C.J. Box, at Ricochet, has some unkind words about the recent behavior and long-term militarization of the National Park Service. Maybe we should be thinking about privatizing those parks. The Walt Disney Company wouldn’t let itself be used as a tool for politics and doesn’t stockpile assault rifles to be used on its customers.
The National Park Service was established in 1916 with a bill that mandated the agency “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” The Roosevelt Arch at the northern entrance to Yellowstone Park is inscribed as follows: “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People.”
No one at that time could imagine a scenario in the future where employees of that agency—on behalf of the federal government—would be engaged in acts of strong-armed intimidation of innocent visitors enjoying parks and monuments the public owns and pays for.
If you’ve been following the news since the faux government shutdown, you’ll know I’m not exaggerating. In addition to locking up open-air monuments like the World War II Memorial and threatening to arrest 80-year-old veterans, the NPS has spent extra staff time and money (during the aforementioned “shutdown”) putting up fences and barricades on public roadways in attempts to deny Americans the pleasure of even viewing national treasures like Mt. Rushmore, the Grand Tetons, and the Grand Canyon—from the road.
One of the worst example of NPS thuggishness occurred in my neck of the woods, Yellowstone Park, where rangers ordered seniors and foreign visitors back on their tour bus and accused them of “recreating.” Not only that, the busload of guests were ordered to not venture outside of the Old Faithful Inn, lest they see the famous geyser erupt. Armed NPS rangers stood outside the doors to make sure it couldn’t happen. Some of the foreign guests thought they were under arrest, and some seniors said they’d witnessed “Gestapo tactics.”
There’s long been a sickness in the National Park Service. I once heard a ranger explain to a fellow bureaucrat in Yellowstone that the NPS could really run the place well “if there weren’t all these damned people in it.” Another time, while interviewing park law enforcement for research for a novel, I was told by the highest-ranking park cop that he thought of his rangers as a “small army” that “could hold their own.” This, while showing off his massive armory of automatic weapons, combat shotguns, and tactical SWAT gear.
How did the NPS go from an agency charged with managing our national parks “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People”—to a para-military force that would do this?
Elderly Americans? small children? mothers with their kids? pregnant women???
A company supplying targets for law enforcement training, selling to all sorts of federal agencies, is now offering a special”No Hesitation” line of targets featuring the kind of targets that, historically, only SS Einsatzgruppen were trained to kill.
This is the sort of story that sends me normally directly to Snopes, but it is for real. The link to the target company web-site is right below in the first sentence of the quotation.
Law Enforcement Targets, Inc. is a 21-year designer and full service provider of training targets for the DHS, the Justice Department and thousands of law enforcement agencies throughout the country.
The company’s website offers a line of “No More Hesitation” targets ”designed to give officers the experience of dealing with deadly force shooting scenarios with subjects that are not the norm during training.” The targets are, “meant to help the transition for officers who are faced with these highly unusual targets for the first time.”
The targets include “pregnant woman threat,” “older man with shotgun,” “older man in home with shotgun,” “older woman with gun,” “young school aged girl,” “young mother on playground,” and “little boy with real gun.”
Why are top training target suppliers for the government supplying the likes of the DHS with “non-traditional threat” targets of children, pregnant women, mothers in playgrounds, and elderly American gun owners unless there is a demand for such items?
This is particularly alarming given the fact that the Department of Homeland Security has purchased roughly 2 billion rounds of ammunition over the course of the last year, enough to wage a near 30 year war.
In comparison, during the height of active battle operations in Iraq, US soldiers used 5.5 million rounds of ammunition a month.
The DHS also purchased no less than 7,000 fully automatic assault rifles last September, labeling them “Personal Defense Weapons.”
The fact that targets of armed pregnant women, children, mothers in playgrounds, and American gun owners in general are being represented as “non traditional threats” “for the first time” is deeply concerning given the admitted preparations for civil unrest undertaken by Homeland Security as well as other federal agencies.
Is setting buildings afire in order to force a suspect to come out or be burned alive an appropriate police tactic? I come from a family which produced large numbers of police officers over several generations. I’m not a bleeding heart or soft on crime either. But I’m pretty skeptical of the practice of equipping police with incendiary tear gas grenades, making it possible for them to intentionally torch buildings and then (like Sheriff McMahon) feign no responsibility by blaming the tear gas for “accidentally” igniting a fire.
Those California police would obviously have been perfectly entitled to shoot Dorner dead to reduce him to possession when he continued to resist, but I think it is (a) cowardly and (b) dubiously legal for them to destroy private property and use arson in order to avoid waiting and exchanging more gunfire with a criminal.
——————————————— CBS News:
San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon… told reporters that the fire in the cabin where Christopher Dorner presumably died was not intentionally set by authorities. He said tear gas canisters fired into the cabin apparently set the blaze.
An alleged recording of police scanner audio transmissions strongly contradicts McMahon’s statement.
John W. Whitehead discusses the militarization and American police work and the proliferation of SWAT teams (under enthusiastic federal encouragement), their nationwide systematic overuse, and the dangers and abuses resulting for Americans.
Nationwide, SWAT teams have been employed to address an astonishingly trivial array of criminal activity or mere community nuisances: angry dogs, domestic disputes, improper paperwork filed by an orchid farmer, and misdemeanor marijuana possession, to give a brief sampling. In some instances, SWAT teams are even employed, in full armament, to perform routine patrols.
How did we allow ourselves to travel so far down the road to a police state? While we are now grappling with a power-hungry police state at the federal level, the militarization of domestic American law enforcement is largely the result of the militarization of local police forces, which are increasingly militaristic in their uniforms, weaponry, language, training, and tactics and have come to rely on SWAT teams in matters that once could have been satisfactorily performed by traditional civilian officers. Even so, this transformation of law enforcement at the local level could not have been possible without substantial assistance from on high.
Frequently justified as vital tools necessary to combat terrorism and deal with rare but extremely dangerous criminal situations, such as those involving hostages, SWAT teams—which first appeared on the scene in California in the 1960s—have now become intrinsic parts of local law enforcement operations, thanks in large part to substantial federal assistance. For example, in 1994, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Defense agreed to a memorandum of understanding that enabled the transfer of federal military technology to local police forces. Following the passage of the Defense Authorization Security Act of 1997, which was intended to accelerate the transfer of military equipment to domestic law enforcement departments, local police acquired military weaponry—gratuitously or at sharp discounts—at astonishing rates. Between 1997 and 1999, the agency created by the Defense Authorization Security Act conveyed 3.4 million orders of military equipment to over 11,000 local police agencies in all 50 states. Not only did this vast abundance of military weaponry contribute to a more militarized police force, but it also helped spur the creation of SWAT teams in jurisdictions across the country.
In one of the few quantitative studies on the subject, criminologist Peter Kraska found in 1997 that close to 90 percent of cities with populations exceeding 50,000 and at least 100 sworn officers had at least one paramilitary unit. In a separate study, Kraska determined that, as of 1996, 65 percent of towns with populations between 25,000 and 50,000 had a paramilitary unit, with an additional 8 percent intending to establish one.
While the frequency of SWAT operations has increased dramatically in recent years, jumping from 1,000 to 40,000 raids per year by 2001, it appears to have less to do with increases in violent crime and more to do with law enforcement bureaucracy and a police state mentality. Indeed, according to Kraska’s estimates, 75-80 percent of SWAT callouts are now for mere warrant service. In some jurisdictions, SWAT teams are responsible for servicing 100 percent of all drug warrants issued. A Maryland study, conducted in the wake of a botched raid in 2008 that resulted in the mistaken detainment of Berwyn Heights mayor Cheye Calvo and the shooting deaths of his two dogs, corroborates Kraska’s findings. According to the study, SWAT teams are deployed 4.5 times per day in Maryland with 94 percent of those deployments being for something as minor as serving search or arrest warrants. In the county in which the Calvo raid occurred, more than 50 percent of SWAT operations carried out were for misdemeanors or non-serious felonies.
This overuse of paramilitary forces and increased reliance on military weaponry has inevitably resulted in a pervasive culture of militarism in domestic law enforcement. Police mimicry of the military is enhanced by the war-heavy imagery and metaphors associated with law enforcement activity: the war on drugs, the war on crime, etc. Moreover, it is estimated that 46 percent of paramilitary units were trained by “active-duty military experts in special operations.” In turn, the military mindset adopted by many SWAT members encourages a tendency to employ lethal force. After all, soldiers are authorized to terminate enemy combatants. As Lawrence Korb, a former official in the Reagan Administration, put it, soldiers are “trained to vaporize, not Mirandize.”
Ironically, despite the fact that SWAT team members are subject to greater legal restraints than their counterparts in the military, they are often less well-trained in the use of force than are the special ops soldiers on which they model themselves. Indeed, SWAT teams frequently fail to conform to the basic precautions required in military raids. For instance, after reading about a drug raid in Missouri, an army officer currently serving in Afghanistan commented:
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.
Remember, SWAT teams originated as specialized units dedicated to defusing extremely sensitive, dangerous situations. As the role of paramilitary forces has expanded, however, to include involvement in nondescript police work targeting nonviolent suspects, the mere presence of SWAT units has actually injected a level of danger and violence into police-citizen interactions that was not present as long as these interactions were handled by traditional civilian officers.
Hat tip to James Coulter Harberson III.
Just last Fall, our generous Department of Homeland Security provided a grant to equip the sheriff’s department at nearby, largely rural (2009 population: 36,472) Warren County in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with its own $278,000 8-ton armored personnel carrier, able to protect deputies against .50 caliber machine gun fire, and armed with technology designed to detect chemical, biological, radioactive and explosive material.
When’s the last time you suppose Warren County sheriff’s deputies encountered IEDs, .50 caliber machine gun fire, or poison gas?
The acquisition of the armored vehicle was justified by Lt. Kahle Magalis, head of the Warren County Special Operations team, on the basis of an exchange of gunfire in 2005 by deputies with a bipolar gentleman who went off his meds and began firing a shotgun into some neighboring trailers. The future resident of the funny farm was wounded in the foot and one deputy slightly grazed on the left side of the face by ricocheting birdshot.
According to Magalis, “It hasn’t been that long. It seems like we’re responding to barricaded armed subjects on a more regular basis now than we ever have.” No encounters with barricaded armed subjects in Warren County since that 2005 incident seem to have resulted in shootouts though.
Prince George County, Maryland police violated a warrant they were serving for the questionable arrest of the wife of the mayor of Berwyn Heights by staging a SWAT team raid and carrying out an utterly unnecessary forced entry. Two friendly Labrador retrievers were shot dead, and two respectable people were manhandled and manacled for hours.
The training and culture of law enforcement has gone outrageously astray in this country.
Remember the federal officers who came to collect Elian Gonzalez equipped with machine guns, wearing tanker helmets and loaded down with paramilitary gear?
Preposterously excessive force, a systematic kind of cringing cowardice expressed by the mentality that sends paramilitary SWAT teams armed with automatic weapons to kick in doors and make arrests of people who’d come down to the police department if contacted by telephone, the overly-prudential point of view that insists on strip searches and manacles for non-violent middle-class members of the public has become typical of today’s police.
It’s been going on for decades. I can remember marveling in Brookfield, Connecticut, years ago, stopping one evening at a fast food joint and seeing a local cop on his dinner break toting around one of those 9mm Beretta semiautomatics and five, count them, five! extra 15-round magazines on his belt. Has anyone ever actually fired upon a police officer in the 200+ year history of Brookfield? I wondered at the time. And was there currently reason to expect a Zulu impi to come over the hill and attack? Why would a local cop possibly need to be carrying 90 rounds of ammunition? That many cartridges are heavy.
I decided back in the early 1990s to get a Connecticut pistol permit. The process required me to stop by the local Newtown police station to pick up a form. Imagine my surprise, when I found the police barricaded away, inaccessible to the dangerous public of upper middle-class suburban Fairfield County, behind locked doors. One communicated with a secretary in a booth protected by bulletproof glass, passing papers back and forth in one of those sliding bank trays. Obviously, Newtown’s police officers led a life of constant fear.
I grew up in a family with many members who were working or had worked in law enforcement. The kind of men who became policemen in the old days were not afraid of criminals. They knew that they were tough and they knew just how uncommon men like themselves were. They knew most criminals are cowardly scum, and incompetent screw-ups to boot. The human being who will initiate violence is rare, and the human being who will initiate violence against a man in authority recognizably skilled at violence is even rarer.
The kind of men who used to become police officers were adequately armed with a .38 revolver or even just a nightstick. My father, working as a Marine Corps MP, and armed only with a nightstick, placed a dozen men under arrest and marched them off to the brig. He told them he knew perfectly well there were enough to them to overcome him, but he promised that he’d kill the first one or two who tried. They submitted to arrest.
The Texas Rangers used to boast of a necessary ratio of “one riot, one Ranger.” And the Pennsylvania State Police long had the same policy of sending a single State Trooper to suppress a civil disturbance or quell a mob.
Today, they send jack-booted Storm Troopers armed with machine guns to bring in 8 year olds.
Contemporary law enforcement culture is a disgrace and a genuine public hazard and it needs to change. They should dissolve every single SWAT team, get rid of every single item of paramilitary equipage, and—of course—end drug prohibition and the accompanying crime epidemic providing most of the excuse for the militarization of US law enforcement.