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ACLU Report on Police Militarization Finds Weapons and Tactics of War Used Disproportionately Against People of Color

ACLU Report on Police Militarization Finds Weapons and Tactics of War Used Disproportionately Against People of Color

RALEIGH – After obtaining and analyzing thousands of documents from police departments around the country, today the American Civil Liberties Union released the report War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing. The ACLU focused on more than 800 SWAT raids conducted by law enforcement agencies in 20 states, including North Carolina, and on the agencies’ acquisition of military weaponry, vehicles, and equipment.

“We found that police overwhelmingly use SWAT raids not for extreme emergencies like hostage situations but to carry out such basic police work as serving warrants or searching for a small amount of drugs,” said Kara Dansky, Senior Counsel with the ACLU’s Center for Justice. ”Carried out by ten or more officers armed with assault rifles, flashbang grenades, and battering rams, these paramilitary raids disproportionately impacted people of color, sending the clear message that the families being raided are the enemy. This unnecessary violence causes property damage, injury, and death.”

The majority (79 percent) of deployments the ACLU studied were for the purpose of executing a search warrant, most commonly in drug investigations. Only 7 percent were for hostage, barricade, or active shooter scenarios. The report documents multiple tragedies caused by police carrying out needless SWAT raids, including a 26-year-old mother shot with her child in her arms and a 19-month-old baby critically injured when a flashbang grenade landed in his crib.

“North Carolinians have a right to know how law enforcement agencies are policing their communities and spending their tax dollars, but there is very little transparency when it comes to violent SWAT raids or police use of military style weapons and tactics,” said Jennifer Rudinger, Executive Director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “North Carolina’s legislature and municipalities should impose meaningful restraints and oversight on the use of these weapons and tactics in order to ensure that they are used only when absolutely necessary and not simply for everyday police work.” 

The 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 and the guns, tanks, and other military equipment that end up in police hands.

“Our findings reveal not only the dangers of militarized police, but also the difficulties in determining the extent and impact of those dangers. At every level – from the police to the state governments to the federal government – there is almost no recordkeeping about SWAT or the use of military weapons and vehicles by local law enforcement,” noted Dansky.

In addition, the report recommends that state legislatures and municipalities develop criteria for SWAT raids that limit their deployment to the kinds of emergencies for which they were intended, such as an active shooter situation.

The report is available at www.aclu.org/militarization.

Read the responses the ACLU-NC from law enforcement agencies across North Carolina below:

SWAT Team Deployments

SWAT Teams and Cutting-Edge Weapons and Technology