War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing

TitleWar Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing
Publication TypeReport
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsUnion ACivil Libe
InstitutionACLU Foundation
CityNew York City
Keywordsamerican law enforcement, criminal justice, drug trafficking, militarism, militarization of police, national security, police violence, policing, racism, SWAT, violence, war on drugs

Across the country, heavily armed Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams are forcing their way into people’s homes in the middle of the night, often deploying explosive devices such as flashbang grenades to temporarily blind and deafen residents, simply to serve a search warrant on the suspicion that someone may be in possession of a small amount of drugs. Neighborhoods are not war
zones, and our police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies. However, the ACLU encountered this type of story over and over when studying the militarization of state and local law enforcement agencies.

This investigation gave us data to corroborate a trend we have been noticing nationwide: American policing has become unnecessarily and dangerously militarized, in large part through federal programs that have armed state and local law enforcement agencies with the weapons and tactics of war, with almost no public discussion or oversight.1 Using these federal funds, state and local law
enforcement agencies have amassed military arsenals purportedly to wage the failed War on Drugs, the battlegrounds of which have disproportionately been in communities of color. But these arsenals are by no means free of cost for communities. Instead, the use of hyperaggressive tools and tactics results in tragedy for civilians and police officers, escalates the risk of needless violence,
destroys property, and undermines individual liberties.

This report provides a snapshot of the realities of paramilitary policing, building on a body of existing work demonstrating that police militarization is a pervasive problem. Analyzing both existing secondary source materials and primary source data uncovered through the ACLU’s public records investigation, this report examines the use of SWAT teams by state and local law enforcement
agencies and other aspects of militaristic policing.2 As explained in the Methodology section, our statistical
analysis included more than 800 SWAT deployments conducted by 20 law enforcement agencies during the years