes up.

Oh, and all of the bad guys we're going after are closely tied to killing and maiming people.

What might be amazing to American cops is that the vast majority of our targets surrender when called out.

I don't have a clear picture of the resources available to most police departments, but even so, I don't see any reason why they can't use similar methods.

I've heard similar accounts from other members of the military. A couple of years ago after I'd given a speech on this issue, a retired military officer and former instructor at West Point specifically asked me to stop using the term "militarization," because he thought comparing SWAT teams to the military reflected poorly on the military.

Back in 2007 I wrote a bit more on this:

There's a telling scene related to all of this in Evan Wright's terrific book Generation Kill. Wright was embedded with an elite U.S. Marine unit in Iraq. Throughout his time with the unit, Wright documents the extraordinary precautions the unit takes to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties, and the real heartbreak the soldiers feel when they do inadvertently kill a civilian. About 3/4 through the book, Wright explains how the full-time Marines were getting increasingly irritated with a reserve unit traveling with them. The reserve unit was mostly made up people who in their civilians lives were law enforcement, "from LAPD cops to DEA agents to air marshalls," and were acting like idiot renegades. Wright quotes a gunnery sargeant who traveled with the reserve unit:

"Some of the cops in Delta started doing this cowboy stuff. They put cattle horns on their Humvees. They'd roll into these hamlets, doing shows of force—kicking down doors, doing sweeps—just for the fuck of it. There was this little clique of them. Their ringleader was this beat cop…He's like five feet tall, talks like Joe Friday and everybody calls him 'Napoleon.'"

The unit ends up firebombing a village of Iraqis who'd been helping the Marines with intelligence about insurgents and Iraqi troops. Yes, it's just an anecdote. But it's a telling one. It suggests that to say some of our domestic police units are getting increasing militaristic probably does a disservice to the military.