The images that make Ferguson, Mo., look like a war zone demonstrate the dangers of militarizing our police forces.
The New York Times has developed an interactive map to see precisely where military-grade equipment has been distributed to state and local police. For example, you can see that one grenade launcher has been sent to a law enforcement agency in Blaine and Bannock counties, while one law enforcement agency in Kootenai, Ada and Canyon counties has received a mine-resistant, ambush-protected armored vehicle (MRAP).
While many people have heard about the “free” surplus equipment provided to local police forces, they often do not hear that the receiving agency must pay for the transportation and maintenance of the equipment, nor do they know that participants in the program are required to use the equipment within one year of receiving it.
The change in equipment often comes with a change in tactics as well. No-knock, dynamic-entry raids by SWAT teams have become far more commonplace, with some estimates indicating that nearly 80 percent of those raids are simply to serve search warrants.
Indeed, some studies have also indicated that only approximately 7 percent of SWAT raids are for the kind of “hostage, barricade or active shooter scenarios” that most people associate with SWAT teams.
Tragically, some of the biggest victims of these military tactics are the smallest among us. A 19-month-old baby boy was critically injured in a no-knock raid outside of Atlanta in May 2014. The baby received third-degree burns and had holes blown into his face and chest when police threw a flashbang grenade into his crib during the raid. The police were looking for a nonresident of that home who was incorrectly believed to be there.
Idaho is not immune to this problem either. Just last week, police in Nampa were trying to locate an individual wanted on several felony warrants. According to reports, Caldwell police brought in its MRAP, surrounded the place where the suspect was allegedly hiding, shot “canisters” into the house and then rushed the house, but the suspect was nowhere to be found. The police admitted that they were not certain whether he escaped or whether he was never there in the first place.
Considering that the suspect’s girlfriend was the one who lives in the house and that she has two children with the suspect already, and one on the way, do we really want the police firing canisters into a house and rushing it if they do not even know who may be inside?