Police Militarization and the Erosion of Public Trust in Law Enforcement – Report

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

The way that SWAT teams are deployed in America today does not provide “detectable benefits in terms of officer safety or violent crime reduction,” as law enforcement agencies suggest, according to a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. What SWAT deployment and other forms of militarized—“heavily armed”—policing does do, however, says report author Princeton Assistant Professor Jonathan Mummolo, is erode the public’s trust in the police officers that serve them, especially in communities of color.

Hoping to uncover evidence—beyond “anecdotal and journalistic accounts”—of the effects of militarized policing tactics, a topic that is under-studied due to data limitations, Mummolo looked to Maryland. The state had unusually good data, including information on every single time local SWAT teams were deployed between fiscal years 2010 and 2014, thanks to a since-expired law. Police agencies deployed SWAT teams approximately 8,200 times during those five years.

Mummolo used the statewide SWAT census “to characterize the ways in which militarized police units are used and the characteristics of the communities in which they deploy. The researcher found that SWAT operations were conducted most often in neighborhoods with high concentrations of black residents “a relationship that holds at multiple levels of geography and even after controlling for social indicators including crime rates,” according to the report.

Breaking it down by zip codes, Mummolo found that for every 10 percent increase in black population, there was also a 10 percent increase in the likelihood of a SWAT raid in that zip code.

Mummolo found that more than 90 percent of the times that Maryland law enforcement agencies deployed SWAT teams, it was to serve a search warrant. Half of the search warrant raids were for non-violent crimes (mostly drug crimes). In 36 percent of the raids, SWAT officers did not arrest anyone. Less than 5 percent of deployments were in answer to emergent barricaded suspect scenarios, although these were the incidents for which SWAT teams were originally created.

Los Angeles had the first SWAT team, “developed in the wake of a series of emergency situations in which local police felt unable to respond as swiftly or as effectively as was necessary,” according to a 2014 ACLU report on police militarization.

According to the ACLU report—which compiled data on more than 800 SWAT raids by 20 local, state and federal agencies between 2011-2012—nearly 80% of deployments were to serve a search warrant, predominantly for drugs (thanks to the national war on drugs). Drug searches, the ACLU said, should almost always be done by regular officers—-not a paramilitary team. Only 7% of SWAT deployments the ACLU compiled were for hostage, barricade, or shooter situations—the original function of SWAT teams when they began at the LAPD.

And in at least 36% (but as high as 65%) of drug search raids, no contraband was found, according to the ACLU. Not all SWAT reports indicated whether they found contraband.

The ACLU report, too, found that SWAT raids disproportionately affected minorities. Of the raids executed to serve a search warrant, 42% targeted African Americans, and 12% targeted Latinos.

A little over three years ago, in 2015, the US Department of Justice and LA County agreed on a court-enforceable settlement to reform the sheriff’s department’s Lancaster and Palmdale stations. The settlement followed two years behind a 46-page “findings” letter from the DOJ detailing systemic discrimination against black (and to a lesser extent, Latino) Antelope Valley residents. The DOJ investigation found, among other problems, that officers from the Antelope Valley stations were conducting discriminatory drug raids—with “as many as nine” officers, sometimes in full SWAT gear—on people receiving subsidized housing assistance. The stations were working with the county Housing Authority with the intent to oust residents and push them into moving out of the area.

“The LASD’s conduct had serious consequences for voucher holders in the Antelope Valley, including (in some cases) termination from the voucher program, criminal prosecution for administrative violations, and relocation from the Antelope Valley for fear of further law enforcement harassment,” the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division wrote.

Even in jurisdictions where law enforcement agencies aren’t conducting creepy Section 8 raids with the local housing authority, SWAT raids—particularly “no-knock” raids where officers burst in without knocking or announcing themselves—can have catastrophic consequences for civilians, especially when SWAT teams mistakenly raid the wrong house.

Mummolo notes, however, that officers fired shots in just 1.2 percent of the 8,200 Maryland raids (in approximately 100 incidents), suggesting that “indiscriminate violence is less common than some anecdotal reports suggest.”

Using within-agency comparisons that greatly mitigate concerns over omitted variable bias, I find no evidence that obtaining or deploying a SWAT team reduces local crime rates or lowers the rates at which officers are killed or assaulted.

The researcher conducted surveys, showing respondents an article about a police chief seeking a budget increase. The article was paired with either an image of police in traditional garb and gear, or one of several pictures of militarized police—wearing riot gear, armed with assault rifles, and using an armored vehicle—in order to gauge public perception of law enforcement.

Respondents who received one of the militarized images with their article had higher perceived levels of crime in the fake city. Those surveyed who saw the militarized police were also 3.2 percent less desirous of having more police in their neighborhoods than the respondents who got the traditional police image. The military-style photos also caused respondents who received the article with those images to be less likely to support giving the fake police chief more funding—as the images made the department seem already well-funded.

The data, Mummolo says, shows “that militarized policing can impose reputational costs on law enforcement, likely in unintended ways.”

And past research has revealed that “negative views of police inhibit criminal investigations and are associated with stunted civic participation,” Mummolo added.

Mummolo suggests agencies stop using SWAT teams for low-level crimes and non-emergencies in order to help break down the mistrustful barrier these tactics erect between citizens and the cops whose job it is to protect them.

“Given the concentration of deployments in communities of color, where trust in law enforcement and government at large is already depressed, the routine use of militarized police tactics by local agencies threatens to increase the historic
tensions between marginalized groups and the state with no detectable public safety benefit,” Mummolo says. “While SWAT teams arguably remain a necessary tool for violent emergency situations, restricting their use to those rare events may improve perceptions of police with little or no safety loss.”


  • “ those surveyed who saw the militarized police were also 3.2 percent less desirous of having more police in their neighborhood”. I’m guessing that’s easily within the margin of error, so in other words no one really cares. “Militarized police” is one of those buzzwords from the chattering class that is essentially meaningless, like “community” or “constitutional” policing. Aside from cf types, no one is really surprised there is more police activity in black neighborhoods, there’s a lot of violent crime there.

  • Maj. Kong, Im impressed, “margin of error?” I would have bet that “Margarine” would slip off your tongue easier than “margin.” Read through it. It states “more than 90 percent of the times that Maryland law enforcement agencies deployed SWAT teams, it was to serve a search warrant. Half of the search warrant raids were for non-violent crimes (mostly drug crimes).” Half for non-violent crimes. Non-violent. Really. I think this militarization is in due the LEO delusional belief they are fighting the forces of evil, when they are really just hunting black kids, for the most part. Seeing some of the footage from Ferguson, I am surprised they can even move with the additional equipment. They are already quite portly and many obese. What’s your BMI, Maj. Kong? Please share.

  • Baddest guy I ever worked with was huge, BMI I couldn’t even guess and was a 5th degree Black, amazingly agile and quick, loved walking into situations with him, now STFU poser.

  • Point being, as usual you’re clueless Reg. A racist punk and now you have a little puppy named Ruiz created to help you, won’t help.

  • “The way that SWAT teams are deployed in America today does not “provide no detectable benefits in terms of officer safety or violent crime reduction,” as law enforcement agencies suggest….” Said nobody in law enforcement EVER. The whole point of SWAT deployment is increased officer safety.

    “[M]ore than 90 percent of the times that Maryland law enforcement agencies deployed SWAT teams, it was to serve a search warrant. Half of the search warrant raids were for non-violent crimes (mostly drug crimes).” — Which is clearly a BAD thing because as every liberal sociology professor knows, no wanted drug dealers EVER have weapons at hand.

    Talk about straw man arguments. This opinion piece is full of it.

  • Erosion of public trust in law enforcement is excaberated by recorded footage. I would safely say that the predominant majority of law enforcement officers are honest and professional. For some law enforcement officers writing comments on this blog, it’s not hard to figure out how a typical non violent day can go sideways via their attitude. Their opinions posted here is obviously is a barometer and a precursor.
    a precursor and a barometer, obviously.

  • US Citizen:. Instead of viewing all the anti police footage from CNN…..perhaps you could view the many videos on U tube of officers being attached and killed during a typical non violent day. Another US citizen sleeping well at night on the backs of those who put it on the line everyday. Typical…….

  • CF…. “non-violent drug offenses.” There’s no such thing. If you got off Mommy’s couch long enough to serve your 1st dope warrant, you would know better.

    What level on Cal of Duty have you reached?
    Don’t forget to eat your vegetables.

  • Back when cf was passing as a man it use to be a bit confusing. Like ,what kind of guy would write this kind of effeminate and hysterical nonsense? Now that cf has been outed as a silly little girly girl, things have come into focus. Cf is worked up because the BIG bad cops just won’t pay attention to her. Hey cf try hanging out at a cop bar around closing time, maybe your luck will change and you can calm down a little.

  • Sure Fire, please, obese people cannot reach black belt level. Be honest, law enforcement has a serious issue when it comes to the physical condition of your typical officer over 40. For god’s sake, anytime you have a call and 3 or more officers respond, one is obese, not just overweight, but obese. How can you even pretend to be able to do your job when you are that fat. Be honest, what is your height and weight? Or, give us just your waist size. My advice, lay off the donuts and pork chops. Besides, cannibalism is wrong.

    Ownership, what you talking about? No such thing as a nonviolent drug offense? We have thousands of people sitting in jail and prison who have never been charged with a violent crime, but for possession. And, many times its because a fine officer like you happens to see a baggie on the dashboard from 100 feet away, at least that is what goes on the report after you illegally searched the car. And, many a time, if they are charged with a violent crime its after they get their ass kicked and are charged with “resisting arrest” or “assault” on a police officer.

    Bandwagon, there you go whining again. That is an occupational hazard, like ER doctors having to work at 3 am or running the risk of getting pricked by a contaminated needle, or a sanitation worker having to put up with foul odors or maggots, or a logger getting killed by a falling tree. That is your job, you get great pay and benefits to do it. Stop the whining, already.

  • Seriously cf you desperately need some BIG man to scratch that itch, you’re becoming hysterical again.

  • I gave the predominant majority of Cops their just due. The footage on all deeds, good and bad is seen on Fox News also. Not so much from Fox News reporting on the crooked path to the White House. Let’s hear your opinion on Manafort and Cohen. Even more of your opinion concerning Michael Flynn. The trail to jail for Trumpanzees is lengthening.

  • Citizen:. I thought the Muller investigation was to determine if the Russians “colluded” with the Trump campaign to affect the results if the election. I guess Manafort not paying his taxes with the best he could do after two years.

  • CF. You talk out of both sides of your mouth or bipolar brain. In one sentence ( with every article ) you always state how cops chase and beat down black and brown boys and girls. Now you are complaining how fat and out of shape cops are! By everything you post I would think you would be happy cops are so over weight. It would be impossible for them to chase down and beat those black and brown boys you are always talking about. And too fat to do their job.

    So which is it CF are cops beating down minorities or too fat to work. You can’t have it both ways.

  • So tired of law enforcement bashing. The sofa kings are a joke. All departments have criteria for when patrol folks need to up the game and call SWAT/SEB, this includes general patrol duties and warrants. The vast majority of the public forgets law enforcement, unlike the military, has zero causality acceptances. We are paid to WIN and GO HOME ALIVE. These specialized teams were designed and operate to handle situations general law enforcement offices shouldn’t and policy dictates it. Yes, they even protect the bad guy. Superior fire power generally wins. These teams did lots of assists on warrant services for narcotics. Dope dealers carry guns, better ones than general law enforcement. If anybody can remember it was called a war on drugs. Love that these teams exist and have all the specialized equipment necessary to change an A/H thoughts on returning fire when they enter a building or room.

    CF – what junior high are attending that is teaching you police science? Your killing us with your, I know everything about how police work is conducted.

  • I’ll conclude with this. We all all judged by those in our inner circle. Trump’s inner circle speaks for itself. It’s just a matter of time……

  • 5th Degree Black CF and you would consider him obese without a doubt. Now STFU you know nothing.
    Hey Citizen, bet I could toss up way more video’s than you if you wanted to make it a contest. I spar verbally with people constantly, just like here. Keep the language clean but idiots are their own worst enemy. I didn’t sign on to be abused and don’t allow myself to be. The public is being told these days that’s acceptable, I don’t buy that but Blue needs to know the limits they can go to. I’m a real smart guy.

  • Are you kidding, both. They are overweight and chasing black kids . They use the patrol car, get a bunch of back up and then swarm the young man. Did you not see the Eric Garner video? There are a shitload of obese officers and it took several to take him down. 10-20 officers for a brother selling cigarettes? Yes, you guys are bad. And, that is probably why they are so quick to pull the trigger, they can’t take them down one-on-one and they are scared shitless. And, no, I am not happy they are overweight. Given the police budget and the taxes I pay, I feel like I am paying by the pound. I want them to have pride in themselves, in their image, and work out. At least give the impression that you can chase someone down the street without bending over gasping for air. They remind me of Chief Wiggum.

    Yep, I did not know it was a science. I’ll have to look into it. I thought you guys made the stuff up as you went along. Does the “science” teach you to beat up and then charge for resisting arrest? Or, how to confuse anything for a gun? I thought that was on-the-job training and not learned in some manual.

    Sure Fire, an obese 5th degree black belt? You are pushing it. Those are as rare as unicorns or police beating white kids. You must be making this up. Please, no need to, this isn’t a police report that you have to make stuff up. In fact, it sounds like a joke I once heard – What do you call a police officer that does Karate? A: A pork chop. Did I beat you to the punchline?

    And, what is this, “I’m a real smart guy?” You sound like Trump. I hear he is very smart too, and he constantly reminds us of it. Where I come from, they say, “if you have to say you’re bad, you ain’t bad.” Similarly, if you have to tell people you are smart, you ain’t smart.

  • CF. What about responsibly for ones actions. If Eric wasn’t breaking the law the incident would of never happened. He knew right from wrong. He took a chance and got caught. If he would of obeyed police commands never would of happened.

    Everything leading up to the shooting was their own fault. Taking the shooting out of the equation. Do the right thing. Obey the law. Do as the police commands and you will live everytime. I know the facts are hard for people like you to accept because you are so blinded by your truth.

    This hold true for almost all police shootings in the last ten years. If the suspects were doing the right thing obeying the law they would be alive. If they obeyed the officer’s commands they would be alive. Whether the shooting was justified or not. Do you finally get it CF

  • @CF – clearly never been a victim or had anybody in your family be a victim from the people you love. When it happens a police officer will respond and handle the incident as that is what they do. You will be so happy to see them (probably not you will have some uncalled for remark to give) but they will do their job despite your comments.

    Let’s have the early release criminals move in with you.

    Yep, I’m a police officer, in an us and them world, I will always choose my brothers and sisters who proudly wear the uniform and do the job most would not.

  • CF – Have you ever gone on a ride-a-long to see what the job is really like and how fast things can happen? I’m not asking this to be rude or argumentative. I’m serious. Law enforcement hires from the human race and without question sometimes people are hired that should not be but most people come on the job for the right reasons and aren’t Neanderthals trying to shoot every second person they meet. Go ride in a high crime area on some hot summer nights and see what it’s like.

  • @ Old and Jaded: I like your judgment- free suggestion to C.F.

    My suggestion would be for C.F (if he does go on a ride-a-long) to go to a racially diversified department. Some smaller P.D.’s still have the Gestapo mentality.

  • First of all CF it’s a fact, plus he has a double masters and is a vet. Sorry not everyone fits into your view of the world like cops running around beating Black kids, video after video I watch are Blacks talking rude as hell to cops, running from us, grabbing for guns and people like you just recording it, like the fools in Houston the other day like the Black female security guard who didn’t help the cop who was asking for it. She lost her job, good. You’re as dumb as a rock.

  • But remember, CF is just as bigoted, closed minded and apt to use a broad brush stroke against a group (all LEO’s) in a similar fashion as that of the most low life, bigoted, ignorant and hate field racist out there.

    Classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.

  • I offer anyone that doubts the work LEO do and the service they provide to the public as reported by the media, to become involved with the agency that services your area. There are a number of ways this can be accomplished for you to see how fast life threatening incidents and actions can occur. I.e. In the case of LACO residents, have your local stations take you to a shoot don’t shoot course at the training center, or go on a ride a long. You will see how LE is burdened with snap life saving decisions on a daily basis.

    I had LA Superior Court personnel go through a shoot don’t shoot course and they were amazed at how split seconds count when confronted by high risk or emergency situations. It was an eye opener. Have them go through an active shooter scenario, or a hostage situation and let them see first hand what LE goes through on a somewhat regular basis. Don’t forget, when all others are running from threats, we are responding and putting ourselves at risk for the people we serve. We don’t get paid, acknowledged for who we are, but for what we do.

    Retired and miss the job.

  • Miss Fire- the self proclaimed “real smart guy”. What a joke. I’ll pass your name over to the orange guy that proclaims not only to be real smart, but a genious. Oh and claims to hire only the smartes people too. You would be perfect for the part, especially since you love to demean and insult others. But that’s only because you are a “real smart guy”.

    Too bad nobody listens to your advice, not here and not in real life, but is this the reason you love to bully everybody? I’m sensing some frustration and anger issues, but what do I know.

    And like I’ve told you in the past, don’t worry, I’m sure your bullying out of anger and frustration is always someone else’s fault. Now go figure that one out “smart guy”.

    Ponte trucha “partner”!

  • “Obey the law. Do as the police commands and you will live everytime”. Says another “real smart guy”. Sure, because we all know that no LEO has ever killed anyone that was following their orders!

    You’ve got to be kidding me!

  • Being smart and being able to see through frauds like you little fella doesn’t make me a bully, just makes me smart.

Leave a Comment