The combination of a post-9/11 America and a government bent on prosecuting a war on drugs has not only expanded law enforcement powers in recent years, it’s created a new breed of police officer — commando-cops.
Now the police officers and sheriff deputies are armed with a grade of equipment previously reserved for the military, such as automatic rifles, grenade launchers, armored personnel carriers and soon — drones, previously used in hardened war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan. And police officers — often only required to have a high school diploma as a prerequisite for consideration into such a career field — feel emboldened as never before, adopting the mindsets of battlefront soldiers.
It is a dangerous precedent, as law enforcers target a civilian populace in a manner usually reserved for harsh environments. The new mindset is creating a new legal battlefront for American liberties that are being tested everyday across the U.S.
In one such joint exercise, according to a newspaper in South Carolina, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department participated «in secretive joint exercise Monday and Tuesday with unnamed units from Fort Bragg.»
Fort Bragg is home to some several of the Army’s elite fighting groups, including Green Berets, the 82nd Airborne Division and Ranger units. The Army’s Delta Force is also there. Additionally, Fort Bragg is adjacent to Pope Air Force Base, which is home to the Air Force’s Combat Control and Pararescue units, which fall under special operational force commands and work alongside Navy SEALs and Delta units.
A press release from the Richland County Sheriff’s Department said the purpose of the training exercise was based on “Sheriff Leon Lott’s longstanding commitment to making sure that deputies are trained and prepared for every event and potential threat, and his desire to assist the military to ensure their preparations.»
According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, the nation’s first official Special Weapons and Tactical team was created in the late 1960s in Los Angeles.
«By 1975, there were approximately 500 such units,» the piece said. «Today, there are thousands. According to surveys conducted by the criminologist Peter Kraska of Eastern Kentucky University, just 13 percent of towns between 25,000 and 50,000 people had a SWAT team in 1983. By 2005, the figure was up to 80 percent.»
Why does a small town need a SWAT team, you might ask?
Sheriffs and police chiefs offer a range of answers, most of them relating to drugs or the justification of terrorism somehow being tied to their area. Sometimes there is cause, but many times, it’s really about building up a more muscular force.
Advocates of such tactics have claimed drug dealers have acquired more sophisticated and bigger weapons, and «law enforcement needed to stay a step ahead in the arms race.» Some high-profile incidents happened in which police were outgunned, but no data exists saying it was a nationwide problem.
Locally elected sheriffs always take an oath to protect and serve, and defend the Constitution, however, often they violate the Constitution, too. In their county, they are the king when it comes to law enforcement. A man quietly-but-illegally growing marijuana in a house hardly warrants a squad of policemen armed to the teeth busting through the door in a hail of bullets, killing anyone in sight.
That’s chilling and invokes — to some — George Orwell’s «1984.»
If sheriffs use scare tactics to keep getting re-elected, however, they essentially have the power to do whatever they want and can keep getting the money to buy equipment normally used in the raids of people like Osama bin Laden.
Somewhere there needs to be a checks-and-balances system for law enforcement in the U.S., otherwise, those who claim it is becoming a police state will be right.