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Militarization of Police

All articles with the "Militarization of Police" tag.

Published: Sun, 23 Apr 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Sun, 23 Apr 2017 05:54:43 -0400


Officials Continue to Dodge Attempts to Disclose Use of Stingrays

Thu, 16 Feb 2017 11:45:00 -0500

When three men were arrested for robbing a drug dealer in Tallahassee, Florida, in 2013, prosecutors seemed to have a slam dunk case. As The Washington Post reported, Tadrae McKenzie and his friends used BB guns to rob a drug dealer, taking $130 worth of marijuana and his cellphone. A few days later the local police tracked them down and charged them with possession as well as armed robbery with a deadly weapon. During the trial, the defense raised questions about how the police were able to locate the suspects so quickly, but the police and prosecution refused to answer. The judge ordered them to disclose the information, but instead of complying, the prosecution offered the defendants a plea bargain. McKenzie and his friends could have spent anywhere from three to 30 years in jail for their crime. Instead, the three men received probation with no jail time. As Cato Institute policy analyst Adam Bates pointed out during a panel discussion yesterday, the reason for the discrepancy was that the police and prosecution were unwilling to admit they had used a surveillance tool called a "Stingray" to find the criminals. Stingrays mimic the signal of a cellular tower and lure nearby mobile phones to connect to their fake network. Through this connection, law enforcement can track the cellphone's location and even download its content. The device allowed cops in Tallahassee to locate the three robbers with ease by tracking the drug dealer's stolen phone—but when faced with the necessity of acknowledging the technology's existence and explaining in court how it was used, the government's lawyers opted to drop the case rather than speak candidly. "Through the use of nondisclosure agreements, a refusal to honor freedom of information requests, and deceit toward courts and the public, the full capabilities of these devices, the extent of their use by law enforcement, and the existence of policies to govern their use remain secret," Bates writes in a report on law enforcement use of Stingrays. The report explains that nondisclosure agreements between local law enforcement and the FBI and Harris Corp. (the manufacturer of the devices) keep the public in the dark about these cellular surveillance devices: "The government plainly views sacrificing individual prosecutions, even for serious crimes, as an acceptable price for concealing the nature of stingray surveillance," Bates argues. "The FBI's nondisclosure agreement is clear: in exchange for permission to use stingray devices, state and local officials must surrender prosecutorial discretion to the federal government." Advocates such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have tried to increase transparency about the government's use of Stingrays, with varying degrees of success. In 2014, the Florida chapter of the ACLU filed a freedom of information request and was granted access to documents about the Sarasota Police Department's use of the devices. Before the department could hand over the information, the U.S. Marshals intervened, raiding the department and seizing the requested documents. The ACLU has been able to gather some data, though. It found that at least 23 states and the District of Columbia have law enforcement deploying Stingrays. A House Oversight Committee report, published in December, found that in from fiscal year 2010 to fiscal year 2014, the Department of Justice (DOJ) spent more than $71 million to acquire and use cell-site simulators, and has 310 devices agency-wide. In the same span, the Department of Homeland Security spent more than $24 million for 124 devices for that agency. Since January 2006, the Treasury Department has spent more than $1.3 million and possess three devices. The lack of transparency and accountability has led to much concern about civil liberties violations. U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R–Utah) is planning to introduce two bills to demand more congressional oversight of how the federal government use Stingrays. Reason reporter Eric Boehm provides a more in-depth look at the proposed legislation here.[...]

Terrorism and Liberty in the Trump Era

Fri, 03 Feb 2017 13:30:00 -0500

After the atrocities of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush's approval rating soared from 50 to 90 percent. A month after the attacks, nearly 60 percent of Americans said they trusted the government in Washington to do what is right almost always or most of the time; that was the highest it had been in 40 years. In the weeks after 9/11, more than 50 percent were very to somewhat worried that they or a family member would be a victim in a terrorist attack. Keying off of these fears, various commentators stepped forward to sagely intone that the "Constitution is not a suicide pact." (I prefer "Give me liberty or give me death.") Evidently averse to potentially committing suicide, 74 percent of the country agreed that "Americans will have to give up some of their personal freedoms in order to make the country safe from terrorist attacks." In 2002, an ABC News/Washington Post poll reported that 79 percent of Americans agreed that it was "more important right now for the federal government to investigate terrorist threats even if that intrudes on personal privacy." Support for intrusive investigations purportedly aimed at preventing terrorist attacks fell to only 57 percent in 2013, shortly after Edward Snowden's revelations of extensive domestic spying by the National Security Agency (NSA). In the most recent poll, it has ticked back up to 72 percent. Instead of urging Americans to exercise bravery and defend their liberty, our political leaders fanned fears and argued that we must surrender freedoms. The consequences included the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the proliferation of metal detectors at the entrances of public buildings, the requirement to show government-issued IDs at more and more public venues, the increased militarization of our police forces, and tightened travel restrictions to neighboring countries where passports were once not required. In October 2001, the House of Representatives passed the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act just 15 minutes after its 315 pages of text were made available to members. This law eviscerated the Fourth Amendment's privacy protections, and a massive secret domestic spying operation run by the NSA was set up. (Years later, numerous reports by outside and government analysts found that surrendering our civil liberties had been useless, since NSA domestic spying had had "no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism.") The Central Intelligence Agency was authorized to torture suspected terrorists; that too proved not just illiberal but ineffective. According to a recent Brown University study, the Global War on Terror (*) has cost $3.2 trillion, in addition to leaving nearly 7,000 American military personnel dead and scores of thousands wounded. How would President Donald Trump react to a significant terrorist attack, especially one motivated by radical jihadist beliefs? In a rally-around-the-flag reaction, his approval rating could surge. It is theoretically possible that such a crisis would reveal Trump as a fierce defender of American liberties, but the signs all point in a more authoritarian direction. In a 2015 speech at the U.S.S. Yorktown, Trump argued for "closing that internet in some way" to prevent ISIS from recruiting people. "Somebody will say, 'Oh freedom of speech, freedom of speech,'" he said. "These are foolish people. We have a lot of foolish people." When Apple refused the FBI's demand that it provide a backdoor to San Bernardino terrorist Syed Farook's iPhone, Trump asked, "Who do they [Apple] think they are? No, we have to open it up." He urged Americans to boycott Apple until it complied with the FBI's demand to decrypt the phone. More generally speaking, Trump has said that he tends "to err on the side of security" and that he thinks the NSA should collect Americans' phone records. He added, "I assume when I pick up my telephone, people are listening to my conversations anyway, if you want to know the[...]

Trump, Terrorism, and Freedom: New at Reason

Fri, 03 Feb 2017 13:30:00 -0500

(image) A month after the September 11, 2001 atrocities, nearly 60 percent of Americans said they trusted the government in Washington to do what is right almost always or most of the time; that was the highest it had been in 40 years. More than 50 percent were very to somewhat worried that they or a family member would be a victim in a terrorist attack. Keying off of these fears, various commentators stepped forward to sagely intone that the "Constitution is not a suicide pact." (I prefer "Give me liberty or give me death.")

Instead of urging Americans to exercise bravery and defend their liberty, our political leaders fanned fears and argued that we must surrender freedoms. The consequences included the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the proliferation of metal detectors at the entrances of public buildings, the requirement to show government-issued IDs at more and more public venues, the increased militarization of our police forces, tightened travel restrictions to neighboring countries where passports were once not required, and the establishment of a vast program of domestic spying.

How would President Donald Trump react to a significant terrorist attack, especially one motivated by radical jihadist beliefs? It is possible that such a crisis would reveal President Trump as a fierce defender of American constitutional liberties, but the signs all point in a more authoritarian direction.

Pre-Dawn No-Knock SWAT Raid for Minor Drug Charge Ruled Unconstitutional

Tue, 11 Oct 2016 11:11:00 -0400

A Hennepin County (Minn.) drug squad — known as the Emergency Services Unit (ESU) — conducted a pre-dawn no-knock raid on a house in North Minneapolis one morning in November 2015. They were looking for Walter Power, who they suspected of being a marijuana dealer. To search the home they believed Power to be sleeping in, they brought a force of between 28-32 officers, most clad in riot gear and carrying rifles, accompanied by a sniper seated atop a Ballistic Engineered Armored Response (BEAR) vehicle. Why did law enforcement officials feel they needed to display a show of overwhelming force that would be intense even in a foreign occupied city? Because the primary resident of the house, Michael Delgado, was a registered gun-owner with a license to carry. Convinced of the potential danger posed to officers when raiding a house with an armed occupant, Hennepin County District Judge Tanya Bransford signed off on the no-knock raid, but later told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that she did not know a platoon of up to 32 officers would be deployed to search the house, or that they'd throw flash bang grenades through the windows in addition to knocking down doors. The raid resulted in the arrest of Power — the suspected marijuana dealer — for "fifth-degree drug possession," the lowest possible drug charges on the books. Even this modest charge would be dropped after Judge Bransford declared the raid unconstitutional in a ruling last summer, arguing that Delgado and Power had been subject to unreasonable search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Bransford wrote in her ruling "that the types of militarized actions used in this case seem to be a matter of customary business practice," which she found troubling. Like most of the U.S., Hennepin County has increasingly relied on SWAT teams to serve warrants. According to the Star-Tribune, its ESU deployed 71 times last year, which is more than double its annual usage from a decade prior. A 2014 study by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that on a national basis, SWAT teams were only used "for hostage, barricade, or active shooter scenarios" in seven percent of all deployments, while 62 percent of SWAT raids were to search for drugs. The executive director of the Minnesota Sheriff's Association, Jim Franklin, was quoted by the Star-Tribune as saying of Bransford's ruling, "My question to her is: Are you going to attend the dead cop's funeral?" Franklin's argument is essentially that without the use of such violent and destructive tactics, officers' lives would be at risk. But no-knock raids can and do result in the deaths of officers, because few things will make even reasonable people turn violent like a sudden and shocking attack on their home. In 2006, former Reasoner Radley Balko wrote about the case of Cory Maye, a Mississippi man who ended up on death row after shooting an officer entering his home during a no-knock raid. Maye would be released from prison on 2011, following a plea agreement to charges of manslaughter. Watch the Reason TV doc on Maye's case below. src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">[...]

81-Year-Old Woman's Single Marijuana Plant Seized in Raid by National Guard and State Police

Thu, 06 Oct 2016 15:40:00 -0400

(image) The full legalization of recreational use of marijuana in Massachusetts could very well become a reality—if current polling holds up—when voters go to the polls next month. Medical marijuana is already legal in the Bay State, provided you've got one of those officially sanctioned cards from the state government.

But for the time being, personal cultivation of even a single marijuana plant without state permission is illegal, and Massachusetts state law enforcement put on a display of force last week to make sure nobody, not even an 81-year-old woman with glaucoma and arthritis, forgets it.

According to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, on September 21, octogenarian grandma Margaret Holcomb found herself the subject of a joint raid by the National Guard and Massachusetts State Police. It started when her son Tim saw "a military-style helicopter circling the property, with two men crouching in an open door and holding a device that he suspects was a thermal imager to detect marijuana plants." A few minutes later, a number of law enforcement vehicles arrived and a state trooper demanded the "illegal contraband," warning that no charges would be filed if they gave up Ms. Holcomb's single marijuana plant peacefully and without demanding a search warrant.

Holcomb does not have a medical marijuana card, and told the Gazette if she is unable to procure one, she'll likely grow another plant.

The raid was one of at least six that took place on September 21, all without the knowledge or cooperation of local police authorities.

Attorney Michael Cutler, who works with clients who need legal counsel regarding medical marijuana, suspects the raids are partially motivated by authorities wanting to experience a few more moments of "action" in a specific theatre of the war on drugs that may soon be coming to a close. From the Gazette:

Cutler said it's likely that authorities are using budgeted funds, prior to the end of the federal fiscal year Saturday, to gas up helicopters and do flyovers.

"We're seeing the last throes of police hostility to the changing laws," Cutler said. "They're taking the position that if it's in plain view, it's somehow illegal."

Trump Wants Police to Keep Getting Military Equipment From the Pentagon

Tue, 23 Aug 2016 13:30:00 -0400

Donald Trump says he would restart a controversial federal program that transfers surplus military equipment to local police departments, The Guardian reported Monday night: During discussions at a fraternal order of police lodge in Akron, Trump was asked by one questioner if he would return "military equipment" to law enforcement, according to a pool reporter who observed the event. "Yes, I would," said Trump, who added that the current situation facing law enforcement was "ridiculous." President Obama issued an executive order last May banning the transfer of several categories of military surplus equipment, such as bayonets, grenade launchers, heavy machine guns, and tanks, from the Pentagon to local police departments under the federal government's 1033 program. The Obama administration came under a hail of criticism from Black Lives Matter and civil rights groups who said the 1033 program contributed heavily to the militarization of police on display during the protests in Ferguson, Missouri. In a Fraternal Order of Police presidential candidate survey released last month, Trump also pledged to rescind the executive order, calling it an "excellent program that enhances community safety." Trump has in recent months worked to frame himself as the "law and order" candidate, bashing the Obama administration's commutation efforts for putting "bad dudes" back on the street. "There is no compassion in tolerating lawless conduct," Trump said in a speech last Tuesday. "Crime and violence is an attack on the poor, and will never be accepted in a Trump Administration." However, the White House is also now re-reviewing the 1033 program after meeting with law enforcement leaders in the wake of the fatal shootings of five police officers in Dallas. Law enforcement groups have been pressing the administration to revive the program, saying local police departments are now unable to afford vital equipment. Jim Pasco, the executive director of the FOP, said he was "pleased" to hear Trump's comments. "We think the 1033 program is extraordinarily important to public safety and officer safety," Pasco said. The Fraternal Order of Police state chapters will hold elections on September 16 to decide whether to endorse Trump, Clinton, or neither candidate in the upcoming presidential election. As my colleague Anthony Fisher wrote, the 1033 program has transferred $2.2 billion worth of military equipment to local and state police since 2006, including: 7,091 trucks ($400.9 million); 625 mine-resistant vehicles (421.1 million); 471 helicopters ($158.3 million); 56 airplanes ($271.5 million); and 329 armored trucks and cars ($21.3 million) 83,122 M16/M14 rifles (5.56mm and 7.62mm) ($31.2 million); 8,198 pistols (.38 and .45 caliber) ($491,769); and 1,385 riot 12-gauge shotguns ($137,265) 18,299 night-vision sights, sniper scopes, binoculars, goggles, infrared and image magnifiers ($98.5 million); 5,518 infrared, articulated, panoramic and laser telescopes ($5.5 million) 866 mine detecting sets, marking kits, and probes ($3.3 million); 57 grenade launchers ($41,040) 5,638 bayonets ($307,769) and 36 swords and scabbards. Pasco said he met with White House officials again Monday to discuss the issue and said "the president is committed to reviewing the program." You can read more Reason coverage on the DoD's 1033 Program here. Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that President Obama's executive order halted the entire 1033 program. In fact, it only banned the transfer of some categories of surplus military equpment.[...]

Six Weeks Later, L.A. Sheriff's Department Admits They Killed an Innocent Man in Nighttime SWAT Raid

Wed, 10 Aug 2016 17:15:00 -0400

After six weeks of insisting the man killed in a pre-dawn raid was a suspect in a carjacking, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department this week reversed course and admitted they gunned down an innocent man. On July 28, the department was using armored vehicles and a SWAT team armed with assault weapons to search a neighborhood in Compton, Calif., for a man who had stolen a car and exchanged gunfire with police officers before going on the run. They found and arrested the suspect, but then received a 911 call from a resident of the neighborhood who reported seeing an unknown man lying in his front yard. The department responded in force. When the unknown man didn't respond to verbal commands, deputies set off flash bang grenades and fired rubber bullets at him. When he rose from the ground and allegedly ran towards the deputies, a deputy sitting in the turret of one of the heavily armored cars fired, killing Donnell Thompson. Thompson, a 27-year old black man, suffered from mental disabilities. He had nothing to do with the carjacking. He wasn't armed and had not committed a crime. Even so, the Sheriff's Department spent weeks saying they had reason to believe Thompson was a second suspect in the carjacking incident. After an internal investigation and facing pressure from Thompson's family, the department admitted their mistake this week. A statement issued by the Sheriff's Department on Tuesday said there was "no evidence that Mr. Thompson was in the carjacked vehicle, nor that he was involved in the assault on the deputies." At a press conference, Capt. Steve Katz called the incident a "terribly devastating event." According to the Los Angeles Times, the department conducted an internal review of the shooting after Thompson's family protested the shooting at a Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting. His family described him as a "harmless man who had never been in legal trouble," and wanted charges filed against the officer who pulled the trigger, the paper reported. "I wouldn't treat an animal this bad," his sister Matrice Stanley told the board, according to the AP. "How is this justifiable?" Brian Dunn, an attorney representing the Thompson family, told the Huffington Post that the Sheriff's Department's response to the incident was inappropriate. "In a civilian neighborhood, they bring an urban assault vehicle," Dunn said. "The BearCat, it's like a tank. Their response to this situation was so aggressive. Their tactics were so aggressive." The department says an investigation into the shooting is still ongoing and the officer who killed Thompson—who has not been identified publically—has been reassigned to non-field duty. Thompson is not the first person to be killed by a misinformed SWAT team or overly aggressive police tactics. Sadly, but without a doubt, he also won't be the last.[...]

San Diego Police Used Stingray to Solve Common Crimes, Failed to Mention Use to Judges

Wed, 03 Aug 2016 11:18:00 -0400

An investigation by The San Diego Union-Tribune reveals that the city's police department used a StingRay device on at least 30 occasions since 2011 to collect suspects' cellphone information. Often, it was used to investigate common crimes without a warrant specifically pointing out its use. StingRays—a brand of International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) catchers—are devices that trick cellphones into connecting to them by simulating a cellphone tower. After connecting, a cellphone will transmit data to the StingRay, including information regarding calls, text messages, and the phone's location. San Diego police have said they only use the instrument to collect intelligence regarding location. These devices were marketed by the federal government as tools needed to track terrorism suspects. But privacy advocates have criticized their use, as they gather data not only from suspects but also from anyone else who happens to be nearby. In addition, police have often used them without a warrant and to deal with street crimes such as burglaries and assaults that have nothing to do with terrorism. It's difficult to know exactly how the device in San Diego was used thanks to a non-disclosure agreement between the police department, the FBI, and StingRay manufacturer the Harris Corporation. Documents collected by the Union-Tribune include pages that are "a solid block of black from the top of the page to the bottom." We do know, however, that police used the equipment in their everyday work—and that it met with mixed success. As the newspaper's Greg Moran wrote: In January San Diego police used it to try to locate a man who was a suspect in a series of vehicle burglaries. He was also wanted for robbery, burglary and making a criminal threat. Police had been able to get a rough location of the phone using GPS data [from] a different and less powerful surveillance method, but said the Stingray was needed to "narrow the search in order to locate the suspect." They found the phone at the home of a girlfriend of the suspect, then used the Stingray to follow the woman to see if she would lead them to the suspect, but he was not found, the records say. It's unclear if an arrest was ever made. Search warrants for the case remain sealed. Lawsuits brought by civil liberties groups reveal that when San Diego police sought warrants in many of these cases, they failed to mention the StingRay would be used to collect data, Moran reported. Court documents instead show they asked to use different devices that are not as powerful. The Los Angeles Police Department was caught doing something similar in 2013. There has been some progress toward controlling the use of IMSI catchers across the country. California now has laws requiring law enforcement to get a court order before using the gadgets. In March, Maryland's Court of Special Appeals ruled that police units could not track someone's phone without a warrant. Additionally, a federal judge in July withheld evidence in a case because federal agents failed to get a warrant prior to tracking a suspect's location, which led them to discover said evidence. And Kelly Aviles of the First Amendment Coalition told the Union-Tribune that since judges have become more aware of how the StingRay is used, they can start asking tougher questions.[...]

Pine Bluff Cops Killed 107-Year-Old Man And Got Medals For Doing It, Now Won't Give Them Back

Thu, 28 Jul 2016 13:30:00 -0400

Police officers in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, are lawyering up after the city council voted to rescind medals of valor handed out to the SWAT team in 2013. What did the SWAT team do to earn those valorous medals? They stormed into the home of 107-year old Monroe Isadore, shot him to death—and then successfully dodged a state investigation of the incident. Nearly three years after the incident, the city council voted unanimously this month to revoke the medals. As of Monday, however, the police force has yet to return the medals and is seeking legal counsel to challenge the city's decision, according to local TV station KATV. "I don't understand the rationale, I don't understand why anyone would want a medal, who can you show it to? Oh, I have a medal of valor, well were you in the war? No, I killed a 107-year-old know...who would want that?" Councilwoman Thelma Walker told KATV, the local ABC affiliate. Walker sponsored the resolution, which said conferring medals and awards "in the aftermath of such a sensitive and emotionally charged event is unconscionable and reprehensible and should not be sanctioned by the City of Pine Bluff." Awarding those medals seems to have been done in secret. Isadore's children were unaware the medals even existed until the city council voted to rescind them, and the city won't say how many were actually given or who made the decision to award them, according to KATV. Asked about the city's decision to revoke the medals, Pine Bluff Police Chief Jeff Hubanks told the Pine Bluff Commercial the department was "going to talk to an attorney" and declined further comment. It's unclear whether the city has the legal authority to strip the medals. City Attorney Althea Hadden-Scott told the Commercial that the council resolution is not binding and lacks enforcement authority. Isadore was killed on September 8, 2013. Police responded to a call and found him in his bedroom with a gun—his family later said he was upset about being moved to an assisted living community. After safely evacuating two other people from the house, the cops used negotiation tactics and smoke bombs in an unsuccessful attempt to get Isadore to surrender. When that failed, they called in the county SWAT team. When SWAT officers broke down the door to Isadore's bedroom, he fired at them and they returned fire, killing him. Although the shooting might have been justified since Isadore reportedly fired at the cops first, it appears that police escalated the situation to a point where a violent ending was nearly unavoidable. It was not a hostage situation and Isadore was not a threat to anyone but himself, at least until officers forced their way into his room. Was sending in a SWAT team to use deadly force against a 107-year old man really the best option available? It's doubtful that any answers will be forthcoming. Nearly three years later, even with awareness of police violence at higher levels, it's unlikely that there will ever be a full investigation of the circumstances that led to Isadore Monroe's death. The officer who killed Isadore was placed on paid leave, and his or her name was never released to the public. The state police declined an invitation to investigate the incident and subsequent attempts by Isadore's family to have the shooting investigated went nowhere. (Lawyers' fees for the cops are being covered by the local Fraternal Order of Police, so the police are not costing taxpayers anything by refusing to comply with an order issued by the local government that, theoretically, controls them.) But even if accountability is out of reach, is it too much to ask that police officers not be feted like they returned home from a war zone after gunning down a confused centenarian? Isadore's daughter, Paula Aguilar, told KATV that she doesn't think the honors were deserved. "I looked up `va[...]

Obama May Backtrack on Military Equipment Ban For Police

Tue, 26 Jul 2016 15:48:00 -0400

(image) President Barack Obama will review a year-old executive order prohibiting the transfer of military-grade weapons to police, according to Reuters.

The president signed Executive Order 13688 in May 2015, banning the transfer of certain military equipment between armed forces and police departments. This included such items as tracked armored vehicles, weaponized vehicles, grenade launchers, and camouflage uniforms. The order came as a result of a 2014 government-wide review of military equipment provided to law enforcement agencies, which was ordered in the wake of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri.

While the order didn't ban all military equipment—certain explosives and armored vehicles were still allowed—it did restrain how these various items could be acquired. And if police departments wanted an item that was prohibited, they would have to purchase it from a private vendor, often at a hefty price.

All of this may soon change: Eight police organization leaders met with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on July 11—three days after five officers were killed in Dallas—to discuss possible reforms.

Jim Pasco, the executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, was one of the people in attendance. He told Reuters most police departments cannot afford to pay for this equipment, and that this leaves officers vulnerable to attacks. As an example he pointed to grenade launchers, which he said can also be used to launch tear gas into rowdy crowds. "The White House thought this kind of gear was intimidating to people, but they didn't know the purpose it serves," he said.

Yet Kanya Bennett, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), says that while police should be able to use this equipment in high-risk situations—such as an active sniper—forces often do not reserve it for such circumstances. "Police departments have been using military equipment to carry out day-to-day operations," she says. "As we saw with the protests in Ferguson and Baton Rouge, a militarized response only escalates tensions and threatens public safety."

When protesters marched in Baton Rouge earlier this month to protest the killing by police of Alton Sterling, more than 100 people were arrested despite the fact that they were demonstrating peacefully. Video footage shows officers, decked out in riot gear and holding rifles, pushing protesters onto private property before handcuffing them.

The ACLU released a report in June 2014 detailing the excessive militarization of police departments. The organization notes that this phenomenon tends to disproportionately affect minority communities and undermines civil liberties.

The White House did not immediately return a request for comment. A White House official told Reuters, however, that the administration frequently reviews the equipment that can be transferred from the military to police departments to ensure that law enforcement agencies have the materials they need to do their jobs.

Baton Rouge Police Sued by ACLU over "First Amendment Violations" During Alton Sterling Protests

Thu, 14 Jul 2016 14:50:00 -0400

The Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in conjunction with a number of local organizations, have filed suit against the Baton Rouge (La.) Police Department over its response to protests against the police killing of Alton Sterling last week. 

Alleging "excessive force, physical and verbal abuse, and wrongful arrests to disperse protesters who were gathered peacefully," the ACLU released a statement alleging numerous violations of demonstrators' First Amendment rights. 

Over 200 people were arrested during various protests in Baton Rouge last weekend, including one protest where riot gear-clad officers advanced in formation on protesters who (with the permission of the homeowner) had congregated on the front lawn of a private residence. 

According to, "protesters expressed disbelief that police would break up what had largely been a peaceful protest leading up to the arrests. Most of the protesters tried to obey police orders to stay out of the roadway, even backing off a grassy strip next to the road when police told them to move onto the sidewalk."

Watch a brief clip of that incident via below:

src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">

Baton Rouge PD Lt. Jonny Dunham later told CBS News that the protesters had already broken the law by attempting to march along the on-ramp to the Interstate. Dunham added, "They felt like they could jump in her yard and be safe, but once you've broken the law, there's no safe space." Police also claimed that large chunks of concrete had been hurled at them at a protest earlier in the day, but that no officers were injured. 

The ACLU's press release includes testimonials from witnesses:

"[The police response] made me afraid to protest. Seeing the way the police were manhandling folks caused me to hide, scream out of fear, and finally flee for my safety. I had to run. A peaceful demonstration should never be like that," expressed Crystal Williams, local resident and organizer with North Baton Rouge Matters, "I feel like speech is my most powerful tool to ensure my community and my family are safe. But now I feel totally silenced."

Louisiana Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild President and Catholic nun Alison Renee McCrary: "I witnessed firsthand as peaceful protestors [sic] were violently attacked and arrested, assault weapons pointed at them with fingers on the triggers, some dragged across the cement, their clothes ripped off of them. What I saw happening was an immediate threat to life. My and other demonstrators' speech was chilled because of this event."

Baton Rouge PD spokesman Maj. Doug Cain was quoted by as saying protesters "voicing their First Amendment rights is protected by us" and that short of direct calls for violence, "they are free to express whatever feelings they convey."

What's the Matter with Police Using Robots to Kill?

Tue, 12 Jul 2016 14:33:00 -0400

The Dallas PD's use of a "bomb robot" to take out cop-killer Micah Xavier Johnson is believed to be the first use of such machinery to deliver lethal munitions by police in the U.S. Details were spare and slow to emerge in the first few days after the tragedy, but here's what we know now: The Dallas robot is manufactured by Northrop Grumman, and per the Washington Post, "the device is driven by a human via remote control, weighs 790 pounds and has a top speed of 3.5 mph. It carries a camera with a 26x optical zoom and 12x digital zoom. When its arm is fully extended, it can lift a 60-pound weight. The "hand" at the end of the arm can apply a grip of about 50 pounds of force." The robot was armed with an approximately one pound brick of C4 plastic explosive. Dallas Police Chief David Brown reportedly instructed the robot's handlers to not blow up the school attached to the parking garage where Johnson was holed up (and intermittently negotiating and exchanging fire with officers), but otherwise the chief gave them the green light to use deadly force.  Upon the robot's detonation of the C4, Johnson was killed and the robot's arm suffered some damage, but the machine is "still functional," the Post quotes Brown as saying. Johnson had shot both police and civilians, was clearly unafraid to die, and continued to fire on the officers in his vicinity. Few would argue that this is a case where the justifiable use of deadly force was deployed. But it is completely predictable that such an unprecedented action by police would spur conversation about when it is and isn't appropriate to use automated machinery to kill dangerous suspects.  From the national security website Defense One: "My initial reaction was that we have just got onto the slippery slope," said Heather Roff, a senior research fellow at Oxford and a research scientist at Arizona State University's Global Security Initiative. "This is going to be very hard to put back and that the militarization of police capabilities means that they may now feel that it is reasonable to use robotics in this way to ensure compliance…If one doesn't have to talk to a subject and can demand compliance, then this may mean more forceful or coercive demands are made." Police consultant and former police chief Dan Montgomery told CBS News that the possibility of law enforecement increasingly using armed robots in hostage or active-shooter situations doesn't necessarily trouble him, because "If you've got a robot that has C4 explosives, someone's got to detonate that, so it's the same as pulling a trigger." To Montgomery, these robots are just a technological advance on the sniper rifle, where deadly force can be deployed at minimal risk to officers.  At the very least, if such technology is to be normalized, some clear boundaries and transparency must come with it as well. For example, if a robot controlled by a human has the technical capabilities to kill a dangerous assailant by blowing up a brick of C4 and still be functional — as in the case of the Dallas bomb robot —  then there's no reason that same robot can't also be equpped with several "body cameras" (to capture different angles and provide the most comprehensive perspective of the scene) which record directly to the cloud, helping to assuage any public doubts about the neccessity of deadly force used, as well as keeping mishaps like non-functioning or misplaced recordings to minimum. According to the manufacturer, the model of robot used in Dallas had a camera, but the Dallas PD has made no mention of whether or not the robot was recording during the standoff or at the time it killed Johnson. Reason reached out to the Dallas PD to find out whether or not there is bomb robot-recorded footage of last week's siege wh[...]

We Need a Different, Better Conversation on Race and Public Policy

Mon, 11 Jul 2016 15:28:00 -0400

In a series of recent highly publicized and criticized appearances, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has criticized Black Lives Matter (BLM) for not caring about murders of African Americans unless they are committed by police. Over the weekend on Fox News' Fox & Friends and CBS's Face the Nation, he discussed how the vast majority of homicides of blacks are committed by criminals of the same race and that his policing changes in New York saved "more black lives" than BLM ever has. Here's Giuliani appearing this morning on Fox News, reiterating the same basic points: src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> As a matter of fact, Giuliani is correct that about 90 percent of blacks are murdered by other blacks. However, the similar figure for white-on-white murders is 83 percent, reflecting the reality that most murders are committed by people who know each other. So "America's mayor" is kind of missing the point when he badgers "blacks" for not focusing more on black-on-black murders. The same point can be made about white-on-white murders. When it comes to people killed by the police in 2016, males are tremendously overrepresented (95 percent of deaths are of men), and so are blacks and people with signs of mental illness. In fact, the latter two groups account for about 25 percent of deaths despite comprising far-smaller percentages of the population. Yet Giuliani is correct that killings in largely black areas of Chicago, which have surged 62 percent this year so far and are on pace to set recent record totals, seem to elicit less media attention and certainly less outrage than less-numerous shootings by police. There are many reasons for this, of course, including some ideological blindspots by journalists are more comfortable with all-police-are-racist narratives than calling attention to out-of-control violence in a city headed up by Barack Obama's former chief of staff. But it's also true that police are rightly held to higher standards than the gang-bangers responsible for the overwhelming majority of murders in cities such as Chicago. Cops are trained to serve and protect; as civil servants, we expect more from them than we do regular citizens (whether good or bad, this is also one of the reasons why killing a policeman often receives an enhanced punishment). And figures such as Giuliani, who was mayor of New York during several high-profile killings and brutalizations of blacks by police, are often extremely divisive in the way they discuss and approach issues of crime, race, and policing. Yes, he presided over a major reducution in murder and violent-crime rates that made life better for black New Yorkers, as well as all other residents. But to assert again and again that "I saved more black lives than Black Lives Matter" is unlikely to persuade anyone who doesn't already agree with you. There are bright spots, for sure, such as Rand Paul's attempts to reach out to black audiences from the Republican side of the aisle, new interest in how employment-licensing and minimum-wage laws disproportionately hurt African Americans, and a growing coalition of conservatives, liberals, and libertarians interested in sentencing reform. At least this much is beyond question: Blacks and whites have massively different views regarding whether the United States is color-blind. As Pew Research noted recently, 43 percent of blacks not only don't think we've achieved parity yet, but that we never will. As the graphic to the right shows, almost 40 percent of whites already think we've achieved equal rights. When it comes to dealing with the police, fully 50 percent of whites think black are treated unfairly, while 84 per[...]

Baton Rouge Protesters Flee to Private Property, Militarized Police Chase Them Off and Arrest Many

Mon, 11 Jul 2016 14:45:00 -0400

A weekend of protests against the Baton Rouge police shooting of Alton Sterling has led to over 100 protesters and journalists being arrested in various locations around the city, as well as a series of viral images that seem to show an overmilitarized reaction by police to the protests.  One of the most striking pieces of viral media to come out of the unrest is the camera-phone footage shot by Elizabeth Thomas, a New Orleans native who graduated from Louisiana State University in 2015. The video shows what looks like at least 100 riot-gear clad officers with rifles forming a perimeter around the protesters, who have retreated from the street and onto the front lawn of a private home. About fifteen seconds into the video, the officers begin marching in formation toward the protesters.  Then, all hell starts to break loose as a few officers attempt to arrest a few protesters, after which a number of protesters begin to chant, "This is private property!" About a minute later, a number of protesters on the sidewalk (separated by a fence from the front yard) are taken down and arrested by officers, while one officer looks directly at Thomas (still holding the camera-phone) and instructs her to "go back, go back." Watch Thomas' footage below: src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> In a phone interview earlier today, Thomas told Reason that she traveled to Baton Rouge to be a part of "youth-led protests" meant to take a stand against "the atrocities happening in our own back yard." She says the protesters held a peaceful rally outside the state Capitol, then a portion of them attempted to march along the Interstate highway (a common Black Lives Matter tactic) but were blocked by the police and diverted to a city road. Then, Thomas says, a police MRAP showed up on the scene as officers threatened to deploy tear gas on the protesters if they did not disperse. The crowd refused, so Thomas says police advanced on them "dragging anybody they see in their way to the ground, kicking them, punching them, and arresting them." From there, the crowd retreated to the front lawn of a house where they had been invited by the homeowner to take refuge. After about 30-40 minutes, Thomas says more and more police arrived, which culminated in what Thomas described as an "ambush" by police, which can be seen in her video. "We weren't swearing at the police, we weren't being aggressive, we were assembled peacefully. And the police came on this woman's private property after she gave us permission," Thomas asserts. She adds that the arrests appeared to have been done at random, and claims the police had been laughing at them both during and after the standoff.  Once the arrests started, protesters spilled into the street. Some were able to run away, while others were arrested, reportedly for "obstructing a highway," according to the Daily Beast, which also noted: The Daily Beast and several other media outlets were forced into a 10-foot wide zone by police. Then they ordered all reporters without credentials out of the zone and threatened to arrest any who put a foot in the street. Arianna Triggs, a production assistant for NBC 33, told The Daily Beast she was also threatened with arrest and forced to move. On Saturday, at least three journalists were arrested, including a radio reporter with WWNO and a credentialed news director with WAFB. The woman who allowed the protesters on her property (identified only as "Ms. Batiste") told CBS News' David Begnaud, "I'm very upset. I'm stunned at the behavior of the police officers," who she says "bombard[ed]" her house and tried to close the front door o[...]

Feds Gave $2.2 Billion Worth of Military Gear to Local Police Departments Since 2006

Wed, 11 May 2016 12:53:00 -0400

Since 2006, the federal government has supplied local police departments across the U.S. with roughly $2.2 billion in military equipment, including armored vehicles, helicopters, machine guns, and even 5,638 bayonets, according to a newly released report from the pro-government transparency group Open The Books.  Since 1997, surplus military equipment has been transferred to local PDs under the Department of Defense (DoD)'s 1033 Program, but with the increase in military spending post-9/11/01, and the subsequent scaling back of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. military has far more equipment than it needs, which means police in cities big and small can load up on state-of-the-art war machines, tactical gear, guns, and explosives.  One of the report's authors, Adam Andrzejewski, wrote in an article for Forbes that America's militarized institutions include "park districts, forest preserves, hometown police departments, junior colleges, universities, county sheriffs, natural resource and public safety departments, state police." The report is based on data compiled from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from Andrzejewski summarized some of the 1.5 million items transferred by the Pentagon to local agencies: 7,091 trucks ($400.9 million); 625 mine-resistant vehicles (421.1 million); 471 helicopters ($158.3 million); 56 airplanes ($271.5 million); and 329 armored trucks and cars ($21.3 million) 83,122 M16/M14 rifles (5.56mm and 7.62mm) ($31.2 million); 8,198 pistols (.38 and .45 caliber) ($491,769); and 1,385 riot 12-gauge shotguns ($137,265) 18,299 night-vision sights, sniper scopes, binoculars, goggles, infrared and image magnifiers ($98.5 million); 5,518 infrared, articulated, panoramic and laser telescopes ($5.5 million) 866 mine detecting sets, marking kits, and probes ($3.3 million); 57 grenade launchers ($41,040) 5,638 bayonets ($307,769) and 36 swords and scabbards. Virginia, Arizona, Tennessee, California, and Texas all received more than $100 million in military gear between 2006-2015, but all of them were dwarfed by Florida, which alone received over $300 million in surplus Pentagon equipment. Other highlights of the report include the Washington, D.C. Metro Police's acquisition of 500 M16/M14 rifles and over 134 pounds of explosives, including C4 and TNT.  Despite President Obama ordering a review of the 1033 Program after public outcry over the heavy-handed manner in which Ferguson police treated protesters in 2014, and calls from politicians like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to end the militarization of police, Andrzejewski writes "federal data shows that 2014 and 2015 were peak years" for local law enforcement agencies receiving military gear. You can read more Reason coverage on the DoD's 1033 Program here. [...]