About the Wonk
Mission Statement
Member Benefits Privacy Statement
Contact Us
U.S. Government
Government Issues
Weekly Wonk


Originally Published: 12/14/2011


By The Issue Wonk 


After the unbelievable police brutality with Occupy Wall Street protesters in various cities, I thought it was time to look at what’s going on. I couldn’t help but notice that masses of officers, dressed in riot gear and armed with all kinds of weaponry, were sent in to deal with non-violent demonstrators. It’s frightening. How did we get here?

Some History. Since the end of Reconstruction after the Civil War, there’s been a marked barrier between military and civilian law enforcement. The Posse Comitatus Act (18 U.S.C. § 1385) was passed in 1878 and, in 1907, the Insurrection Act (10 U.S.C. § 331 and 10 U.S.C. § 335) were used to limit the power of local governments and law enforcement agencies from using federal military personnel to enforce the laws. Contrary to popular belief, these Acts don’t forbid the use of military in local law enforcement affairs. But they do require that in order for the military to intervene there must be an Act of Congress. Also, the Acts only refer to the Army. Theoretically, they apply to all branches, but it has been interpreted to mean that the Navy, Marine Corp, and National Guard have carte blanche. The Coast Guard, now under the Department of Homeland Security, is specifically exempted.


Things began to change in 1981. The Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Act directed the military to give local, state, and federal law enforcement access to military equipment, research, and training to fight the so-called “war on drugs.” This, in essence, authorized the cooperation between civilian police and the military. Then, during the following years, there were a series of congressional and presidential directives that blurred the line even more.1 

In 1986 President Ronald Reagan issued a National Decision Security

Directive designating drugs as an official threat to “national security,”

which encouraged a tight-knit relationship between civilian law

enforcement and the military.

In 1987 Congress set up an administrative apparatus to facilitate

transactions between civilian law enforcement officials and the military.

For example, a special office with an 800 number was established to

handle inquiries by police officials regarding acquisition of military hardware.

In 1988 Congress directed the National Guard to assist law enforcement

agencies in counterdrug operations. Today National Guard units in all 50

states fly across America’s landscape in dark green helicopters, wearing

camouflage uniforms and armed with machine guns, in search of

marijuana fields.

In 1989 Present George Bush created 6 regional joint task forces (JTFs)

within the Department of Defense. Those task forces are charged with

coordinating the activities of the military units and civilian police. JTFs can

be called on by civilian law enforcement agencies in counterdrug cases

when police feel the need for military reinforcement.


 The move to militarize civilian police departments marched on through the 1990s.1

In 1994 the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense signed

a memorandum of understanding, which has enabled the military to

transfer technology to state and local police departments. Civilian officers

now have at their disposal an array of high-tech military items previously

reserved for use during wartime.


As a result of equipment sharing, between 1995 and 1997 the Department of Defense turned over 1.2 million military items to law enforcement agencies all over the country. Among them were 3,800 M-16s, 184 M-14s, 73 grenade launchers, and 112 armored personnel carriers.1

In 1997 the National Defense Authorization Security Act created the Law Enforcement Support Program - an agency charged with accelerating the transfer of military equipment to civilian police. By the end of 2005, the program had facilitated the distribution of $727 million worth of Pentagon equipment to about 17,000 police departments, including Blackhawk helicopters, almost 8,000 M-16s, a couple hundred grenade launchers, 8,131 bulletproof helmets, and 1,161 pairs of night-vision goggles.2

Then came 9/11. The militarization of local police departments escalated as the “war on drugs” turned into the “war on terror.” First there was the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2002. With it came grants from DHS to civilian police which were used to purchase even more equipment.


Examples. Will someone please tell me why the Washington County, Minnesota police department needs a 9-ton armored vehicle dubbed the BearCat? They paid $237,000 with a DHS grant. It has bullet-resistant windows, gun ports, a battering ram, a tear-gas dispenser, and a public address system.3 And what about the Lenco BearCat G3 acquired by the Vermont State Police.4 Vermont? Do they really need this?


Armored Personnel Carriers aren’t the only things police departments are getting. Remember the Sky Watch in New York City I told you about in The Weekly Wonk of November 12, 2011? Norman, Oklahoma purchased one.5 Norman, Oklahoma? Is that a high risk area for terrorism? Drugs? Crime? No, they’re using it at shopping centers supposedly to cut theft. So is San Diego.6 Now remember, DHS is supposed to be using its grant funds to boost counterterrorism efforts. If anyone’s looking for a place to cut spending, it looks like this is it.

But the weaponry gets scarier. The ShadowHawk Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) is a $500,000 piece of equipment. The Montgomery County, Texas sheriff’s department, home of parts of Houston, got one, paying only $250,000 and getting the rest from a DHS grant.7 The drone comes equipped with stun baton beanbag launchers and an XREP Taser, a wireless Taser projectile that can be shot up to 100 feet to deliver neuromuscular incapacitation - electric shock.8

DHS grants aren’t the only source of equipment for police forces. The U.S. military has a program called the “1033 Program” that gave - gave, not sold - more than $500 million of military gear to U.S. police forces in 2011 alone. The program was passed by Congress in 1997 but this year’s donations have surpassed anything seen before.9

These lethal weapons are being used in conjunction with non-lethal weapons (NLW) - pepper spray and tasers - weapons designed to ensure the submission of protesters, usually in order to haul them away or to just leave them in the street writhing in pain. For even more spraying there’s ALS Technologies Fog Generation Machine which dispenses clouds of pepper spray, tear gas, or white smoke “to provide reliable, less-lethal, effective means of incapacitation.” Use of these weapons are predicted to grow during the next 10 years. The NLW market “is forecasted to emerge as a key domain for asymmetric warfare and law enforcement technology providers. . . There is a growing demand from combatant commanders, law enforcement officers and political establishments for NLSW capabilities.”10 In Britain, a laser, “developed by a former Royal Marine commando,” which “temporarily impairs the vision of anyone who looks towards the source” is being tested by police to use to prevent riots.11

A note on pepper spray. The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and the Use of Chemical Weapons, known as the Chemical Weapons Convention, signed in 1997 and of which the United States is a signer, prohibits the use of various chemical weapons on the battlefield. One of the weapons that is prohibited is pepper spray (see page 8). So, it’s illegal to use pepper spray on our enemies on the battlefield but it’s just fine to use it on peaceful citizen protesters in the United States.

PepperBall Technologies offers PepperBall guns, which shoot huge pellets of pepper powder. Testimonials on its website say PepperBalls “have been proven effective in civil disturbances, prison riots, and (other) law enforcement situations” and are “a prudent, practical choice for crowd control or for any situation which calls for use of non-lethal force.” Combined Tactical Systems sells projectiles such a Super-Socks and Foam Batons for “dispersing large and unruly crowds.”

Taser, not undone by claims of serious injuries and deaths, have moved into its Shockwave system, a remotely controlled stack of Tasers, as “a perfect solution to implementing area denial, crowd control, and barricade defense capabilities.”

SWAT Teams. The most commonly known police military is the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Team. After the city riots in the late 1960s, SWAT Teams were developed. They used to be only for emergency situations. But, again in the early 1980s, that began to change and the funding for local law enforcement began, along with the sale of surplus military equipment. It’s all to keep you safe, you know. According to Radley Balko:12

Criminologist Peter Kraska, who surveyed the use of those police teams

from the 1980s to the 2000s, estimates that the total number of SWAT

deployments across the country increased from a few hundred per year

in the 1970s to a few thousand per year by the early 1980s to around

50,000 per year by the mid-2000s. . . SWAT teams today overwhelmingly

are used to serve search warrants on suspected drug offenders. Where

their purpose once was to defuse an already violent situation, today they

break into homes to look for illicit drugs, creating violence and confrontation

where there was none before. 

And how are SWAT teams trained? According to Max Blumenthal, there is an annual SWAT team exposition “organized to promote ‘mutual response,’ collaboration and competition between heavily militarized police strike forces representing law enforcement departments across the United states and foreign nations.” And, Blumenthal claims, at these conferences our SWAT forces are being trained by Israeli and Bahraini “counter-terrorism” teams. It was these strategies that have been released on peaceful Occupy protesters.13


Police Gear. Check out all the stuff police wear. From the billy clubs, gas masks, and tear gas grenades used in the 1960s demonstrations, to the more peaceful policing of the 1990s, with better communication, to what we have now - riot helmets with face shields, gas masks, Kevlar tactical body armor, 12-gauge shotguns with non-lethal (supposedly) rounds of ammunition, tear gas, and pepper spray. And the style of policing has changed. The 1960’s police were intolerant, frequently using violence. The more enlightened 1990s saw police working with event organizers to minimize risk to everybody, and police being flexible to adapt to changing situations. Now, we see pre-emptive attacks and arrests, intimidation, and physical force.

New Laws. After taking a close look at the new civilian law enforcement, tickle your memory and recall the following. In 2006, as part of the 2007 Defense Appropriations Bill, Congress passed the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act, portions of which changed the Insurrection Act to allow the president to use the armed forces, including the National Guard, to “restore public order and enforce the laws” during an emergency as a result of “a natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition.” [Emphasis added.] It also gives the president the ability to “suppress, in a State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy . . .” [Emphasis added.] One of the “conditions” for the president’s intervention is if an incident “opposes or obstructs the execution of the laws of the United States or impedes the course of justice under those laws.” Like, “no camping” laws? Thus, the president now has the capability of declaring martial law at any time he sees fit. President Bush signed the bill on October 17, 2006 and it became Public Law 109-364. (For more on this, see Martial Law.) This law also gives the president the right to determine that any U.S. citizen is an “enemy combatant” and to arrest a citizen on his own initiative and hold him indefinitely. We are no longer protected from arbitrary arrest and indefinite detention. (See The Police State.)


Nathan Freier, a 20-year Army veteran and visiting professor at the Army War College, wrote a report in 2008. At that time he was convinced that the economic depression was going to cause civil unrest so he developed a plan for moving on the streets to impose order. He wrote:14


Widespread civil violence inside the United States would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities in extremis to defend basic domestic order and human security.


Freier claimed that civil violence could come from another terrorist attack or “unforeseen economic collapse, loss of functioning political and legal order, purposeful domestic resistance or insurgency, pervasive public health emergencies, and catastrophic natural and human disasters.” [Emphasis added.]

Will we one day find that the difference between local police and the military is only their names?



1   Weber, Diane Cecilia. Warrior Cops: The Ominous Grown of Paramilitarism in American Police Departments. The Cato Institute, August 1999.


2   Balko, Radley. Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America. The Cato Institute, 2006.


3   Powell, Joy. A Standoff Stalwart. The Star Tribune, November 12, 2011.


4   Vermont State Police Acquire Lenco G3 Armored Truck. Police Magazine, November 7, 2011.


5   Cannon, Jane Glenn. Skywatch Tower Offers Norman Police Bird’s-Eye View. NewsOK, November 19, 2011.


6   Davis, Kristina. Police to Buy Mobile Observation Tower. Sign On San Diego, January 8, 2009.


7   McAuliffe, Shane. Montgomery County Introduces the ShadowHawk Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. KBTX.com, October 28, 2011.


8   TASER eXtended Range Electronic Projectile (XREP®) Cartridge. Taser.com.


9   The 1033 Program. Justice Technology Information Network.


10  Non-Lethal Weapons: Technologies & Global Market - 2012-2020. Homeland Security Research, October 2011.


11  Holehouse, Matthew. Police to Test Laser that ‘Blinds Rioters.’ The Telegraph, December 11, 2011.


12  Balko, Radley. Paramilitary Police Don’t Make Us Safer. The Washington Times, April 15, 2010.


13  Blumethal, Max. How Israeli Occupation Forces, Bahraini Monarchy Guards Trained U.S. Police for Coordinated Crackdown on “Occupy” Protests. The Exiled. December 2, 2011.


14  Freier, Nathan P. Known Unknowns: Unconventional “Strategic Shocks” in Defense Strategy Development. Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College, November 4, 2008.



© The Issue Wonk, 2011



Facebook Twitter Linkedin

Subscribe to the
Weekly Wonk:

Email Address

This Is CAPTCHA Image



Forest Books Facebook Page
Click here to visit my facebook page.
Please follow me on Twitter

© Copyright 2006-19 - The Issue Wonk™
The Issue Wonk, Inc. - All Rights Reserved