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article imageExpert calls police 'occupying armies' in some U.S. communities

By Ken Hanly     Nov 16, 2014 in Crime
Washington - Thomas Nolan, associate professor of criminology at Merrimack College, claims that the war on terror has resulted in the transformation of U.S. police forces so that they have become "occupying armies" in some American communities.
Nolan was also a policy analyst with the US Dept. of Homeland Security(DHS) and worked as a police officer in Boston during the 1980's and 1990's. Nolan said the focus of police has changed drastically since that time: “I remember it being drilled into me as a police officer, as a sergeant and then as a lieutenant: partnership, problem-solving, and prevention – the three Ps,” Police were trained to develop close relationships with the communities in which they served. He points out that now in places such as Ferguson Missouri those relationships did not exist. Protests erupted in Ferguson after the shooting of Michael Brown an Afro-American on August 9, 2014. Protests and civil disorder began the following day. One cause was the desecration of a memorial set up the night of the shooting:On the evening of the shooting, residents had created a makeshift memorial of flowers and candles in the spot where Brown died. An unidentified officer reportedly allowed the dog under his control to urinate on the memorial. Police vehicles later crushed the memorial. These incidents inflamed tensions among bystanders, according to Missouri state Rep. Sharon Pace, who told Mother Jones, "That made people in the crowd mad and it made me mad." US Senator from Missouri Claire McCaskill said that "militarization of the police escalated the protesters' response". Instead of developing positive relationships with the mainly black community they were to protect, the majority white police force acted as if they were involved in a war.
Many critics blame the war on drugs for the change in police departments. While that may have been a contributing factor to breaking down civil liberties and damaging police-community relations, Nolan places much of the blame on the "war on terror" emphasis:“In the early 2000s, particularly after 9/11, we saw a paradigm shift from community policing and problem-oriented principles to the war on terror, and we became Homeland Security police. I think what has happened as a direct result of that, is that those relationships that we forged, and worked so hard to attain and to maintain in the late 1980s and early 1990s, began to erode because the police were seen, particularly in communities of color, as an army of occupation" As Nolan points out, if police are dressed up like solders and travel around in military vehicles with military weapons they begin to think of themselves as warriors fighting an enemy the very communities they are meant to protect. This attitude can become particularly prevalent where the police are mainly white and the community people of color.
The process of militarization has been accelerated by government policy that has funneled more and more military equipment to police forces around the country. The 1033 program is a good example of how this works: The 1033 Program is a part of the Disposition Services of the United States Government's Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). According to the program's informational website, the 1033 Program has transferred $5.1 billion in military hardware from the United States Army to local American law enforcement agencies since 1997.[1] The site states that $449 million was transferred in 2013, and that 8,000 local law enforcement agencies participate in the program.[1]
The Department of Homeland Security(DHS) also facilitates militarization with grants. According to a 2011 Center for Investigative Reporting study published in the Daily Beast and cited in Salon gave grants of at least $34 billion to buy military-type equipment. Included in the purchases were drones, tanks, bomb-disarming robots, and tactical vests. While some of this equipment may indeed be useful the overall effect is to emphasize that policing is becoming much like military actions and the mindset of many police forces will change in the way described by Nolan.
Nolan claims that police officers even make him feel unsafe in his own mixed neighborhood in Boston. He says: “I see the police conducting themselves in a highly militaristic fashion on routine patrol activities — and I know that’s what they’re doing because I come from that world. What I experience and what people on the street experience is a palpable, tangible sense of fear, and that is that we are unsafe if police need semiautomatic rifles to protect us and to keep us safe.”
The emphasis on the war on terror can be seen in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing. He claims that the response involved a unilateral suspension of the US Constitution. He notes that there were actually house-to-house searches. Yet he claims there were virtually no complaints in the media or by the public Security is trumping democracy but very few complain.
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