Images of police in tactical gear, pointing automatic weapons at unarmed demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri, represented a flashpoint in public awareness that American police are rapidly militarizing. Federal grants have been quietly arming police with tanks, drones, and uniforms more suited to waging war than patrolling the streets. As police have acquired more military gear, SWAT teams and deployments have proliferated. Even small towns receive surplus military materiel to fight the “wars” on drugs and terrorism. In addition, police training uses a military approach that threatens to transform the traditional police mandate of protecting and serving into one of engaging and defeating. This article is the first in legal scholarship to analyze the causes of police militarization and the obstacles to curbing it. This article analyzes the factors that drive police militarization, from a historical, legal and financial perspective. It examines the multiple federal grant programs that provide the funding for, and incentivize, militarization, like the Department of Defense Program that distributes military materiel with little oversight regarding its use, and the Department of Homeland Security grant program that dispenses billions in funds to buy weapons and equipment. It exposes defense industry efforts to ensure Congress keeps the gear flowing; as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq wind down, the industry turns to the domestic market to fill the gap in sales. The article analyzes the failure of the judicial system to address excessive force claims in the context of ever-increasing SWAT raids, and proposes more effective routes to reform.
The Green to Blue Pipeline: Defense Contractors and the Police Industrial Complex, 36 Cardozo L. Rev. 1785