Civil Liberties

How a Suburban SWAT Team Sees Itself

The culture of militarized police work


Even some opponents of militarized law enforcement have been startled by the tactics and machinery on display in Ferguson, Missouri, this week. They might not have been surprised to see such a horror show in Boston or Los Angeles, but they didn't expect it in a suburban or small-town setting. Yet as Samuel Bieler recently told City Lab, "you can definitely see evidence of militarization of the police in the suburbs. You can find examples basically anywhere."

Illustrating the point, former Reasoner Radley Balko, now at The Washington Post, has posted a SWAT video from Doraville, Georgia, population 8,500. "At least as of this writing," he notes, "the video was posted on the front page of the Doraville Police Department Web site":

Balko adds:

Thought I'd start a family, find a nice quiet suburb to settle down in, get my hands on some surplus Pentagon equipment…

The images at the beginning and end are from The Punisher, the fictional character described by Wikipedia as "a vigilante who employs murder, kidnapping, extortion, coercion, threats of violence, and torture in his war on crime." The audio is the song "Die Motherf—-r Die" by Dope.

Doraville is a town of about 8,500 people, in the northeast suburbs of Atlanta. It last saw a murder in 2009 (at least through the end of 2012, the last year for which I can find statistics).

This isn't unusual. It's part of the culture of policing in much of America. The consequences are on display in Ferguson right now.