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Militarized policing is counterproductive, Stanford expert says

Publication Date: 
August 27, 2014
The Stanford Report
Clifton B. Parker

The Stanford Report interviews Professor David Sklansky on the increasingly militarized nature of American police forces in the aftermath of riots and protests in Ferguson, Missouri.

The militarization of local police forces has emerged as an issue of public debate in the wake of the crisis in Ferguson, Mo. The U.S. Senate has announced plans to examine police militarization and the White House has ordered a review of federal programs that help state and local law enforcement acquire military equipment.

The Stanford News Service recently interviewed David A. Sklansky, a Stanford professor of law and a former federal prosecutor, on the subject. He teaches and researches criminal law and policing. Sklansky has written extensively on police reform, democracy and law enforcement, and the future of policing.

Why the trend toward militarized police?

Part of it is mission creep. Larger departments created SWAT teams in the 1970s to respond to rare but highly volatile situations: riots, hostage takings, barricaded suspects, that kind of thing.  Over time, though, SWAT teams began to be used heavily in drug searches, and they became something that even smaller departments thought they needed. The war on drugs definitely had a lot to do with the expansion and repurposing of SWAT teams and with the gradual spread of the idea that the police need to look and act like warriors.   

Then the federal government got involved, donating surplus military equipment to police departments and, especially after 9/11, giving them money to buy advanced weaponry and other battlefield equipment.