Rutherford Institute-VTS Research Program(May 2010)
Katherine Coleman, James Parker Gochenour, KathrynLawryszek, Nina Chandnani, Rutherford Institute, Virginia Themis Society.
: To analyze the cultural, historical, and political contexts of the increasing militarizationof the American police force and to articulate the role that the citizens and the media in definingtheir relationship with the police.
Since the middle of the twentieth century, the American police force hasbecome increasingly centralized and militarized. This has been intensified by recent terrorist threats,which have fostered an environment that is more permissive of a powerful police force. This reportprobes the extent to which the authority of the police has been expanding, considering thetechnological, historical, and legal developments that have contributed to the enlargement of thepolice’s power.
: Research, synthesis, and interpretation of relevant scientific and journalistic material,as well as recent studies completed by leading civil liberties organizations including the AmericanCivil Liberties Union and the Cato Institute.
: The growing militarization now threatens American liberty. This threat is evident fromthe increasing arsenal of weapons available to police units, the changing image of the police withincommunities, and the growing idea that the police can and should use any means necessary tomaintain order. When viewed in a historical context, these patterns bear resemblance to thoseobserved in the early stages of the world's past police states. The increasing militarization of thepolice poses a real threat to American civil liberties, especially First and Fourth Amendmentfreedoms. In the face of the threat of an increasingly powerful police force, the American populace,with the help of a vigilant media, must inform themselves about the issues at stake and ensure thatthe police protect the order but also the liberty in their communities.
The American police force is not a branch of the military, nor is it a private security force forthe reigning political faction. It is an aggregation of the countless local units that exist for a solepurpose: to serve and protect the citizens of each and every American community. In recent years,however, there has been an increasing militarization of the police. It has not occurred suddenly, in asingle precinct; it cannot be traced back to a single leader or event- rather, the pattern is so subtlethat most American citizens are hardly even aware of it. Little by little, police authority has