Pubdate: Sun, 29 Jun 2014
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2014 Albuquerque Journal
Author: Michael Coleman
Page: B2


If you think local police look increasingly like soldiers armed for 
battle instead of civil servants responsible for protecting you, it's 
not your imagination.

As noted in the Journal's recent three-part series analyzing "mission 
creep" at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the federal 
government funnels millions of tax dollars to local police 
departments in the form of grants used to purchase high-powered 
paramilitary style weapons and other gear.

Law enforcement agencies across the country are also tapping into a 
military surplus program to acquire Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected 
vehicles, or MRAPs, that were used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Interestingly - some would say disturbingly - New Mexico police 
departments, which represent one of the least populous states in the 
nation, have acquired more of these fearsome-looking armored vehicles 
than any other state in the nation, according to analysis by the New 
York Times.

In an article published this month, the Times found that there are at 
least 42 MRAPs now stationed at New Mexico law enforcement agencies.

Texas - with 37 - had the second-largest number. The article explains 
that the military transfer program was created in the early 1990s, 
when violent crime was skyrocketing in American cities and police 
believed they were "outgunned by drug gangs."

"Today, crime has fallen to its lowest levels in a generation, the 
wars have wound down, and despite current fears, the number of 
domestic terrorist attacks has declined sharply from the 1960s and 
1970s," the article said. "Police departments, though, are adding 
more firepower and military gear than ever."

The Indianapolis Star newspaper this month quoted Pulaski County 
Sheriff Michael Gayer explaining in stark, frightening detail the 
mindset behind his department's decision to acquire an MRAP.

"The United States of America has become a war zone," Gayer said. 
"There's violence in the workplace, there's violence in schools and 
there's violence in the streets. You are seeing police departments 
going to a semimilitary format because of the threats we have to 
counteract. If driving a military vehicle is going to protect 
officers, then that's what I'm going to do."

No law-abiding citizen wants police officers to be gunned down - and 
MRAPs can help prevent fatalities at the scene of a mass shooting - 
but seriously, Sheriff Gayer? America has become a war zone?

Albuquerque and Washington, D.C., both have high crime rates compared 
to national averages. I spend a lot of time in the urban core of both 
cities and at no time do I feel like I'm in Fallujah or Kandahar.

I can't imagine Pulaski County, Indiana - population 13,402 - 
resembles a "war zone."

The sheriff's incendiary rhetoric fuels an "us-against-them" 
perception amongst the very people the cops are supposed to protect. 
Tragically, nowhere is that perception more evident than in the 
beautiful high desert city of Albuquerque, where police have killed 
26 people in the past four years.

Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union released a report 
titled "War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American 
Policing." It's a sobering analysis (read it at of the 
increasingly violent and invasive techniques police are using, 
especially in the war on drugs.

The ACLU report calls for the federal government to rein in the 
incentives for police to militarize. The ACLU also asks that local, 
state and federal governments track the use of SWAT raids, and the 
guns, tanks and other military equipment that end up in police hands.

The Journal series found accounting for federal money spent on 
homeland security in New Mexico to be seriously lacking.

"Neighborhoods are not war zones, and our police officers should not 
be treating us like wartime enemies," the ACLU report says. "However, 
the ACLU encountered this type of story over and over when studying 
the militarization of state and local law enforcement agencies." 
Obviously, New Mexico is not exempt. "The national trend of police 
militarization is clearly felt here in New Mexico," said Peter 
Simonson, executive director of ACLU of New Mexico. "We have towns 
like Farmington operating armored vehicles and the Albuquerque Police 
Department shooting civilians at alarming rates.

"This military mindset, coupled with assault-style tactics and 
weapons, positions the public as the enemy, rather than human beings 
they have sworn to serve and protect."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom