The Huff Post’s Radley Balko has a well-researched story about the increased militarization of American police departments in the 10 years since 9/11.
Here’s how it opens:
New York magazine reported some telling figures last month on how delayed-notice search warrants – also known as “sneak-and-peek” warrants — have been used in recent years. Though passed with the PATRIOT Act and justified as a much-needed weapon in the war on terrorism, the sneak-and-peek was used in a terror investigation just 15 times between 2006 and 2009. In drug investigations, however, it was used more than 1,600 times during the same period.
It’s a familiar storyline. In the 10 years since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, the government has claimed a number of new policing powers in the name of protecting the country from terrorism, often at the expense of civil liberties. But once claimed, those powers are overwhelmingly used in the war on drugs. Nowhere is this more clear than in the continuing militarization of America’s police departments.
Balko follows up with a lot of compelling facts and stats about the over the top acquisition of military weapons and overuse of SWAT teams, among other issues.
(By the way, the latter issue is a problem that I don’t believe really applies to LA, where SWAT originated, and which has arguably the most disciplined and professionalized SWAT teams in the nation. But earlier this year Forbes had an anecdote-filled story about the overuse of SWAT teams, which, together with the tank-like Bearcat, were being deployed to serve warrants on nonviolent offenders.)
However the use of powers granted for purposes of combating terrorists, and legal tools like RICO, which were designed for organized crime, and employing them for street-level drug and gang crime is an increasing trend that affects LA along with other areas of the country.
To make this point, Balko quotes critics like longtime San Jose, California, police chief Joseph McNamara, now a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. McNamara told Balko that this trend, now driven by the war on terror in addition to the war on drugs, has caused police to lose sight of their role as keepers of the peace.
“‘Simply put, the police culture in our country has changed,’ McNamara wrote in a 2006 article for the Wall Street Journal. ‘An emphasis on ‘officer safety’ and paramilitary training pervades today’s policing, in contrast to the older culture, which held that cops didn’t shoot until they were about to be shot or stabbed.” Noting the considerable firepower police now carry, McNamara added, “Concern about such firepower in densely populated areas hitting innocent citizens has given way to an attitude that the police are fighting a war against drugs and crime and must be heavily armed.’”
Anyway, read the rest of the story. It’s worth your time.
JAILS AND PRISONS AND RACE
Marc Mauer, head of the highly regarded Sentencing Project, released a paper on Monday that looks at the causes and consequences of the “extreme racial disparities in incarceration in the U.S.”
The paper is a chapter in a soon-to-be-released special edition of the Prison Journal, a prominent peer review quarterly that looks (as the title suggests) issues surrounding incarceration practices and policies.
Here’s an overview of the raw numbers Mauer is attempting to explore:
….If current trends continue, 1 of every 3 African American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime, as can 1 of every 6 Latino males, compared to 1 in 17 White males. For women, the overall figures are considerably lower, but the racial/ethnic disparities are similar: 1 of every 18 African American females, 1 of every 45 Hispanic females, and 1 of every 111 White females can expect to spend time in prison….
Why is that so? As LA’s Chief Public Defender Ron Brown said to me at a conference a few months ago, either we postulate that “Black and Latino people have a criminal gene or something else is going on.”
Mauer goes looking for that “something else,” and finds a complex weave of reasons and influences in his sober-eyed examination and analysis. Yet, when looked at together the weave adds up to racial inequities on a massive scale—that must be addressed for all of our health and well being.
Read the full article here.
NOTE: WE’RE BUSY WORKING ON THE FIRST PART OF THE “DANGEROUS JAILS” SERIES THAT WILL BE OUT LATER THIS WEEK.
This will be Part I of a new series about abuse inside the LA County jail system, and it’s part of the WitnessLA and Spot.Us-sponsored LA Justice Report project. It’ll be out later this week.
So stay tuned.