Militarization of Police

Will San Bernardino Shootings Lead to More Militarized Police?

SWAT team's heroic response to mass shooting leads to calls for more military gear for local cops.


The image of the "Warrior Cop," personified by SWAT teams and local law

Rescue Tank
Foter/Lakeland Local

enforcement agencies rolling through town in MRAPs, body armor and other military accoutrements, has taken a bit of a public relations-beating over the past couple of years.

Images of toddlers blown up by flash-bang grenades, innocent people shot dead during no-knock raids, and the heavy-handed response to the protests in Ferguson during the summer of 2014 have all added to the increased scrutiny of the militarization of police. 

But a SWAT team's heroic response to the San Bernardino shootings has helped bring "Special Weapons and Tactics" back in vogue, with some calls for President Obama to remove the limitations on the Pentagon's 1033 program he imposed back in May

Allegra Kirkland wrote at Talking Points Memo:

Within hours, police officerscolumnists and cable news pundits began pointing to the San Bernardino shooting as proof of why local law enforcement agencies require military gear and training. They argued that depriving law enforcement of equipment like armored personnel carriers in the post-Ferguson era endangers the lives of officers and civilians alike.

Fox News host Gretchen Carlson and CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes separately chastised the Obama administration for prohibiting the transfer of some surplus military equipment to local police forces.

"We make much about the militarization of the police," Fuentes said Wednesday on CNN's "The Situation Room." "That's because we have a militarized public in the country with military-assault rifles, armored vests, bullets that pierce armors. That's one of the situations our police often go up against—this type of armament in the citizenry of our country."

Mind you, Obama's order only prevented local police forces from acquiring "grenade launchers, tracked armored vehicles, armed aircraft, bayonets, and guns and ammunition of .50 caliber or higher," but still permitted them take in "wheeled armored vehicles, drones, helicopters, firearms and riot gear," all at no cost to them through the Department of Defense's 1033 program. 

According to the Marshall Project:

The program has doled out $5 billion in equipment since 1990. Most of it was general office and maintenance equipment – shovels, copiers, computers – but the Pentagon largesse included tactical military equipment worth more than $1.4 billion, disseminated in 203,000 transfers to about 7,500 agencies.

In San Bernardino, like the rest of the country, SWAT teams rarely (if ever) encounter mass shooters or terrorists. Until the shootings two weeks ago, San Bernardino's SWAT teams were far-better known to be deployed busting low-level drug dealers, serving warrants, breaking up Hell's Angels clubhouses or raiding medical marijuana dispensaries.

This is not to say there isn't a place for heavily-armed and armored high-risk response teams to neutralize hostage situations or confront mass murderers intent on maximum carnage. But with anywhere from 50,000-80,000 SWAT raids in the US annually, using the response to the San Bernardino shootings as an excuse to roll back the modest and sensible scale-down of surplus equipment meant for an occupying army would be a mistake.

In 2014, I covered "The Purple Zone Raid," which involved both local and federal agencies using the maximum amount of force possible to raid a smoke shop in tiny Alpine, Texas:

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  1. Just like every gun control legislative effort put forth, more MRAP’s wouldn’t have done squat.

  2. I say we up-armor the Constitution. WHO’S WITH ME?

    1. Isn’t that like putting on your helmet after you’ve crashed?

      1. If you have a better suggestion for keeping one’s brain integumented, I’d like to hear it.

  3. Yes. I already heard a story on the news indicating that all those military vehicles us peaceniks and libertyniks were poo-pooing came in awfully useful during the San Bernardino shootings.

  4. Can I just save everybody a bunch of time and reframe this reoccurring question in its most abstract sense?

    Will the latest bad thing that happened lead to an increase in the powers of the state and dimunition of essential liberty? YES!

    There. Now reason will never have to ask that redundant question again.

  5. Within hours, police officers, columnists and cable news pundits began pointing to the San Bernardino shooting as proof of why local law enforcement agencies require military gear and training. They argued that depriving law enforcement of equipment like armored personnel carriers in the post-Ferguson era endangers the lives of officers and civilians alike.

    These idiots ignore the elephant in the livingroom: They usually don’t deploy those vehicles until the shooting stops, and when thousands of police forces in flyover country discover they don’t get terrorist attacks where they live, they start using them for noise abatement. Because it makes a statement.

    1. That, and, one you get a new toy, you want (need) to play with it. Just like with Tasers-officers couldn’t wait to deploy them, and found every single excuse to do so.

      But, an MRAP ain’t no taser. Those have to be maintained far more than a stun gun, and having one just sit around “looks bad”. Like money wasted…go figure.

      1. MRAPs make it easier to collect asset forfeitures. Problem solved!

        1. Yeah, bu.. Well, it’s just… I mean…..hmm

    2. They show up AFTER the carnage just in time for the camera’s.

  6. This is one of those rare times where a question in a headline can be answered with an emphatic “Yes”.

    1. They won the second the US invaded Afghanistan. Everything since then has been America dancing to their tune like a lice-ridden circus monkey.

      1. The way it worked out, yep.

        Had we stuck to the AUMF, killed those responsible for 911 and left it’d likely been different. I’d say they won the second we started shooting at the Taliban and began nation building.

        1. The minute you start building schools and improving irrigation in a country when you’re at war with that country… you know you’re screwed.

          1. Yeah more or less.

          2. ^This. Invading Afghanistan was necessary. Staying to rebuild was a mistake, and Obama’s surge was a monumental fuck-up on par with the invasion of Iraq.

            1. The surge could have been a good idea if it were coupled with a strategy to actually win and then leave, sort of like Iraq where the surge was coupled to a strategy of Sawas and small COIN bases. It wasn’t and it just an expensive dud.

              1. That’s like saying that [government program that is/has failed hard] would have worked if we just had the right people in charge.

                Look, I love me some military – was one for 20 years – but, in the end, its just another government agency with all the problems of any other government agency.

        2. “I’d say they won the second we started shooting at the Taliban”

          Yeah what did those poor innocent Taliban do to deserve such harsh treatment? Aside from sheltering AQ and starting the whole thing.

          1. Bad men certainly. Not the bad men we were looking for and not the bad men who attacked us. Put that policy certainly turned them in that direction.

            1. They sheltered the bad men who attacked America, which makes them just as much America’s enemy as AQ.

              1. They lived in the same geographical area and used each other to further their own agendas. Weak sauce.

          2. Cytotoxic|12.14.15 @ 6:47PM|#
            “Yeah what did those poor innocent Taliban do to deserve such harsh treatment?”

            Not bother us?
            Hey, tuf gai, grab a gun and go kill ALL the bad men! Then we’ll take your drivel for something other than bullshit.

            1. “Not bother us?”

              You forgot the part where they gave aid and shelter to AQ. Probably the dementia at work. That probably also explains your anger problems.

            2. Also, your use of ‘we’ indicates you are speaking for anyone other than your own demented ass. You aren’t.

      2. “They won the second the US invaded Afghanistan. ”

        No they didn’t. How absurd. The initial invasion worked out well enough. Everything after…

  7. I’ve seen officers in any sort of “tac” gear maybe once in my life. I barely see any police around my neighborhood, even though kids smoke dope in a park literally 5 minutes away from a school. The specter of police patrolling the neighborhood in mini tanks and drones is paranoid fantasy appropriate for a bad Hollywood film.

    None of the officers who wrongly took a civilian’s life recently were “militarized.” Kelly Thomas and was beaten to death. Tamir Rice was shot with handguns. This is some weird gun control logic going on here. If you give a crooked cop some handguns and dozens of bullets, that’s all he needs to erase 10 people. We wouldn’t be any safer because the guy didn’t wear military grade helmets and didn’t have surveillance drones in the air.

    No, I don’t want police militarized, because it wouldn’t make much of a difference either way. If cops were militarized and acted according to the law, there would be no problem. However, IF there was a terrorist incident in my neighborhood, I would certainly want well equipped police officers to go after the terrorists. Even France relied on elite special forces during the Paris attacks.

    Let’s keep this simple – if there’s a terrorist incident, I want militarized police on the streets. In target areas, the police should have certain resource available to them to be used in extraordinary circumstances.

    1. I’ve seen officers in any sort of “tac” gear maybe once in my life.

      Don’t live in a big city then?

      1. Fuck, I’ve seen ‘gang cops’ in tac gear here where I live. A town of less than 15,000 people kinda in the middle of nowhere.

    2. If cops were militarized and acted according to the law, there would be no problem.

      Except that the cops are only going to act according to the law when convenient, and then they will lie, lie, and lie some more when they do not (actually they lie even when they haven’t done anything illegal because force and fraud is their job description).

      Giving them military toys only increases the damage they do when they ignore the law, and nothing else will happen.

      1. Does it? Those toys seem pretty insignificant next to the power to kill people and get away with it.

      2. Its the same ‘if only the right people were in charge’ thinking.

    3. I have to agree that cops getting away with murder is a much bigger problem than cops with toys they don’t know what to do with.

  8. But a SWAT team’s heroic response to the San Bernardino shootings has helped bring “Special Weapons and Tactics” back in vogue

    So let me get this straight. When SWAT is used for its intended purpose things tend to go better than when SWAT is used for purposes for which it was not initially intended? I don’t know. I’m going to have to think about this a while before it starts to make sense.

    1. That’s actually a good point. I’m fine with SWAT teams… if they are only used in situations where they’re actually needed. Raiding a house to serve a drug trafficking-related warrant should not generally require a SWAT team.

      Every single local police agency does not need a SWAT team, which is the trend people have (rightly) complained about. Heck, some states probably could do with only one or two.

      1. You’ve got a bunch of guys trained in special tactics who are just itching to kill, and you’re only going to use them in situations where they’re actually needed? Come on! They want to kill! Set them loose on drug dealers and people with warrants! They’re not people! They’re bad guys! They deserve to die!

  9. “That’s because we have a militarized public in the country with military-assault rifles, armored vests, bullets that pierce armors. That’s one of the situations our police often go up against?this type of armament in the citizenry of our country.”

    Take it from somebody (at best) ambivalent about owning firearms:

    Maybe the public wants to be militarized because it sees government agents — supposedly part of civilian public safety agencies — tromping around in gear like their special forces on patrol in Kandahar, Afghanistan?

    1. Fuentes is a former FBI assistant director-turned-propagandist for CNN, an outfit that regularly touts “experts” with the morals of Nancy Grace. We do not have a militarized public, they aren’t strolling around in body armor toting military rifles with AP rounds, police don’t often run into this sort of situation. The guy’s just a stupid lying liar who wants you to be shitting your pants in fear in the hopes you’ll turn all your civil liberties over to him for safe-keeping. Disgusting and disgraceful.

      1. Fuentes is a pussy.

      2. If pressed he could point to exactly *two* of the sorts of situations he says cops need the military gear for.

        The North Hollywood shootout (1997) and the one where the guy got a *surplus armored POLICE vehicle* and attacked a Dallas police station (2015).…..index.html

        Imagine if we turned the rhetoric around and pointed out that if the police didn’t have armored vehicles, criminals couldn’t buy them legitimately at auction and turn around and use them against the police.

      3. One of the reasons why I am a “militarized civilian” is because the US government agreed to fully militarize me (yes, at my request but they went to great lengths to make it complete). The equipment which I subsequently acquired was at my expense and completely my decision but I would say that my ability to properly employ that equipment was fully implemented by the government and is the most significant element of my militarization.

  10. The specter of police patrolling the neighborhood in mini tanks and drones is paranoid fantasy appropriate for a bad Hollywood film.

    But the specter of cops using SWAT teams to serve routine search warrants, tossing flashbangs into babies cribs, and using armored vehicles in response to peaceful protests is a thing you see on the nightly news.

    1. Well, you see them here on Reason. You only see a small subset on the nightly news.

    2. Or on cable. COPS follows SWAT teams now as they terrorize the defenseless, and the public eats it up. I can’t watch those shows without feeling a strong urge to empty my revolver into the television.

  11. I don’t really care if officers use a tank or a golf cart. They should remain as visible as possible so they’re effective deterrents. Unmarked officers are just wolves in sheep’s clothing enticing people to break the rules.

    1. I remember Radley Balko showed us that at his ISFLC panel I attended.

  12. BTW, another thing no one seems to want to point out… we have these guys who drive around every town in America transporting cash from businesses to the bank. They do it in an armored vehicle. It has bulletproof glass and a hardened exterior. Been using them since what, the 60s? The 50s? If the cops need to “get close” to the scene of a shooting, it’s a perfectly good platform in which to do it. Police don’t require expensive-to-maintain MRAPS or tanks. They don’t. This idea that cops can’t function without the 1033 program is utter bullshit.

  13. Sure you pussy libertarians, you tell me one time, just one time, a SWAT team acted improperly.

    1. Probably. Sounds like the asshole.

      1. That’s the proper language but not the right voice.

        1. Not self-aggrandizing enough?

  14. Talk about pants-shitting.

  15. “Will San Bernardino Shootings Lead to More Militarized Police?”

    Doesn’t everything lead to more militarized police?

    When people say “We can’t just do nothing; we have to do something”, what they mean by “nothing” is not making the police more militarized and what they mean by doing “something” is more militarized police.

    Even when a city explodes in race riots because of militarized police, white progressives think the solution is both more black cops and more militarized police.

    “Well, there’s egg and spam; egg bacon and spam; egg bacon sausage and spam; spam bacon sausage and spam; spam egg spam spam bacon and spam; spam sausage spam spam bacon spam tomato and spam, …spam spam spam egg and spam; spam spam spam spam spam spam baked beans spam spam spam.

    Just insert [militarized police] for spam, and those are the options available to solve any of society’s problems.

    1. I think some of it is just that cops want to play with toys. Started out SWAT was only in very large cities and used very selectivity. Of course every cop then wanted to be in SWAT so they expand its size and scope exponentially to accommodate that.

    2. Cities don’t explode because of militarized cops they explode for a variety of reasons including abusive cops.

      1. Yes, if only we had the right cops spearheading the authoritarianism, everything would be perfect.

        Oh, and the right politicians with love and no racism in their hearts spearheading the authoritarianism, too.

        Then everything would be perfect.

        1. Stop that. You’ve substituted ‘militarized’ with ‘authoritarian’. Red flag, points to CT.

    3. No cheese?

  16. Pete Rose still banned…..-continue/

  17. I haven’t read it, but this
    new book may be of some interest to someone on your list:

    “Even non-fans and detractors have to admit that few artists live and die for rock music like Tom Petty. And only someone who’s been in a band, and striven to make great rock music could have written Petty’s story with such insight and familiarity. It’s a cautionary tale, but an inspiring one for those who thrive on music, whether making it or just listening. Zanes hands us a backstage pass to the inner workings of a big-time rock band ? communal creativity, ego, jealousy, betrayals, debauchery, comraderie ? of the rock and roll life. It’s at once thrilling, deflating, inspiring, and alarming. It reduces a rock god to very human proportions, but also fills one with awe at what the barefoot boy from rough-and-tumble north Florida has managed to create with talent, drive, and an undiminished belief in the power [of] rock and roll.”

    The only question is, which Tom Petty song suggests the proper attitude toward the Syrian refugees?

    This song


    This song?

    1. I’m a huge Petty fan. Had a buddy who saw him at some small local venue before anyone had ever heard of him and he said he knew then he was going to be huge.

  18. But a SWAT team’s heroic response to the San Bernardino shootings has helped bring “Special Weapons and Tactics” back in vogue, with some calls for President Obama to remove the limitations on the Pentagon’s 1033 program he imposed back in May.

    Let me see here, SWAT clowns were all pre-dressed playing soldier a couple blocks away when the Call came in…

    So they responded to a post-crime scene, picked up bodies, and had no idea where the murderers had gone off to – who themselves were only found out via phone tip hours after.

    If anything, this was a billboard ad-event that SWAT doesn’t get shit done with active-shooter situations unless shooter holes up in crime scene for a long time and doesn’t kill himself first. In other words, who needs this shit?

    1. A civilian invasion force that takes 45 minutes to an hour to deploy. Yeah, if active shooters are on the move, nearly useless.

    2. Their initial 6-minute response was actually better than usual, but still too late to prevent the shooters from escaping the first crime scene after shooting 31 people. They found them later thanks to the shooters’ escape plan being to head back to their house and hang around the neighborhood in the conspicuous vehicle they were seen fleeing in.

  19. Wow.

    I went back and looked at the Chapman article from this morning. He really got a well deserved ass ripping there in the comments, probably the worst I have seen.

    It troubles me that Reason published that drivel. I would prefer that a magazine give authors a great deal of discretion about what they write, but to keep that guy on would be pretty absurd. Someone might justifiably accuse them of being closet proggies.

    1. What a piece of crap that was. Just went over it. Cruz is being disingenuous and politically reckless-this will hurt him if he gets the nomination. But that article is so bad the only thing it’s missing is the 97% “study”.

      My favorite part is that Chapman does not understand that you can have a pause in an increase AND have a bunch of ‘warmest ever’ years. He seriously tried to fisk the former with the latter. Twat. He also tried to waive away the satellite data with the recent surface temp data set. That set is highly controversial and new. There is some evidence in its favor but all the other data sets are saying ‘paused’. There’s also that shitty paper from Karl with its p-value testing at 0.1. That alone is breath-taking. The climate field people let the mask drop there.

      I am careful of other comments in that section, especially considering some of the other BS I’ve seen peddled here (Ebola is gonna get us! French No Go Zones!) but Chapman was/is way out of his element, unless that element is vindicating my decision not to donate to Reason.

  20. Of course it will. those stupid idiot cops are jsut looking for reasons like that.

  21. RE: The Alt-text

    A: Your “Rescue Tank” is actually a “Rescue APC”

    B: I would love to own a “Rescue Tank” (or even a “Rescue APC”), but I can’t afford the maintenence.

  22. The real issue isn’t the police having “military” equipment, but rather the difference between what gear the police are granted and what ordinary private persons can get without legal hassle. It’s not a problem for the police to have full-auto assault rifles and armored vests – as long as John and Jane Doe can buy these things too. But it IS a problem for the police to have something as basic as handcuffs, when there’s a law against John and Jane Doe possessing them (as is the case in New York city).

    I don’t object to “military” gear; I object to “forbidden to civilians” gear, with cops getting a special FYTW exemption.

    1. Can you cite the law/ordinance restricting handcuffs in NYC?

      It’s not that I don’t believe you, I just want to see it.

      1. Sorry to be late but I didn’t notice your reply until now.

        New York City Administrative Code – Possession Of Handcuffs, Thumb-cuffs Or Leg Irons By Unauthorized Persons Prohibited. (Section 10-147)…..0-147.html


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