“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Saturday, July 06, 2013

The militarization of US domestic local police departments.

 In Rise of the Warrior Cop, Radley Balko tackles the dangers of militarized police units run amok on U.S. soil

Show of Force
A police chief once told Radley Balko the best way to pick a SWAT team. He told Balko you ask for volunteers and write their names down. Then you make sure those people are never on the team.
"Those are the last guys you want," the chief told Balko.
Balko, the investigative journalist and Huffington Post columnist who moved to Nashville from Washington, D.C., three years ago, says he is neither anti-SWAT nor anti-police. But he argues there is a time and place when that kind of force is appropriate — and with disturbing and increasing frequency, that line is being blurred.
In a troubling new book called Rise of the Warrior Cop, Balko tackles a subject of growing controversy in communities across the United States: the militarization of police forces. Drones, enormous armored transports, Army-issued helicopters — equipment manufactured for and used by the U.S. military in times of war is finding its way more and more into the SWAT teams of police departments across the country.
"This is just gear that was not designed for use in a civilian, domestic environment. It was designed for use on a battlefield," Balko says. "When you put on garb that was designed for a soldier to wear, it can and often does give you the mentality of a soldier or encourage you to assume that mentality."
Rise of the Warrior Cop recounts instances of botched raids from across the country. For one of many shocking examples, see this excerpt from the book, courtesy of PublicAffairs. Balko also traces the evolution of policing as a profession and the rise of the SWAT team from its origins in the civil unrest of the 1960s. "In most cities, the percentage of the police force that was white was completely disproportionate to the percentage of the cities that were white," Balko says, "and so increasingly you had police departments that couldn't identify with the people they were policing and that were psychologically isolated, physically isolated." Black demonstrators were seen not as fellow U.S. citizens deserving of the same constitutional and police protections but as enemy combatants whom the SWAT teams were formed to fight against.
"Then you have these riots going on and the racial divide," Balko says, "so I think that really was the start of this kind of battlefield mentality."
Rise of the Warrior Cop follows the entrenchment and intensification of that mentality, and Balko posits that the legalization of medical marijuana in California marks the real turning point in the misuse and overuse of SWAT teams. The deployment of these units in response to search warrants for marijuana as a part of the War on Drugs served as a way for the government to send a message to the people about how serious they were about this abstract war, Balko says, "regardless of whether those crimes actually present a threat to the community."
"In a free society, I think this is one of the more terrifying aspects of this trend, when the government starts using force to make political points. Until then, they had claimed that this kind of force was necessary because the drug dealers they were raiding were violent people who are ridiculously well-armed and love to shoot cops. There is reason to doubt all of those claims, but at least they were pretending," Balko says. "When they stopped pretending and started raiding hippie mom and pop medical marijuana dispensaries, that's when it got pretty scary."
Scary or not, the militarized police might have remained obscured in the shadows of the drug war had they not been drawn out into the streets by a new generation of rioters who were different in important ways from the ones who had inspired the formation of the first SWAT teams three decades earlier.
"I think what really got publishers interested in my book was the crackdown on the Occupy protests," Balko says. "Now you have basically upper-middle-class white kids that are getting beaten up, and these are kids who know how to stream video, know how to use social media to get the word out. ... They had some advantages that people who these tactics have traditionally been used against didn't have. It drew a lot of attention to the issue that otherwise wouldn't have gone to it."
But while the Occupy Nashville protests — or at least Gov. Bill Haslam's ad hoc dismantling of them — made national headlines, there is no mention of Tennessee in Rise of the Warrior Cop. Balko says he made a vow to himself when he moved here not to "do any bomb-throwing in my backyard." And while that declaration could be problematic if Nashville were a glaring example of jacked-up police power, a variety of sources corroborate that the Metro Nashville Police Department has done a decent job of staying committed to its goal of resisting a militarized mentality.
Even so, MNPD has procured its share of military gear from the federal government, including an armored vehicle, an MKII boat, a Zodiac inflatable raft, night vision cameras, M14 rifles, .45 caliber handguns and other "miscellaneous items" such as sleeping bags, cots, and camping gear.
Capt. Dhana Jones of the Special Operations Division asserts that despite the SWAT and Special Response teams using retired military equipment, "the officers aren't out in military gear or looking anything like the military." Jones says that Nashville's SWAT team has a "high level of integrity and professionalism." The SWAT team has 21 volunteer officers from across the department who go through an intense application and training process to become qualified members of the team. There are two training sessions each month that SWAT team members must attend. Jones says there are "special operating procedures we must abide by." For example, the department has a legal advisor who goes on scene with the SWAT team to ensure that everything they do "has legal standing." That advisor is also a practicing attorney.
"In Nashville," Jones asserts, "checks and balances are in place to mitigate a situation with as little force as possible and no mistakes."
The numbers appear to bear that out. In 2012, Nashville's SWAT team was deployed 120 times. Only 16 of these 120 included the entire SWAT team responding to barricaded subjects, in one instance with a hostage. The rest were "limited call-outs" where only part of the SWAT team was deployed: 36 for high-risk search warrants, 45 for equipment displays at community events, 18 for assignments such as training provisions, dignitary protection, high-risk arrests and special event response teams. So far in 2013 the SWAT team has been deployed 76 times. Only five of these have necessitated the full SWAT team, for barricaded subjects. None of these deployments appear on the CATO Institute's interactive map of "Botched Paramilitary Police Raids." There are six cases in Tennessee, the earliest from 1997 and the latest in 2004. Most involve the death of innocent people because of overeager SWAT teams that entered the wrong house. None of them happened in Metro Nashville. The closest occurred in 2000 in Lebanon, Tenn. — where the police own a seven-ton LAV-150 Commando reconnaissance vehicle. Four of the six botched SWAT raids in Tennessee were for drug warrants, something the Nashville SWAT team does not respond to except for "high-risk" instances where the suspect is thought to have weapons or known to be violent.
"It is true that at one point there was a lot of focus on military tactics adopted by the police," says Sgt. Robert Weaver, the Fraternal Order of Police president of Nashville's Lodge 5, "but recently most police departments have tried to embrace a community policing approach."
Both Jones and Weaver emphasize that they and their fellow police officers are citizens of this country, though perhaps it is easy for the public to forget that.
"We're citizen police officers," Weaver says. "We live and work in the community we serve. Most police officers are very aware and attuned to not wanting to live in a police state themselves. Despite the uniforms and despite the equipment, we're all just residents."
That equipment is changing, though. Along with its hand-me-down military gear, MNPD also recently received two Draganflyer X6 unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, from a Department of Homeland Security grant. Kris Mumford, spokeswoman for the Metro Nashville Police Department, tells the Scene these six-rotor UAVs are not yet being used, as "the police department is still working on deployment strategies and usage plans that have to be approved by the chain of command." The Freedom From Unwarranted Surveillance Act, signed by Haslam on May 20, mandates that these drones cannot be used without a search warrant, with some exceptions. The same is true, in theory, of SWAT teams. Balko's book, due July 9, serves as a collection of cautionary tales about trusting such protections on their face.


  1. I certainly don't like the trend and am, personally, much more comfortable with

    Barney Fife

    And wouldn't it be wonderful to have Quirk as Sheriff?

    But what to do when the pressure cooker bomb goes off at the parade?


    1. An added benefit with Quirk and Barney in control is any country lawyer can get you free of the local parking ticket.


  2. Catherine LavalleeSat Jul 06, 05:01:00 AM EDT

    Law enforcement see themselves as brothers in arms against a common enemy: you. They suit up every day for war. Gone are the days of peace officers who interacted with a community they felt part of. Now it's all busting heads in the name of righteous justice.

    The laws they enforced were written for them, and any seeming violation of those various laws and regulations is seen as a personal slight.

    As the state is trying its level best to assure its agents are the only ones allowed to protect themselves with firearms, you can't even call them heroes. They are relatively unaccountable and they have the power to remove your freedom at a whim.

    Cops have to realize that they are the janitors of society; we expect them to clean up the mess that some members of society cause.
    And to you who believe the “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” argument about the NSA. Get it through your head that you are only free so long as no one in power decides you shouldn’t be and that it's not difficult to run afoul of one of them.

    1. I concur with Deuce's "well said" Lady Lavallee.


    2. Though I disagree with some of it. They are, after all, not expected to just walk into a barrage of AK-47 fire for our sakes, and they can be wonderful to have on your side.

      Sometimes they need the body armor. Some of the bad guys are well armed these days.

      And I don't think they see me as a common enemy.

      They need to be well trained, like a good German shepherd guard dog.

      We can do that.

      See: civil cases against police, etc


    3. They are so often in the 'damned if you do damned if you don't' situations.

      They were for instance entirely on the side of my niece though her assailant had fled the country with her bank account before she had asked for police aid.

      Let us think this through a bit further.


    4. He is after all, thanks to her University here, on the Watch List and may never come back without facing arrest and trial.

      I support this. And am relieved by it. And she is too.


    5. Perhaps they need a puppet show?

  3. Trust me, Bremer is even worse as an artist than he was as a ruler of Iraq.

    As the de facto ruler of Iraq, American diplomat Paul Bremer found himself the target of assassination attempts as he tried to get the country back on its feet following the 2003 invasion.

    Succeeding Saddam Hussein as leader of a country broken by decades of tyranny and war amid the growing insurgency against U.S. troops made his job as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority arguably the most stressful in the world.

    Today, life is very different for Bremer. And like the president who sent U.S. troops into Iraq, Bremer has taken up painting.
    Bremer, a youthful 72, studied history of art and history at college, but had never actually tried to paint until about 2008.

    He is modest about his skills – and insists his former boss George W. Bush is the better artist -- but he has held several exhibitions and said his work fetches up to $800.

    You want better art than Bremer’s best, keep your eye out for some work displayed at a corner gas station, preferably on velvet. All under $35.

  4. In Turkey, the crackdown on anti-government protesters has begun

    The Turkish government’s spin doctors have linked the recent protests to cyber attacks and historical cases of secular dissent to silence anti-government demonstrators.


    The latest joke among members of the Turkish protest movement is that they are “soldiers of the intergalactic coup lobby”. But it’s not just for fun; their humour is a response to what the Turkish government’s spin doctors are saying about the protesters, whose camps in Istanbul and elsewhere have been cleared forcibly by police in the past few weeks.

    When the spin doctors claimed that Turkey was about to face a cyber attack, and that the anti-government demonstrations were linked to it, the protesters had no option but to mock their reasoning. But the government’s response is becoming increasingly sophisticated – and it’s not all so easy to laugh off.

    “There are the names of nine illegal organisations in my criminal charge, Your Honour. Are you going to pick one for me or am I supposed to choose?” Those were the words of one young protester hauled before a court last month. Since protests began at the end of May – initially over the destruction of Gezi Park in Taksim Square but soon spreading from Istanbul to the rest of the country – thousands of people have been arrested. The charges vary from “joining illegal demonstrations” to “being a member of a terrorist organisation”. The justice system, which in Turkey is politicised, has increased the pressure on demonstrators.

    On 22 June the government announced that prosecutors will link the protests to “Sledgehammer”, an alleged secularist coup plot that dates back to 2003 and has led since then to the prosecution of thousands of army personnel. Linking the 2013 protests to this case – even though both secularists and islamists were on the streets to voice their discontent with the Erdogan government – is a way to discredit the movement. Similarly politicised cases have been used to silence secular politicians and Kurdish activists over the past ten years.

    While some protesters are brought before judges, others face physical violence. Since the protest camps were cleared, activists have been meeting in public parks in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir in the evenings to discuss what they have been through and how the action should continue.

    Recently three of these forums have been attacked by young, government-supporting thugs who then took to Twitter to declare that they were proud of what they had done. They operate with sticks and knives, and preferably in dark alleys. Somehow, the police seem unable to stop them. Elsewhere, vocal critics of the government, including myself, have been singled out by establishment newspapers, or by supporters of the governing Justice and Development (AK) Party, as “provocateurs”.

    Clumsy indictments and the intergalactic coup lobby can be regarded as a joke. But as the days pass, we’re not sure how much longer we’ll be able to carry on laughing.


    Ece Temelkuran is a novelist and political commentator based in Istanbul

  5. Always helpful John McCain, with the chills and shakes caused by acute camera withdrawal, my friends, bulges back on scene:

    US Republican Senator John McCain has called on the US government to suspend financial aid to the Egyptian army, following a military coup that overthrew the elected president Mohamed Morsi.

    “We have to suspend aid to Egyptian military because the military has overturned the vote of the people,” McCain, who is also a member of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, said on Friday.

    “We cannot repeat the same mistakes that we made in other times of our history by supporting removal of freely elected governments.”

    McCain said that Washington should demand Egyptian army to set a timetable for elections and for making of a new constitution.

    “And then we should evaluate whether to continue with aid or not,” McCain said.

    US has been granting financial aid to Egypt since 1979, which is considered a critical US national security priority.

  6. However, 70% of Egyptians don’t want their government to take US aid. Wow, could we make that a double?

    CAIRO — As rival camps of Egyptians protest for and against the toppling of President Mohamed Morsi, there is a rare point of agreement: America is to blame.

    Anti-Americanism, which has long been an undercurrent here, is erupting again as Egyptians battle over the future of their country. Each side accuses the United States of backing the other and alleges conspiracies in which the Obama administration is secretly fostering dissent in an attempt to weaken Egypt.

    It's a damned if you do, damned if you don't quagmire in which the U.S. appears to have alienated both sides, underscoring waning American influence and credibility as it attempts to navigate the turmoil.

    Islamists at a large pro-Morsi rally Friday afternoon questioned how the U.S. — which claims to stand for the rule of law and free elections — could so quickly abandon Egypt's first democratically elected president and fail to condemn, or even acknowledge, Wednesday's military coup.

    "The morals of America are not being reflected in their politics toward Egypt," said Sharif Hegazy, 37, who manages the Cairo office of a U.S. company he preferred not to name. "Because of its past support for [deposed President Hosni] Mubarak, America has always been seen as a veiled enemy. Now they are just waiting to see which side will win. That's not ethical. The U.S. should support the election."

    Though U.S. officials and analysts say American influence in Egypt is increasingly limited, many Morsi supporters are convinced that a U.S. hand is at work behind the scenes in the country's recent troubles. A common viewpoint expressed on the streets is that the Obama administration worked with the Egyptian army to cause power outages, fuel shortages and other problems that soured public support for Morsi.

    The deposed president's supporters complain that the U.S. never supported Morsi because of his roots in the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.

    “The U.S. silence [to Morsi’s ouster] proves that the U.S. has always been against political Islam, even when political Islam arises through democratic means,” said Mohamed El Sayad, 40, a Cairo father of three.



  7. {…}
    Sheik Abdel Khalea Fahmi, 33, struggling to be heard over buzzing military helicopters that protesters say were sent to intimidate pro-Morsi crowds, saw an even more devious U.S. conspiracy. Mindful of the rising anti-American sentiment, he said the United States pretended to embrace Morsi's government as a way of discrediting him.

    "It was part of the U.S. plot to support Morsi so that the people would turn against him," Fahmi said.

    Just a few miles away in Tahrir Square, anti-Morsi protesters insist the U.S. is on the ousted president's side, just as Washington supported Mubarak. They have been holding up signs reading "Obama supports terrorism" and pictures of U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson with an "X" mark.

    Now many of the young Egyptians whom Obama tried to reach out to in his landmark 2009 speech here view the U.S. president as a hypocrite.

    "America is using the Muslim Brotherhood to impose the kind of order they want to create a new Middle East, which would guarantee Israel's security and U.S. interests," said Ahmed Salam, 20, a law student and member of the Rebel movement, which organized the massive protest Sunday that helped bring down Morsi.

    "The U.S. isn't listening to the people," he said, speaking from a tent in the middle of Tahrir Square.

    Much of their anger has been focused on Patterson, ambassador since 2011. She infuriated anti-Morsi activists last month by saying she was "deeply skeptical" about calls to use street protests to unseat Morsi, adding that elections are a better route. She also explained U.S. support of Morsi by noting that he was the nation's democratically elected leader.

    After that, activists used a variety of foul language to describe Patterson and called for her to be kicked out of the country. Anti-Morsi protesters say such criticism is justified because the U.S. failed to speak out more aggressively when Morsi was accused of cracking down on political opponents, journalists and judges.

    "It's not only about elections," said Mohammed Farahat, 27, an advertising account manager. "Hitler was elected too. It bothers me that the U.S. presents itself as a peacemaker, but then they supports a fascist regime like Morsi's."

    Asked whether he was worried that the United States might cut off $1.3 billion in annual aid to Egypt, Farahat said his country could do fine without it, a statement that seemed to ignore Egypt's deep economic troubles. A 2011 Gallup poll found that 70% of Egyptians were opposed to their country accepting further American assistance.

    "I'm tired of being threatened with losing our aid," he said. “How many times can they play that card?”

  8. The problem is that you will never have freedom in a religious state. In a religious state , the fanatic believers on the right always get disproportionate power.

    1. Hasn't most of our aid over the years gone to the Egyptian military and not the mosque? And now the military is putting the mosque back in a more proper place.


    2. There was no freedom in the irreligious state of the Soviet Union. There the fanatic believers on the left had disproportionate power.

      What is needed is a proper balance, and the rule of rational man made law, with true rights.


    3. So that state, society, mosque, church, synagogue etc. are off one's back.


  9. .

    Middle Class rising?

    The two common threads that link the various mass protests are economic growth and an increasingly empowered citizenry of a globalised world able to raise its voice against poor governance. Liberalised economies have opened the door to capital seeking profitable investment opportunities. Those with the power to grant those rights or directly profit from the opening have emerged the major winners of globalisation. The same globalisation that spawned educated and skilled middle class, also empowered them with new tools.

    Armed with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube the upper strata of the middle class can organise flash mobs in Delhi's India Gate, Istanbul's Taksim Square and Tahrir Square in Cairo. Of course, without a clear platform or organisation such inchoate anti-government protests often fizzle out after minor victory. Most often, interest groups, like the military in Egypt, take advantage of the protests but they still advance the agenda for reform and put the powers on notice about the peril of business as usual.

    Get ready to be interrupted again and again by an angry middle class that will take to the streets — the new normal.


  10. POTISKUM, Nigeria (AP) -- Islamic militants attacked a boarding school in northeast Nigeria before dawn Saturday, killing 29 students and one teacher. Some of the pupils were burned alive in the latest school attack blamed on a radical terror group, survivors said.

    Parents screamed in anguish as they tried to identify the charred and gunshot victims.

    Farmer Malam Abdullahi found the bodies of two of his sons, a 10-year-old shot in the back as he apparently tried to run away, and a 12-year-old shot in the chest.

    "That's it, I'm taking my other boys out of school," he told The Associated Press as he wept over the two corpses. He said he had three younger children in a nearby school.



    2. they need a secular puppet show...

    3. Authorities blamed the violence on Boko Haram, a radical group whose name means "Western education is sacrilege."

      yep, maybe the fellow islamists, the palestinians, should put on a puppet show for the Bokos...

      Sounds like they need it.

    4. He put his arm up in defense, and suffered a gunshot that blew off all four fingers on his right hand, the one he uses to write. His life was spared when the militants moved on after shooting him.

      Islamic militants from Boko Haram and breakaway groups have killed more than 1,600 civilians in suicide bombings and other attacks since 2010

      Wow, you'd think they were we fighting the european colony called Israel