(NaturalNews) Police departments have, for decades, purchased a surplus of military equipment, usually when those departments were in need of a particular vehicle or piece of gear to fulfill a very specialized mission. But these days, much more equipment appears to be flowing to local police agencies, from both the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security, and that is worrying to civil libertarians.
The American Civil Liberties Union, for example, is openly inquiring about what kind of military weapons and gear are being handed over to local law enforcement agencies. The group says it is concerned that gear like flash-bang grenades, shock cuffs, and even tracking devices that are going to police "are leading to more aggressive policing, especially in poor neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color," St. Louis-based CBS affiliate KMOX reported.
More gear equals less liberty?
John Chasnoff, with the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, said his office became concerned about the amount of military gear being obtained by police following a recent incident in Michigan.
"A S.W.A.T. team threw flash-bang grenades into a house then, when the S.W.A.T. team rushed in, they got confused and ended up killing a young girl who was sleeping on a couch," Chasnoff said.
In response, the longstanding legal organization has made a public records request for information regarding inventories of military gear from major police departments across the United States. In some cases, the ACLU also wants to know what excess equipment from the Pentagon and DHS is being turned over to National Guard units.
"We do know that in 2011, a half-billion dollars of surplus military equipment went to police departments," said Chasnoff. "We have concerns that the lines between the two [police and military] is starting to blur."
He says the trend is effectively eroding civil liberties.
In a newly released report, The Militarization of Policing in America, the ACLU says "towns don't need tanks," and that more and more, U.S. cities are being patrolled by police officers "armed with the weapons and tactics of war." From the report:
Federal funding in the billions of dollars has allowed state and local police departments to gain access to weapons and tactics created for overseas combat theaters - and yet very little is known about exactly how many police departments have military weapons and training, how militarized the police have become, and how extensively federal money is incentivizing this trend. It's time to understand the true scope of the militarization of policing in America and the impact it is having in our neighborhoods.
The group says 23 of its affiliates have filed more than 255 public records requests with police agencies and National Guard offices "to determine the extent to which federal funding and support has fueled the militarization of state and local police departments."
To demonstrate a pattern of increasing police militarization, the ACLU highlighted 10 recent incidents in which local police used military gear and tactics to enforce civil statutes. Here are a few of the examples:
-- The New York City Police Department disclosed that it deployed "counter-terror" measures against Occupy Movement protesters.
-- Two S.W.A.T. teams shut down a neighborhood in Colorado for four hours to search for a man suspected of stealing a bicycle and merchandise from Wal-Mart.
-- A county sheriff's department in South Carolina has an armored personnel carrier dubbed "The Peacemaker," which can shoot weapons that the U.S. military specifically refrains from using on people.
-- Police in North Dakota borrowed a $154 million predator drone from Homeland Security to arrest a family who refused to return six cows that wandered onto their farm.
Why all the gear and ammo? No one is answering those questions...
"Equipping state and local law enforcement with military weapons and vehicles, military tactical training, and actual military assistance to conduct traditional law enforcement erodes civil liberties and encourages increasingly aggressive policing, particularly in poor neighborhoods and communities of color," said Kara Dansky, senior counsel for the ACLU's Center for Justice.
"We've seen examples of this in several localities, but we don't know the dimensions of the problem."
Everyone knows the military needs the advanced weaponry it possesses, to defend the country of course, but Natural News has been documenting the acquisition of military gear, weapons and ammunition by DHS for nearly two years now, all the while asking some of the same questions the ACLU is asking while at the same time wondering why a federal agency charged with protecting the homeland would need enough guns and ammunition to fight a seven-year war.
So far, we haven't gotten any good answers to those questions.