Radley Balko at the Cato institute has put together an incredibly thorough paper on the increased use of paramilitary police units such as SWAT teams across the USA. This increase in the use of military style units to police the civilian population have resulted in dozens of deaths and injuries to innocent civilians over the past 20 years.
The trend for paramilitary policing began in the 1960’s with the intention of being used in high risk situations such as when hostages are involved or armed robbery. However in the 1980’s the war on drugs changed all this. New laws allowed the pentagon to share its weapons and training with civilian law enforcement. Millions of dollars in military hardware was given to police departments, this wasn’t restricted to large high crime urban areas.
In a 1997 60 Minutessegment on the trend toward militarization, the CBS news magazine profiled the Sheriff’s Department of Marion County, Florida, a rural, agricultural area known for its horse farms. Courtesy of the various Pentagon giveaway programs, the county sheriff proudly showed reporter Lesley Stahl the department’s 23 military helicopters, two C-12 luxury executive aircraft (often called the “Rolls Royce with wings”), a motor home, several trucks and trailers, a tank, and a “bomb robot.” This, in addition to an arsenal of military-grade assault weapons.
The results of this military give away combined with military tactics and training lead to predictable results when combined with an expanded role serving drug warrants on non-violent offenders lead to predictable results.
On August 2, 1996, police storm the home of 62-year-old Salvator Hernandez on a drug raid. The raid is part of a broader raid that morning involving 47 police officers and federal agents.
Hernandez, who is nearly deaf, is making breakfast for himself and his friend, 54-year old Bortolo Pineda.
According to police, as they entered the home, Hernandez took the knife he was using to make breakfast and “lunged” at them with a “menacing” look on his face. According to Pineda, Hernandez didn’t hear the police shouts, and had turned to get some sausage from the refrigerator. Police opened fire, and hit Hernandez in the chest five times, killing him.
Hernandez was a farmworker described by friends and his employer as a “good man,” and a “good worker.” He had no criminal record, and in fact had been a police officer in Mexico before coming to America. He was a grandfather of 21 and a great-grandfather of one. There were no drugs on his person or in his system.
Just days later, a grand jury would clear the raiding officers of all charges, ruling that they had reason to believe their lives were in danger.
Salem police pointedly refused to apologize for Hernandez’s death.
There is a fantastic Google map mashup showing the various incidents and their outcomes available on the cato site.
Full Paper & Map