This is Todd’s turf more than mine but check out this dataviz from the New York Times:
The big question is how and why considering that crime rates are not exactly exploding right now, and it’s not like US law enforcement is fighting the Sinaloa cartel.
Well, first, there is supply to be dumped, according to the article:
“As President Obama ushers in the end of what he called America’s “long season of war,” the former tools of combat — M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, silencers and more — are ending up in local police departments, often with little public notice.
During the Obama administration, according to Pentagon data, police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.”
And in a very bureaucratic and Weberian fashion, once the tools are there, they will be used. And sure enough:
“The equipment has been added to the armories of police departments that already look and act like military units. Police SWAT teams are now deployed tens of thousands of times each year, increasingly for routine jobs.Masked, heavily armed police officers in Louisiana raided a nightclub in 2006 as part of a liquor inspection. In Florida in 2010, officers in SWAT gear and with guns drawn carried out raids on barbershops that mostly led only to charges of “barbering without a license.””
And so you end up with a militarized police force even though the crime statistics do not justify it. In addition, the use of militarized gear changes the way police forces approach situations, i.e., they do so more aggressively since the balance of force is more in their favor. And since the equipment is free or would be scrapped if unused, it is easy to see why police chiefs would get stuff that, really, they don’t need. But once they have it, the equipment acquisition has to be rationalized. So, you get jewels like these:
In the Indianapolis suburbs, officers said they needed a mine-resistant vehicle to protect against a possible attack by veterans returning from war.
“You have a lot of people who are coming out of the military that have the ability and knowledge to build I.E.D.’s and to defeat law enforcement techniques,” Sgt. Dan Downing of the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department told the local Fox affiliate, referring to improvised explosive devices, or homemade bombs. Sergeant Downing did not return a message seeking comment.
Some officials are reconsidering their eagerness to take the gear. Last year, the sheriff’s office in Oxford County, Maine, told county officials that it wanted a mine-resistant vehicle because Maine’s western foothills “face a previously unimaginable threat from terrorist activities.””
What it does though, is turn police officers into soldiers in occupied territories where all civilians are potential enemies and neighborhoods into potential war zones. And we all know which neighborhoods will face militarized police forces, of course, because we already know who bears the brunt of heavy policing.