After a decade of wartime innovations, some of those military technologies are finding their way into local and state police stations.
Law enforcement is already successfully using predictive technology in capturing serial offenders on American soil. Originally developed by the military to help bomb squads in Iraq and Afghanistan figure out where explosives were buried, police have used predictive technology to catch a sniper shooting at military targets in Virginia, and to investigate a string of copper thefts.
Using data from previous shootings at Pentagon windows and other military sites, police analyzed hundreds of factors from including the shooter’s sightlines, access points and escape routes. When the gunman showed up at Arlington National Cemetery, the police were already there waiting for him. Yonathan Melaku was arrested before he had a chance to use the homemade bomb-making materials in his backpack.
Stealing and reselling copper can net thieves upward of a couple hundred thousand dollars, more than can conveniently be stuffed into a duffle bag during a high-risk bank robbery. Police in Virginia, rather than go traipsing around every spot where a bit of copper can be picked up, used predictive technology to analyze sites of previous copper thefts. Data showed that thieves tend to steal copper where a scrapyard for reselling was nearby, and police were able to narrow down their patrolling just to places most likely to get hit.
But, we’re talking military technology here, and you don’t get a body count topping 100,000 just using data analytics. Other military tactics being recycled for domestic use are flashbang bombs, surveillance and even predator drones, and pain rays for crowd control.
The American Civil Liberties Union is betting that this militarization of local law enforcement is leading to the erosion of civil liberties and encourages overly aggressive policing. For now, their proof of this assertion is only anecdotal, but on March 10, 2013, they filed 255 public records requests with law enforcement in 23 states, to try and find out how pervasive military tactics have become.
If the anecdotes they’ve collected are any indication, there’s cause for alarm. A SWAT team allegedly confused by a flashbang stun grenade they threw into the window of Detroit home, accidentally shot and killed a nine-year-old girl on the neck, as she slept on the couch with her grandmother.
The ACLU argues that SWAT teams in civilian contexts are used more and more frequently. In another example of excessive aggression, they cite the case of Jose Guerana in Tucson, Arizona. During a drug investigation, a SWAT team attempted to raid Guerana’s house in the dark of night, while he was home with his wife and child. Guerana, an Iraq war veteran, allegedly believed that the shadows outside his home were burglars, and he went to the door with a gun in hand. The SWAT team shot him 60 times in 7 minutes, before Guerana even attempted to take a shot. The police declined to say if they found the drugs they were looking for in his house.
By seeking more information on local law enforcements’ use of military technology, the ACLU hopes to gain some ammunition in the argument for more regulation, and raises the question of whether the American citizenry is the right target for military tactics. After all the police is there to protect the community, not to treat it like an enemy combatant.