Is Texas becoming a safer state or a police state?

Are local police forces becoming militarized? That’s a concern expressed Tuesday before the Arlington City Council with regard to this weekend’s regional distaster drill which some are terming “militarization of the police.”

The Star Telegram reported:

A group of 25 people angrily left the City Council chambers Tuesday night after voicing objections to this weekend’s regional disaster drill, saying it is a “militarization of the police.”

The North Central Texas Council of Governments is sponsoring the Urban Shield exercise Friday through Sunday to test the region’s ability to respond to terrorist events and other emergencies that could happen simultaneously throughout North Texas.

Police officers and firefighters will go through several training exercises including school shooting scenarios and mass transportation incidents. Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, Garland, Grand Prairie and other area cities will participate.

But the training exercises became controversial to some people after they learned that first responders in Boston had been through the training before the April 15 Boston Marathon bombing. Protesters said the tactics that first responders reportedly learned were excessive when it came to searching for the bombers.

“What happened in Boston won’t be allowed here by the population. That will be a danger to everyone. The way they went through people’s homes. The way they pointed weapons,” said Douglas Bell, 33, a disabled veteran who was among four residents who spoke in opposition Tuesday night. “Our people should not be trained to do that. It is unnecessary.”

Defending the drill as preparedness exercises, Mayor Robert Cluck said, “Public safety is complicated and everyone needs to know what their job is in an emergency.”

“Clearly the world is more dangerous,” he told the paper, “But this exercise is not prompted by any one recent incident.”

Area residents might have heightened sensitivity to this issue after the August raid of a small Arlington farm that led to a 10-hour property search during which the residents were reportedly “handcuffed and held at gunpoint while they watched more than 10 tons of their property hauled off in trucks.

FreedomWorks blog reported:

What dangerous contraband required this massive governmental response? It wasn’t illegal explosives, stolen vehicles or drugs, but rather organic blackberry bushes, okra plants, and sunflowers.

The Garden of Eden is a 3.5-acre farm that promotes a sustainable lifestyle. Back in February, Arlington started complaining about possible city code violations. Officials said that the grass was too tall, bushes were too close to the street, and chopped wood wasn’t stacked in a government-approved manner. Basically, HOA-style complaints where no homeowners’ association exists.

The farm owners said they had corrected some of the issues and challenged others, requesting meetings with the city to work out an amicable agreement. Early the morning of August 2, the government responded with the SWAT raid. Officers carried search warrants alleging that the farm might be growing marijuana, but none was found. The search warrant, signed the day before the raid, gave police the pretext to enforce the city’s “code violations” on private property.

“They came here under the guise that we were doing a drug trafficking, marijuana-growing operation,” owner Shellie Smith said. “They destroyed everything.” She said that officers shielded their nametags so they couldn’t be identified and didn’t produce a warrant until two hours after the raid started.

Officers destroyed crops and other vegetation, they hauled off furniture, wooden pallets, food and compost. One individual, Quinn Eaker, was arrested for unrelated traffic violations.

Per the blog, City of Arlington spokeswoman Sana Syed called the raid “perfectly legal and appropriate” terming its purpose as “to improve the quality of life, to resolve safety issues within neighborhoods and to hold the property owner responsible for creating blight conditions on their property.”

And just last month, Fort Hood personnel used the base’s Elijah urban training site to conduct crowd and riot control training for both soldiers and municipal police forces.

In what the military is calling “full-spectrum operations,” the training is to help individuals in “keeping themselves safe and mitigating any danger for the people on the other side.”

The training included an exercise that utilized role players as rioters. The Killeen Daily Herald described this drill:

Beginning at the team level, soldiers learned formations and verbal and hand signals used to unify themselves against a crowd from 89th Military Police Brigade soldiers. Eventually the formations grew to platoon-sized shapes. Soldiers learned to chant, “Get back,” while stepping forward in unison with their left feet toward the crowd.

This sends a clear, concise message that’s not demeaning or harmful to the crowd, Ford said.

The paper discussed an earlier training for San Antonio Police Department personnel while Watchdog Wire – Texas reported on the Austin Police Department’s SWAT operations attending a similar session.

Is this the emergence of “warrior cops”? In his new book Rise of the Warrior Cop, Radley Balko makes the case that equipping police with military weapons and armor is creating a new breed of police.

Salon.com says this of the book and its position on the growing militarization of police forces:

How did this happen? For decades, the war on drugs has empowered police to act aggressively. More recently, 9/11 and school shootings enforced the notion that there’s no such thing as too much security. Since 9/11, the newly formed Department of Homeland Security has distributed billions in grants, enabling even some small town police departments to buy armored personnel carriers and field their own SWAT teams.

Once you have a SWAT team the only thing to do is kick some ass. There are more than 100 SWAT team raids every day in this country. They’re not chasing murderers or terrorists. For the most part they go after nonviolent offenders like drug dealers and even small time gamblers. As you’d expect when there is too much adrenaline and too much weaponry, there have been some tragedies. Suddenly goofball comedies where an elite squad invades a house to find a pot-smoking kid don’t seem so funny. (Balko’s book describes such incidents at length in excerpts Salon published here and here.)

This problem defies the usual conservative vs. liberal calculus. As Balko sees it, Democrats love spending money on cops and Republicans want to seem tough on crime. In this fertile ground, the police-industrial complex has grown. Many of its excesses are almost impossible to defend, but it’s not going anywhere. Balko talked to Salon about the decline of community policing, the warrior cop mentality, why so many dogs get killed by police. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Wall Street Journal provides this perspective:

The acronym SWAT stands for Special Weapons and Tactics. Such police units are trained in methods similar to those used by the special forces in the military. They learn to break into homes with battering rams and to use incendiary devices called flashbang grenades, which are designed to blind and deafen anyone nearby. Their usual aim is to “clear” a building—that is, to remove any threats and distractions (including pets) and to subdue the occupants as quickly as possible.

The country’s first official SWAT team started in the late 1960s in Los Angeles. By 1975, there were approximately 500 such units. Today, there are thousands. According to surveys conducted by the criminologist Peter Kraska of Eastern Kentucky University, just 13% of towns between 25,000 and 50,000 people had a SWAT team in 1983. By 2005, the figure was up to 80%.

The number of raids conducted by SWAT-like police units has grown accordingly. In the 1970s, there were just a few hundred a year; by the early 1980s, there were some 3,000 a year. In 2005 (the last year for which Dr. Kraska collected data), there were approximately 50,000 raids. Some federal agencies also now have their own SWAT teams, including NASA and the Department of the Interior.

Lou Ann Anderson is an information activist and the editor of Watchdog Wire – Texas. As a Policy Analyst with Americans for Prosperity – Texas, she writes and speaks on a variety of public policy topics. Lou Ann is the Creator and Online Producer at Estate of Denial®, a website that addresses probate abuse via wills, trusts, guardianships and powers of attorney as well as other taxpayer advocacy issues.

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