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Warrior Cops

The Ominous Growth of Paramilitarism in

American Police Departments
by Diane Cecilia Weber

No. 50 August 26, 1999

Over the past 20 years Congress has encour- personnel carriers, and grenade launchers. The
aged the U.S. military to supply intelligence, police paramilitary units also conduct training
equipment, and training to civilian police. That exercises with active duty Army Rangers and
encouragement has spawned a culture of para- Navy SEALs.
militarism in American law enforcement. State and local police departments are
The 1980s and 1990s have seen marked increasingly accepting the military as a model
changes in the number of state and local para- for their behavior and outlook. The sharing of
military units, in their mission and deploy- training and technology is producing a shared
ment, and in their tactical armament. mindset. The problem is that the mindset of the
According to a recent academic survey, nearly soldier is simply not appropriate for the civilian
90 percent of the police departments surveyed police officer. Police officers confront not an
in cities with populations over 50,000 had para- “enemy” but individuals who are protected by
military units, as did 70 percent of the depart- the Bill of Rights. Confusing the police func-
ments surveyed in communities with popula- tion with the military function can lead to dan-
tions under 50,000. The Pentagon has been gerous and unintended consequences—such as
equipping those units with M-16s, armored unnecessary shootings and killings.

Diane Cecilia Weber is a Virginia writer on law enforcement and criminal justice.
The lines that Introduction foreign countries. According to the U.S.
have tradition- Southern Command, American soldiers
One of the most alarming side effects of occupy three radar sites in Colombia to
ally separated the federal government’s war on drugs is help monitor drug flights. And Navy
the military the militarization of law enforcement in SEALs have assisted in drug interdic-
America. There are two aspects to the mili- tion in the port city of Cap-Haitien,
mission from tarization phenomenon. First, the Ameri- Haiti.4
the police mis- can tradition of civil-military separation is • The U.S. Marine Corps is now patrolling
sion are getting breaking down as Congress assigns more the Mexican border to keep drugs and
and more law enforcement responsibilities illegal immigrants out of this country. In
badly blurred. to the armed forces. Second, state and local 1997 a Marine anti-drug patrol shot and
police officers are increasingly emulating killed 18-year-old Esequiel Hernandez as
the war-fighting tactics of soldiers. Most he was tending his family’s herd of goats
Americans are unaware of the militariza- on private property. The Justice
tion phenomenon simply because it has Department settled a wrongful death
been creeping along imperceptibly for lawsuit with the Hernandez family for
many years. To get perspective, it will be $1.9 million.5
useful to consider some recent events: • In 1998 Indiana National Guard Engin-
eering Units razed 42 crack houses in
• The U.S. military played a role in the and around the city of Gary. The
Waco incident. In preparation for National Guard has also been deployed
their disastrous 1993 raid on the in Washington, D.C., to drive drug deal-
Branch Davidian compound, federal ers out of certain locations.6
law enforcement agents were trained • In 1999 the Pentagon asked President
by Army Special Forces at Fort Hood, Clinton to appoint a “military leader”
Texas. And Delta Force commanders for the continental United States in
would later advise Attorney General the event of a terrorist attack on
Janet Reno to insert gas into the com- American soil. The powers that would
pound to end the 51-day siege. Waco be wielded by such a military com-
resulted in the largest number of civil- mander were not made clear.7
ian deaths ever arising from a law
enforcement operation.1 What is clear—and disquieting—is that
• Between 1995 and 1997 the Department the lines that have traditionally separated
of Defense gave police departments 1.2 the military mission from the police mis-
million pieces of military hardware, sion are getting badly blurred.
including 73 grenade launchers and 112 Over the last 20 years Congress has
armored personnel carriers. The Los encouraged the U.S. military to supply
Angeles Police Department has acquired intelligence, equipment, and training to
600 Army surplus M-16s. Even small- civilian police. That encouragement has
town police departments are getting into spawned a culture of paramilitarism in
the act. The seven-officer department in American police departments. By virtue of
Jasper, Florida, is now equipped with their training and specialized armament,
fully automatic M-16s.2 state and local police officers are adopting
• In 1996 President Bill Clinton appointed the tactics and mindset of their military
a military commander, Gen. Barry R. mentors. The problem is that the actions
McCaffrey, to oversee enforcement of the and values of the police officer are distinct-
federal drug laws as the director of the ly different from those of the warrior. The
Office of National Drug Control Policy.3 job of a police officer is to keep the peace,
• Since the mid-1990s U.S. Special Forces but not by just any means. Police officers
have been going after drug dealers in are expected to apprehend suspected law-

breakers while adhering to constitutional Trial, from Punishment, for any Murders
procedures. They are expected to use mini- which they should commit on the Inhabit-
mum force and to deliver suspects to a court ants of these States.” The colonists com-
of law. The soldier, on the other hand, is an plained that the king “has kept among us, in
instrument of war. In boot camp, recruits Times of peace, Standing Armies, without
are trained to inflict maximum damage on the consent of our Legislatures. He has affect-
enemy personnel. Confusing the police ed to render the Military independent of, and
function with the military function can superior to, the Civil Power.”
have dangerous consequences. As After the Revolutionary War, Americans
Albuquerque police chief Jerry Glavin has were determined to protect themselves
noted, “If [cops] have a mind-set that the against the threat of an overbearing mili-
goal is to take out a citizen, it will happen.”8 tary. The Founders inserted several safe-
Paramilitarism threatens civil liberties, con- guards into the Constitution to ensure that
stitutional norms, and the well-being of all the civilian powers of the new republic
citizens. Thus, the use of paramilitary tac- would remain distinct from, and superior
tics in everyday police work should alarm to, the military:
people of goodwill from across the political
spectrum. The Congress shall have Power . . .
After the
This paper will examine the militariza- To declare War . . . To raise and sup- Revolutionary
tion of law enforcement at the local level, port Armies . . . To make Rules for the War, Americans
with particular emphasis on SWAT (Special Government and Regulation of the
Weapons and Tactics) units. The paper will land and Naval Forces . . . To provide were deter-
conclude that the special skills of SWAT for organizing, arming, and disciplin- mined to pro-
personnel and their military armaments are ing, the Militia.10 tect themselves
necessary only in extraordinary circum- No State shall, without the con-
stances. The deployment of such units sent of Congress, . . . keep Troops, or against the
should therefore be infrequent. More gener- Ships of War in time of Peace, . . . or threat of an
ally, Congress should recognize that sol- engage in War, unless actually invad-
diers and police officers perform different ed, or in such imminent Danger as overbearing
functions. Federal lawmakers should dis- will not admit of delay.11 military.
courage the culture of paramilitarism in The President shall be Command-
police departments by keeping the military er in Chief of the Army and Navy of
out of civilian law enforcement. the United States, and of the Militia
of the several States, when called into
the actual Service of the United
A Brief History of the States.12
Relationship between the A well regulated Militia, being
necessary to the security of a free
Military and Civilian Law State, the right of the people to keep
Enforcement and bear Arms, shall not be
The use of British troops to enforce No soldier shall, in time of peace
unpopular laws in the American colonies be quartered in any house, without
helped to convince the colonists that King the consent of the Owner, nor in
George III and Parliament were intent on time of war, but in a manner to be
establishing tyranny.9 The Declaration of prescribed by law.14
Independence specifically refers to those
practices, castigating King George for “quar- It is important to emphasize that those
tering large Bodies of Armed Troops among provisions were not considered controver-
us” and for “protecting [soldiers], by mock sial. Indeed, the debate at the time of the

founding did not concern the wisdom of Congress to reaffirm, by law, the principle of
limiting the role of the military. The debate civil-military separation. President Hayes
was only with respect to whether those con- signed that bill into law in June 1878.
stitutional safeguards would prove ade- Federal troops have occasionally played a
quate.15 role in quelling civil disorder—without prior
During the Civil War period the principle congressional authorization—in spite of the
of civil-military separation broke down. plain terms of the Posse Comitatus Act. The
President Abraham Lincoln suspended the U.S. Army, for example, was used to restore
writ of habeas corpus, and citizens were order in industrial disputes in the late 19th
arrested and tried before military tribunals.16 and early 20th century. Except for the illegal
After the Civil War, Congress imposed mar- occupation of the Coeur d’Alene mining
tial law in the rebel states. And to shield the region in Idaho in 1899–1901, army troops
military’s reconstruction policies from con- were used by presidents to accomplish specif-
stitutional challenges, Congress barred the ic and temporary objectives—after which they
Supreme Court from jurisdiction over feder- were immediately withdrawn.22 Federal
al appellate court rulings involving postwar troops and federalized National Guardsmen
reconstruction controversies.17 were called upon to enforce the desegrega-
The Army enforced an array of laws in the tion of schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, in
South and, not surprisingly, became politi- 1957; in Oxford, Mississippi, in 1962; and in
cally meddlesome. In several states the Army Selma, Alabama, in 1963.
interfered with local elections and state polit- Over the past 20 years there has been a dra-
ical machinery. Such interference during the matic expansion of the role of the military in
presidential election of 1876 provoked a law enforcement activity. In 1981 Congress
political firestorm.18 The Democratic candi- passed the Military Cooperation with Law
date, Samuel J. Tilden, won the popular vote Enforcement Officials Act.23 That law amend-
while the Republican candidate, Rutherford ed the Posse Comitatus Act insofar as it autho-
B. Hayes, garnered more electoral votes. The rized the military to “assist” civilian police in
Republican victory was tainted by accusa- the enforcement of drug laws. The act encour-
tions that federal troops had stuffed the bal- aged the military to (a) make available equip-
lot box in a few southern states to favor ment, military bases, and research facilities to
Hayes. Negotiations between the political federal, state, and local police; (b) train and
parties ensued and a compromise was advise civilian police on the use of the equip-
reached. The Democrats agreed to concede ment; and (c) assist law enforcement person-
As the drug the election to “Rutherfraud” Hayes (as dis- nel in keeping drugs from entering the coun-
gruntled partisans nicknamed him) on the try. The act also authorized the military to
war escalated condition that federal troops be withdrawn share information acquired during military
throughout the from the South.19 The Republicans agreed. operations with civilian law enforcement
1980s, the mili- The Army’s machinations in the South also agencies.
set the stage for a landmark piece of legisla- As the drug war escalated throughout
tary was drawn tion, the Posse Comitatus Act.20 The one-sen- the 1980s, the military was drawn further
further and fur- tence law provided, “Whoever, except in cases and further into the prohibition effort by a
and under such circumstances expressly series of executive and congressional initia-
ther into the authorized by the Constitution or by Act of tives:
prohibition Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army
effort. as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute • In 1986 President Ronald Reagan issued
the laws shall be fined no more than $10,000 a National Decision Security Directive
or imprisoned not more than two years, or designating drugs as an official threat to
both.”21 Southern Democrats proposed the “national security,” which encouraged a
Posse Comitatus bill in an effort to get tight-knit relationship between civilian

law enforcement and the military.24 The Militarization of the Police depart-
• In 1987 Congress set up an adminis- Police Department ments have
trative apparatus to facilitate transac-
tions between civilian law enforcement Not only is the military directly involved evolved into
officials and the military. For example, in law enforcement; police departments are increasingly
a special office with an 800 number was increasingly emulating the tactics of the
established to handle inquiries by armed forces in their everyday activities.
police officials regarding acquisition of This aspect of the militarization phenome- authoritarian,
military hardware.25 non has gone largely unnoticed. autonomous,
• In 1988 Congress directed the National
Guard to assist law enforcement agen- The Early American Police Force and militarized
cies in counterdrug operations. Today In one sense, the paramilitarism in bureaucracies.
National Guard units in all 50 states fly today’s police departments is a conse-
across America’s landscape in dark quence of the increasing professionalism of
green helicopters, wearing camouflage police in the 20th century. Professionalism
uniforms and armed with machine essentially grants a monopoly of specialized
guns, in search of marijuana fields.26 knowledge, training, and practice to certain
• In 1989 President George Bush created groups in exchange for a commitment to a
six regional joint task forces (JTFs) public service ideal. While that may sound
within the Department of Defense. desirable for law enforcement officers, the
Those task forces are charged with effects of professionalism have, in many
coordinating the activities of the mili- respects, been negative. Over the last centu-
tary and police agencies in the drug ry police departments have evolved into
war, including joint training of military increasingly centralized, authoritarian,
units and civilian police. JTFs can be autonomous, and militarized bureaucra-
called on by civilian law enforcement cies, which has led to their isolation from
agencies in counterdrug cases when the citizenry.
police feel the need for military rein- Early police departments were anything
forcement.27 but professional. Officers were basically politi-
• In 1994 the Department of Justice and cal appointees, with ties to ward bosses.
the Department of Defense signed a Officers also had strong cultural roots in the
memorandum of understanding, neighborhoods they patrolled. Police work
which has enabled the military to was more akin to social work, as jails provided
transfer technology to state and local overnight lodging and soup kitchens for
police departments. Civilian officers tramps, lost children, and other destitute indi-
now have at their disposal an array of viduals. Discipline was practically nonexistent,
high-tech military items previously and law enforcement was characterized by an
reserved for use during wartime.28 arbitrary, informal process that is sometimes
dubbed “curbside justice.” Barely trained and
All of those measures have resulted in the equipped, police aimed at regulating rather
militarization of a wide range of activity in than preventing crime, which, in the previous
the United States that had been previously century, meant something closer to policing
considered the domain of civilian law vice and cultural lifestyles.
enforcement. As one reporter has observed, On the positive side, the early police
“Not since federal troops were deployed to forces were well integrated into their com-
the former Confederate states during munities, often solving crimes by simply
Reconstruction has the U.S. military been so chatting with people on the street corners.
intimately involved in civilian law enforce- On the negative side, the police were suspi-
ment.”29 cious of and often hostile to strangers and

immigrants, and, having strong loyalties to Labor referred to it as “Cossacks.” Despite the
the local political machine, they were sus- misgivings of many people, Pennsylvania
ceptible to bribery and political influence. started a trend. Other states began to emulate
Throughout the 19th century police work Pennsylvania’s state police force.
was considered casual labor, making it dif- The other significant event was J. Edgar
ficult for either municipalities or precinct Hoover’s directorship of the Federal Bureau
captains to impose any uniform standards of Investigation. By raising standards of
on patrolmen. Police did not consider training and recruitment, Hoover rescued
themselves a self-contained body of law federal law enforcement from its former
officers set apart from the general popu- state of corruption and mismanagement.
lace. Hoover imbued his agents with a moral zeal
The initial round of professionalization to fight crime, and in 1935 he opened the
took place during the Progressive Era with the National Police Academy, which has exert-
appearance of early police literature, fraternal ed tremendous influence on police training
organizations, and rudimentary recruitment generally.31 Hoover’s FBI acquired a prestige
standards—all of which suggest the emergence that made it the model police organization.
of a common occupational self-consciousness.
Hoover’s FBI Internal and external pressures forced the Elite SWAT Units Created
acquired a depoliticization and restructuring of police There is agreement in police literature that
prestige that departments, which gradually reformed into the incident that inspired the SWAT concept
centralized, depersonalized, hierarchical occurred in 1966. In August of that year a
made it the bureaucracies. To gain control of the rank and deranged man climbed to the top of the 32-
model police file, police chiefs assigned military ranks and story clock tower at the University of Texas in
insignia to personnel, and some departments Austin. For 90 minutes he randomly shot 46
organization. required military drills. “Military methods people, killing 15 of them, until two police
have been adopted and military discipline officers got to the top of the tower and killed
enforced,” wrote Philadelphia police superin- him. The Austin episode was so blatant that it
tendent James Robinson in his department’s “shattered the last myth of safety Americans
1912 annual report.30 A wave of police union- enjoyed [and] was the final impetus the chiefs
ism from 1917 to 1920 was a strong indication of police needed”32 to form their own SWAT
that police not only were acquiring a shared teams. Shortly thereafter, the Los Angeles
occupational outlook but had come to regard Police Department formed the first SWAT
policing as a full-time career. team and, it is said, originated the acronym
Two events, however, signaled the break- SWAT to describe its elite force. The Los
away of police from their communities and Angeles SWAT unit acquired national prestige
into their modern professional enclave. In when it was used successfully against the
1905 the first truly modern state police force Black Panthers in 1969 and the Symbionese
was formed in Pennsylvania. Ostensibly creat- Liberation Army in 1973.
ed to control crime in rural areas, the Pennsyl- Much like the FBI, the modern SWAT
vania State Police was used mainly in labor dis- team was born of public fear and the per-
putes, since the state militias and local police ception by police that crime had reached
(who were more likely to sympathize with such proportions and criminals had
strikers) had been ineffective. That centralized become so invincible that more armament
organization, under one commander appoint- and more training were needed. SWAT
ed by the governor, recruited members from team members have come to consider
across the state so that no more than a hand- themselves members of an elite unit with
ful of officers had roots in any single commu- specialized skills and more of a military
nity. This new force was considered so mili- ethos than the normal police structure.
taristic that the Pennsylvania Federation of Another striking similarity with the FBI is

that SWAT units have gained their status acquire more sophisticated tactical equip-
and legitimacy in the public eye by their ment: automatic weapons with laser sights
performance in a few sensational events. and sound suppressors, surveillance equip-
The earliest SWAT teams consisted of ment such as Laser Bugs that can detect
small units that could be called into action sounds inside a building by bouncing a laser
to deal with difficult situations, such as beam off a window, pinhole cameras, flash
incidents involving hostages, barricaded and noise grenades, rubber bullets, bullet-
suspects, or hijackers. Early SWAT team proof apparel, battering rams, and more. The
members were not unlike regular police Boone County Sheriff’s office in Indiana has
officers and were only slightly better acquired an amphibious armored personnel
equipped. carrier.34 In Fresno, California, the SWAT unit
has access to two helicopters equipped with
SWAT Teams Everywhere, Doing night vision goggles and an armored person-
Everything nel carrier with a turret.35 According to Cal
The 1980s and 1990s saw marked changes Black, a former SWAT commander for the
in the number of permanent SWAT teams FBI, “The equipment SWAT teams use today
across the country, in their mission and is many times more sophisticated than it was
deployment, and in their tactical armament. when I began in SWAT in the 1970s. . . .
According to a 1997 study of SWAT teams Because of this high-tech equipment, the abil-
conducted by Peter Kraska and Victor ity of SWAT teams has increased dramatical-
Kappeler of Eastern Kentucky University, ly.”36
nearly 90 percent of the police departments The National Institute of Justice report
surveyed in cities with populations over on the DOJ-DOD technology “partnership”
50,000 had paramilitary units, as did 70 per- boasted a number of high-tech items that
cent of the departments surveyed in commu- SWAT teams now have at their disposal.
nities with populations under 50,000.33 Included among the showcase military
Although the proliferation of those special technologies deemed applicable to law
units was slow in the late 1960s and early enforcement were “inconspicuous systems
1970s, their numbers took a leap in the mid- that can detect from more than 30 feet away
1970s, and growth has remained high since weapons with little or no metal content as
the 1980s. In fact, most SWAT teams have well as those made of metal.”37 Other items
been created in the 1980s and 1990s. Towns in the pipeline include “a gas-launched,
like Jasper, Lakeland, and Palm Beach, wireless, electric stun projectile”; a “vehicu-
Florida; Lakewood, New Jersey; Chapel Hill, lar laser surveillance and dazzler system”; The 1980s and
North Carolina; Charlottesville, Virginia; and “pyrotechnic devices such as flash-bang 1990s saw
Harwich, Massachusetts, have SWAT teams. grenades [and] smoke grenades”; instru-
The campus police at the University of ments of “crowd control”; mobile, even
marked changes
Central Florida have a SWAT unit—even hand-held, systems to locate gunfire; and in the number
though the county SWAT team is available. tagging equipment to locate, identify, and of permanent
Kraska refers to the proliferation as the “mil- monitor the “movement of individuals,
itarization of Mayberry,” and he is rightly vehicles and containers.”38 Special body SWAT teams
alarmed that the special units are becoming a armor and helmets are also under consider- across the coun-
normal and permanent part of law enforce- ation. Nick Pastore, former police chief in try, in their mis-
ment agencies. New Haven, Connecticut, says: “I was
Under the Military Cooperation with Law offered tanks, bazookas, anything I wanted. sion and deploy-
Enforcement Officials Act, Congress directed . . . I turned it all down because it feeds a ment, and in
the military to make equipment and facilities mind-set that you’re not a police officer
available to civilian police in the anti-drug serving a community, you’re a soldier at
their tactical
effort. As a result, police departments began to war.”39 armament.

A disturbing An even more disturbing development Limiting the SWAT Mission
development is reported in the Kraska-Kappeler study, how- to Bona Fide Emergencies
ever, is the growing tendency of police depart-
the growing ten- ments to use SWAT units in routine policing The relatively recent phenomenon of spe-
dency of police activity. The Fresno SWAT unit, for example, cial, commando-type units within civilian law
sends its 40-person team, with full military enforcement agencies is occurring on both
departments to dress and gear, into the inner city “war zone” sides of the Atlantic. The British counterpart
use SWAT units to deal with problems of drugs, gangs, and to the SWAT team in America is the Police
in routine polic- crime. One survey respondent described his Support Unit (PSU). In 1993 the British Journal
department’s use of SWAT teams in the fol- of Criminology published opposing views on
ing activity. lowing way: British paramilitarism by P. A. J. Waddington
and Anthony Jefferson. Both scholars agreed
We’re into saturation patrols in hot that public order policing in Britain by PSUs
spots. We do a lot of our work with was becoming paramilitaristic, but they could
the SWAT unit because we have big- not agree on a precise definition of “paramili-
ger guns. We send out two, two-to- tarism.” While Jefferson defined paramili-
four-men cars, we look for minor viola- tarism as “the application of quasi-military
tions and do jump-outs, either on peo- training, equipment, philosophy and organi-
ple on the street or automobiles. After zation to questions of policing,” Waddington
we jump-out the second car provides confined paramilitarism to police methods of
periphery cover with an ostentatious riot control, namely, “the coordination and
display of weaponry. We’re sending a integration of all officers deployed as squads
clear message: if the shootings don’t under centralised command and control.”44 A
stop, we’ll shoot someone.40 third scholar, Alice Hills, has sought the mid-
dle ground, rounding off the differences by
A midwestern community with a popula- looking at paramilitary forces of other coun-
tion of 75,000 sends out patrols dressed in tries, such as the French Gendarmerie, the
tactical uniform in a military personnel carri- Italian Carabiniere, the Frontier Guards in
er. The armored vehicle, according to the Finland, Civil Defense Units in Saudi Arabia,
SWAT commander, stops “suspicious vehi- and the National Security Guards in India. By
cles and people. We stop anything that Hills’s reckoning, paramilitarism should “be
moves. We’ll sometimes even surround suspi- defined in terms of function . . . and relation-
cious homes and bring out the MP5s ships; of the police to the military and to the
(machine gun pistols).”41 state, as well as to the legal system and style of
Unfortunately, it is likely that the number political process.”45 In general, however, as has
of SWAT “patrols” will rise in the future. In been the case in this country, British studies
their survey, when Kraska and Kappeler asked have largely “neglected . . . the relationship of
the question, Is your department using the the police to the other uniformed services, par-
tactical operations unit as a proactive patrol ticularly the army, in the late twentieth centu-
unit to aid high crime areas? 107 departments ry.”46
indicated that they were. Sixty-one percent of What is disturbing is that under any of the
all respondents thought it was a good idea. In definitions offered by the British analysts,
fact, 63 percent of the departments in that sur- American SWAT teams can be regarded as
vey agreed that SWAT units “play an impor- paramilitary units. The institutional cooper-
tant role in community policing strategies.”42 ation between civilian law enforcement and
According to Police magazine, “Police officers the military has emerged under the direct
working in patrol vehicles, dressed in urban political sponsorship of elected leaders in the
tactical gear and armed with automatic national legislature and the presidency. In
weapons are here—and they’re here to stay.”43 1981 Congress diluted the Posse Comitatus

Act—a law that was designed to keep the mil- currently conducted training exercises with
itary out of civilian affairs—in order to give “active-duty military experts in special opera-
the military an active role in the war on tions.”52 Twenty-three respondents to the sur-
drugs, and that role has been expanded by vey indicated that they trained with either
subsequent congressional action and by the Navy SEALs or Army Rangers.53 One respon-
support of presidents of both political par- dent went into greater detail:
ties. The military–law enforcement connec-
tion is now a basic assumption within the We’ve had special forces folks who
federal government, and it receives enthusias- have come right out of the jungles
tic support in government literature. For of Central and South America. . . .
example, in a 1997 National Institute of Jus- All branches of military service are
tice report on the transfer of military tech- involved in providing training to
nology to civilian police departments, the law enforcement. U.S. Marshals act
Joint Program Steering Group explained the as liaisons between the police and
“convergence in the technology needs of the military to set up the training—our
law enforcement and military communities” go-between. They have an arrange-
as due to their “common missions.” In the ment with the military through
military’s newest “peacekeeping” role abroad, JTF-6 [Joint Task Force 6]. . . . I just Because of
it is obliged—much as civilian police—to be received a piece of paper from a their close col-
“highly discreet when applying force,” given four-star general who tells us he’s laboration with
the “greater presence of members of the concerned about the type of train-
media or other civilians who are observing, if ing we’re getting. We’ve had teams the military,
not recording, the situation.”47 Moreover, the of Navy Seals and Army Rangers SWAT units are
military’s enemy abroad has begun to resem- come here and teach us everything.
ble law enforcement’s enemy at home: “Law We just have to use our judgment
taking on the
officers today confront threats that have and exclude the information like: warrior men-
more and more military aspects” due to the “at this point we bring in the mor- tality of our
changed “nature of criminals and their tars and blow the place up.”54
crimes.”48 military’s spe-
With widespread political sanction, the Because of their close collaboration with cial forces.
military is now encouraged to share training, the military, SWAT units are taking on the
equipment, technology—and, most subtle, warrior mentality of our military’s special
mentality—with state and local civilian police. forces. SWAT team organization resembles
SWAT team members undergo rigorous train- that of a special combat unit, with a com-
ing similar to that given military special oper- mander, a tactical team leader, a scout, a
ations units. Training, as one study has noted, rear guard or “defenseman,” a marksman
“may seem to be a purely technical exercise, (sniper), a spotter, a gasman, and para-
[but] it actually plays a central role in paramil- medics. Moreover, SWAT teams, like mili-
itary subculture”49 and moreover reinforces tary special forces, are elite units: Their rig-
“the importance of feeling and thinking as a orous team training; high-tech armament;
team.”50 The research of Kraska and Kappeler and “battle dress uniforms,” consisting of
revealed that SWAT units are often trained lace-up combat boots, full body armor,
alongside, or with the support of, military spe- Kevlar helmets, and goggles with “ninja”
cial forces personnel. Of 459 SWAT teams style hoods, reinforce their elitism within
across the country, 46 percent acquired their law enforcement agencies. One command-
initial training from “police officers with spe- er—who disapproved of proactive SWAT
cial operations experience in the military,” and policing and turned down requests from
43 percent with “active-duty military experts team members to dress in black battle dress
in special operations.”51 Almost 46 percent uniforms while on patrol—nevertheless

understood its attraction to team members: charged with enforcing the law. The soldier
“I can’t blame them, we’re a very elite unit, confronts an enemy in a life-or-death situa-
they just want to be distinguishable.”55 tion. The soldier learns to use lethal force
The so-called war on drugs and other mar- on the enemy, both uniformed and civilian,
tial metaphors are turning high-crime areas irrespective of age or gender. The soldier
into “war zones,” citizens into potential ene- must sometimes follow orders unthinking-
mies, and police officers into soldiers. Prepar- ly, acts in concert with his comrades, and
ing the ground for the 1994 technology trans- initiates violence on command. That men-
fer agreement between the Department of tality, with which new recruits are strenu-
Defense and the Department of Justice, ously indoctrinated in boot camp, can be a
Attorney General Reno addressed the defense matter of survival to the soldier and the
and intelligence community. In her speech, nation at war.
Reno compared the drug war to the Cold War, The civilian law enforcement officer, on
and the armed and dangerous enemies abroad the other hand, confronts not an “enemy”
to those at home: but individuals who, like him, are both sub-
ject to the nation’s laws and protected by the
So let me welcome you to the kind of Bill of Rights. Although the police officer can
war our police fight every day. And use force in life-threatening situations, the
let me challenge you to turn your Constitution and numerous Supreme Court
skills that served us so well in the rulings have circumscribed the police offi-
Cold War to helping us with the war cer’s direct use of force, as well as his power of
we’re now fighting daily in the streets search and seizure.59 In terms of violence, the
of our towns and cities across the police officer’s role is—or should be—purely
Nation.56 reactive. When a police officer begins to
think like a soldier, tragic consequences—
The martial rhetoric can be found in such as the loss of innocent life at Waco—will
both political parties. Bill McCollum (R- result.
Fla.), chairman of the Subcommittee on After some controversial SWAT shootings
Crime of the House Judiciary Committee, spawned several wrongful death lawsuits
has criticized the Clinton administration against the police department of Albuquer-
for not waging the war on drugs aggressive- que, New Mexico, the city hired Professor Sam
ly enough: “The drug crisis is a top—if not Walker of the University of Nebraska to study
the top—national security threat facing our its departmental practices. According to
The mindset of nation today . . . [the Clinton] administra- Walker: “The rate of killings by the police was
tion’s clear unwillingness to wage an all-out just off the charts. . . . They had an organiza-
the warrior is drug war cannot go unchallenged.”57 In the tional culture that led them to escalate situa-
simply not current political climate, anyone who does tions upward rather than de-escalating.”60 The
appropriate for not support an escalation of the drug war is city of Albuquerque subsequently hired a new
condemned for being “soft on crime.”58 police chief and dismantled its SWAT unit.
the civilian Departmental SWAT teams have accept- The tiny town of Dinuba, California (pop-
police officer ed the military as a model for their behavior ulation 15,000), created a SWAT unit in the
and outlook, which is distinctly impersonal spring of 1997. A few months later an inno-
charged with and elitist; American streets are viewed as cent man, Ramon Gallardo, was killed by the
enforcing the the “front” and American citizens as the SWAT team when it raided his home looking
law. “enemy.” The sharing of training and tech- for one of his teenage sons. The SWAT unit
nology by the military and law enforcement rushed into the Gallardo household at 7 a.m.
agencies has produced a shared mindset, wearing hoods and masks, yelling “search
and the mindset of the warrior is simply not warrant.” Gallardo and his wife were awak-
appropriate for the civilian police officer ened by the ruckus, but before they could

determine what was happening, Ramon was the military function can lead to dangerous Federal lawmak-
shot 15 times.61 and unintended consequences—such as ers should dis-
A police brutality lawsuit was later unnecessary shootings and killings.
brought against the city. At trial, the police The proliferation of SWAT teams is par- courage para-
said they had to shoot in self-defense because ticularly worrisome because such units are militarism by
Gallardo had grabbed a knife. Gallardo’s wife rarely needed. SWAT teams are created to
testified that the knife on the scene did not
restoring the
deal with emergency situations that are
belong to her husband and alleged that the beyond the capacity of the ordinary street traditional
police had planted it there to legitimize the cop. But, as time passes, inactive SWAT American
shooting. The jury awarded the Gallardo units tend to jettison their original, limited
family $12.5 million. Because the whopping mission for more routine policing activities.
principle of
verdict exceeded the small town’s insurance Local jurisdictions should carefully assess civil-military
coverage, the city is now in financial straits. the need for SWAT units and guard against separation.
After Gallardo’s killing, the city fathers of the danger of mission creep. SWAT teams
Dinuba disbanded the SWAT unit and gave do possess specialized skills, but they
its military equipment to another police should only be deployed on those extraor-
department.62 dinary occasions when their skills are neces-
Some local jurisdictions may wish to sary—such as a hostage situation.
retain SWAT units for the special skills they More generally, Congress should recognize
possess, but the deployment of such units that federal policies have contributed to the
should be limited to extraordinary circum- culture of paramilitarism that currently per-
stances—such as a hostage situation. If a vades many local police departments. Federal
SWAT unit is created (or retained), the need lawmakers should discourage paramilitarism
for that unit should be assessed annually by by restoring the traditional American princi-
locally elected officials. Policymakers must ple of civil-military separation embodied in
be especially wary of “mission creep” and the Posse Comitatus Act. The Military Coop-
guard against it. Inactive SWAT teams have eration with Law Enforcement Officials Act
a strong incentive to expand their original created a dangerous loophole in the Posse
“emergency” mission into more routine Comitatus Act. That loophole should be
policing activities to justify their existence. closed immediately. Congress should also
In recent years, city officials in Dallas and abolish all military-civilian law enforcement
Seattle have curtailed the activity of their joint task forces and see to it that all military
SWAT units, taking them off drug raids hardware loaned, given, or sold to law enforce-
and suicide calls. Other cities should follow ment agencies is destroyed or returned.
their lead by curtailing the SWAT mission— Armored personnel carriers and machine
or even dismantling the entire unit as was guns, should not be a part of everyday law
done in Albuquerque and Dinuba. enforcement in a free society.

Conclusion Notes
1. See Lee Hancock, “ATF Official Defends Raid
The militarization of law enforcement in Planning,” Dallas Morning News, March 27, 1993,
America is a deeply disturbing develop- p. 25A; and Janet Reno, Statement, Hearing on
ment. Police officers are not supposed to be Events Surrounding the Branch Davidian Cult
Standoff in Waco, Texas, before the House Committee
warriors. The job of a police officer is to on the Judiciary, 103d Cong., 1st sess., 1993
keep the peace while adhering to constitu- (Washington: Government Printing Office,
tional procedures. Soldiers, on the other 1995), p. 15. For a thorough account of what
hand, consider enemy personnel human took place at Waco, see David B. Kopel and Paul
targets. Confusing the police function with H. Blackman, No More Wacos (Amherst, N.Y.:
Prometheus, 1997).

2. See Timothy Egan, “Soldiers of the Drug War (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,
Remain on Duty,” New York Times, March 1, 1999, 1994).
p. A1; “Wilson Praises LAPD Acquisition of 600
Army Surplus Assault Rifles,” Los Angeles Times, 14. Amendment III.
September 17, 1997, p. A18; and “Gearing Up,” 60
Minutes, December 21, 1997, transcript. 15. Thomas Jefferson, for example, wanted an
explicit protection against standing armies. See
3. “Clinton Picks General to Lead War on Drugs,” Letter to James Madison, December 20, 1787, in
New York Times, January 24, 1996, p. A15. General Jefferson Writings (New York: Library of America,
McCaffrey retired from the Army after the Senate 1984), p. 914.
approved his appointment.
16. See William H. Rehnquist, All the Laws But One
4. See Dana Priest and Douglas Farah, “U.S. Force (New York: Knopf, 1998), pp. 59–74.
Training Troops in Colombia,” Washington Post,
May 25, 1998, p. A1; and “U.S. Military Fights 17. See David Engdahl, “Soldiers, Riots, and
Drugs in Haiti,” Reuters News Service, May 15, Revolution: The Law and History of Military
1997. Troops in Civil Disorders,” Iowa Law Review 57
(1971): 58.
5. See Sam Howe Verhovek, “In Marine's Killing
of Teen-Ager, Town Mourns and Wonders Why,” 18. See generally Jerry M. Cooper, “Federal Military
New York Times, June 29, 1997, p. A1; and William Intervention in Domestic Disorders” in The United
Branigin, “Questions on Military Role Fighting States Military under the Constitution of the United States,
Drugs Ricochet from a Deadly Shot,” Washington 1789–1989, ed. Richard H. Kohn (New York: New
Post, June 22, 1997, p. A3. York University Press, 1991).

6. “Drug House Razed with Federal Money,” New 19. See Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, Emancipating Slaves,
York Times, January 19, 1998; and Bill Miller, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War
“Nuisance Law Claims Its First Success,” (Chicago: Open Court, 1996), pp. 320–21.
Washington Post, June 2, 1999, p. B1. 20. The term “posse comitatus” is defined as a
7. See William J. Broad and Judith Miller, “group of people acting under authority of police
“Pentagon Seeks Command for Emergencies in the or sheriff and engaged in searching for a criminal
U.S.,” New York Times, January 28, 1999, p. A19. or in making an arrest.” Black's Law Dictionary (St.
Andrew Krepinevich, executive director of the Paul: West, 1983), p. 606. “In ancient Rome, gov-
Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, ernmental officials were permitted to have retain-
believes the federal government will establish a ers accompany and protect them on their travels
“Homeland Defense Command,” with a four-star throughout the Empire. This practice was known
general at its head within two years. See The as 'comitatus.' In medieval England, the sheriff
McLaughlin Group, April 3, 1999, transcript. could require the assistance of able-bodied men in
the county over the age of fifteen in suppressing
8. Quoted in Egan. small insurrections and capturing fugitives. This
civilian force was called the 'posse comitatus,'
9. For additional background, see John Phillip, In deriving its name from the old Roman practice.”
Defiance of the Law: The Standing-Army Controversy, the Note, “Fourth Amendment and Posse Comitatus
Two Constitutions, and the Coming of the American Act Restrictions on Military Involvement in Civil
Revolution (Chapel Hill: University of North Law Enforcement,” George Washington Law Review
Carolina Press, 1981). 54 (1986): 406 (citations omitted).
10. Article I, section 8. 21. 18 U.S.C. § 1385. In 1956 the act was updated
to include the Air Force, and a DOD directive
11. Article I, section 10. added the Navy and the Marine Corps. See Richter
Moore Jr., “Posse Comitatus Revisited: The Use of
12. Article II, section 2. For a fuller discussion of the the Military as Civil Law Enforcement,” Journal of
war power under the U.S. Constitution, see Louis Criminal Justice 15 (1987): 376.
Fisher, Presidential War Power (Lawrence: University When Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) discov-
Press of Kansas, 1995). ered that an active duty Army colonel was serving
13. Amendment II. For a fuller discussion of the at the Federal Bureau of Investigation as deputy
chief of a counterterrorism unit, he asked the
history of the Second Amendment, see Stephen P.
Justice Department for an explanation. Assistant
Halbrook, That Every Man Be Armed: The Evolution of
a Constitutional Right (Oakland, Calif.: Independent Attorney General Andrew Fois replied that the
Institute, 1994); and Joyce Lee Malcolm, To Keep colonel was not “directly” involved in law enforce-
ment activity. See Benjamin Wittes, “A Posse
and Bear Arms: The Origins of an Anglo-American Right
Comitatus Crusade,” Legal Times, September 1,

1997, p. 8. 43. Cited in ibid., p. 9.
22. Cooper, pp. 129–35. 44. Quoted in Alice Hills, “Militant Tendencies:
'Paramilitarism' in the British Police,” British
23. 10 U.S.C. §§ 371–74. Journal of Criminology 35 (1995): 450–51.
24. See Keith B. Richburg, “Reagan Order Defines 45. Ibid., p. 457.
Drug Trade as Security Threat,” Washington Post,
June 8, 1986. 46. Ibid., p. 451.
25. Kopel and Blackman, p. 341. 47. U.S. Department of Justice and U.S.
Department of Defense, pp. 1, 5.
26. See Ted Galen Carpenter and R. Channing
Rouse, “Perilous Panacea: The Military in the Drug 48. Ibid., pp. 5–6.
War,” Cato Institute Policy Analysis no. 128,
February 15, 1990. 49. Kraska and Kappeler, p. 11.

27. Kopel and Blackman, p. 341. 50. Peter Kraska, “Enjoying Militarism:
Political/Personal Dilemmas in Studying U.S.
28. U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Police Paramilitary Units,” Justice Quarterly 13
Department of Defense, Department of Justice and (1996): 417.
Department of Defense Joint Technology Program:
Second Anniversary Report (Washington: U.S. 51. Kraska and Kappeler, p. 11.
Department of Justice, February 1997), pp. 8–18.
52. Ibid.
29. David C. Morrison, “Police Action,” National
Journal, February 1, 1992, p. 267. See also Jim 53. Ibid.
McGee, “Military Seeks Balance in Delicate 54. Quoted in ibid., p. 12.
Mission: The Drug War,” Washington Post,
November 29, 1996, p. A1. 55. Quoted in ibid., p. 11.
30. Quoted in Sam Walker, A Critical History of Police 56. Quoted in “Technology Transfer From
Reform: The Emergence of Professionalism (Lexington, Defense: Concealed Weapon Detection,” National
Mass.: Lexington Books, 1977), p. 63. Institute of Justice Journal, no. 229 (August 1995): 35.
31. Ibid., pp. 151–60 57. Bill McCollum, “Waving the White Flag in
Drug War?” Washington Times, March 10, 1998,
32. Robert Snow, SWAT Teams: Explosive Face-Offs p. A17.
with America's Deadliest Criminals (New York:
Plenum, 1996), p. 7. 58. Lieutenant Steve Lagere, who heads the SWAT
team in Meriden, Connecticut, says: “We ought to
33. Peter Kraska and Victor Kappeler, “Militarizing be looking at some other options. . . . It's political-
American Police: The Rise and Normalization of ly incorrect to say that as a cop. You really can't dis-
Paramilitary Units,” Social Problems 44 (1997): 5–6. cuss it much here, because people will think you're
34. Egan soft on drugs. But I don't see crack use going up or
down, no matter what we've tried to do.” Quoted
35. Ibid. in Egan.

36. Quoted in Robert Snow, “The Birth and 59. See, for example, Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1
Evolution of the SWAT Unit,” Police 21 (1997): 24. (1985); and Wilson v. Arkansas, 514 U.S. 927 (1995).

37. U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. 60. Quoted in Egan.

Department of Defense, p. 9.
61. See Mark Arax, “Small Farm Town's SWAT
38. Ibid., pp. 11–18. Team Leaves a Costly Legacy,” Los Angeles Times,
April 5, 1999, p. A1.
39. Quoted in Egan.
62. Ibid.
40. Quoted in Kraska and Kappeler, p. 10 (empha-
sis added).
41. Quoted in ibid.
42. Quoted in ibid., p. 13.

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