<small>"OPERATION GHETTO STORM"</small>
The Rise in Paramilitary Policing
by Peter Cassidy
<small>Reprinted with permission from Covert Action Quarterly</small> (Fall 1997, Number 62) <small>© 1997 Covert Action Publications, Inc., All Rights Reserved.</small>
Annual subscriptions payable by check, money order, or credit card (Visa/Mastercard): U.S. $22; Canada $27; Other $35.
<small>Peter Cassidy, director of research at TriArche Research Group, is an industrial analyst and writer on national affairs, white collar crime, and technology. He has written for The Economist Forbes ASAP, and Wired. Research assistance provided by Jim Pate and Karen DiMattia. Research for this article was underwritten by grants from the Fund for Investigative Journalism and the Fund for Constitutional Government.</small>
AL 4:30 a.m., the first wave of SWAT teams clothed in battle dress uniforms (BDUs) with black hoods and wielding submachine guns - swarmed into nine homes in a rural community in Washington state. Some 150 officers executed search warrants in 1994, alleging that the residents were running a massive international drug cooperative and harvesting marijuana in underground farms.
The multi-jurisdictional SWAT team members came from 13 separate police agencies including the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol and Firearms, the Washington Air National Guard, the Washington State Patrol, three county sheriffs SWAT teams, and four small city police departments.
A massive, essentially military operation, the raid netted a few arrests for possession and 54 marijuana plants. It also terrorized eight children asleep in their beds when hooded figures burst in, guns ready One officer put a gun to the head of a three-year old, according to witnesses, and ordered him down on the floor. Because the police were masked, had no badge numbers, and represented so many different agencies, the victims decided to settle out of court.1
SELLING SWATby Lynne Wilson
Intense competition by arms manufacturers to sell high-tech equipment is helping fuel the explosion in the number of police special tactical units. Increasingly, these SWAT teams, decked out in full battle dress uniforms (BDUs), are enforcing the "War on Drugs" and raising questions of police excess. Weapons manufacturers such as Heckler & Koch and Smith & Wesson hawk their wares to local departments through such tactics as SWAT training "camps" and competitions. With an eye toward sales, the manufacturers pepper low-cost, week-long tactical training sessions for officers with sales pitches to their bosses to stock up. Submachine guns are a favorite at $1,200 or so apiece. Surrealistic ads pushing weaponry and BDUs look and sound like Sylvester Stallone movie promos: "In the risky business of forced entries, you need all the leverage you can get," warns an ad by Safariland, Ltd., manufacturer of tactical body armor.
The largest seller of submachine weaponry to local police tactical units is Heckler & Koch [H&K] a German weapons manufacturer now based in Virginia. Its MP-5 (MP is German for "machine-pistole") is now the weapon-of-choice for the British SAS, the German military; the US Navy SEALS, and the Los Angeles Police Department SWAT unit.1 In fact, 80 percent of local and state police SWAT teams use some version of H&K's "MP-5" submachine gun with almost all of those departments arming more than a dozen officers each with the high-powered weapons.2
H&K operates six mobile training teams that provide convenient SWAT training for every local police department in the country in addition to its main training headquarters in Loudoun County, Virginia. At its training seminars, H&K - which already dominates the market for SWAT weapons - pushes ammunition sales, One officer who attended a week-long session in "low light" and "concealed carry" techniques, described how the course book told participants "to expect to burn up to 1,000 rounds of ammunition" in daily workouts that lasted ten or more hours. When many of the students ran through their rounds by the fourth night, H&K pulled through with a "stash to take care of this emergency."3
Competition among weapons manufacturers has been growing fierce. One way Smith & Wesson (S&W), a Springfield, Massacheucetts - based weapons manufacturer, goes after H&K's market share is by offering tactical training seminars at well below the $2,000+ cost of attending a privately run paramilitary training camp.
S&W's curriculum includes specific tactical advice on hostage situations, barricaded suspects, and executing drug search warrants, the last of these making up by far the major portion of SWAT work, Since most local police departments cannot afford to send their entire unit to such training, the commander will typically attend and then pass on the training to the rest of the SWAT team. The climax of the intense week-long session is a hardball pitch for the S&W version of the MP-5, delivered with an intensity rivaled only by those for life-long time-share condos in Florida.
SWAT training programs as well as SWAT team competitions for local police are conducted not only by arms manufacturers, but also by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the FBI, whose tactical units brought us some of the worst law enforcement disasters of he last 20 years (Waco, and Ruby Ridge), In addition, the "National Tactical Officers Association" (NTOA), an ostensibly non-profit outfit boasting 10,000 members, also conducts pricey SWAT training and competitions.
With weapons manufacturers conducting training, sales hype is transformed into an unnecessarily dangerous, often deadly, reality. Small wonder that local SWAT teams now execute most drug search warrants with essentially the same firepower, military zeal, and black-clad storm trooper tactics that British Special Air Service [SAS] used in its 1981 raid on dissidents at the Iranian Embassy, or that military commandos recently deployed to storm the Japanese ambassador's residence in Peru.
What appears to be missing from this alliance of sales and training are clear standards and guidelines as to how tactical units with their high-tech weapons and military-style approach should be used. To date, according to Dr. Peter Kraska of Eastern Kentucky University, no standardized SWAT policies or procedures exist, although NTOA is making an effort. "Departments are pretty much on their own" says Kraska, as to what weapons and equipment they use and how they use them.
1. Chuck Taylor, "Up Close & Personal with the H&K MP-5, "Guns & Weapons for Law Enforcemennt Sept, 1997, pp. 12,68.
2. Interview, Dr. Peter Kraska of Eastern Kentucky University, Aug. 7,1997.
3. Wait Rauch, "Concealed Carry & Low Light Operations," Guns and Weapons for Law Enfomement, Nov. 1997, pp, 34,36,37.
<small>Lynne Wilson is an attorney in Seattle, Washington, and a member of the steering commitee of the National Coalition on Police Accountability.</small>
That same July, on the other side of the country, another SWAT team ran amok. As Cleave Atwater tended his customers at his club and pool room in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the door suddenly splintered open and a mob of men in ninj a hoods and fatigues waving automatic rifles rushed in and shouted for people to get down onto the floor. Terrified, Atwater slipped out while his bar assistant sprawled face down in a pool of his own terror-provoked urine. On reaching the street, Atwater entered a surreal landscape in which paramilitarystyle police taking part in "Operation RediRock" were selectively stopping and searching black people.
Atwater, proprietor of the Village Connection, had called the police months before to complain about drug trafficking near his Graham Street business. But when the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation's Special Response Team (SRT) and the local police that held the warrant for the block-wide raid2 finally arrived in full battle dress, they brought little comfort or remedy.3
The victims of North Carolina's Operation Readi-Rock raids survived their ordeals. In another incident, in Oak City, about 70 miles north of Chapel Hill, Jean Wiggins, a cleaning woman, was less fortunate. The same SRT team that went into Graham Street put seven rounds through her body as she ran from a bank where she had been held hostage for 15 hours after a robbery attempt. In less than two years, a single paramilitary police team destroyed a lot of public trust and claimed the life of a woman who should have had every reason to expect she would be safer with the police than with her captors.4
Occupied Territories USA
Atwater, Wiggins and the Washingtonians were witnesses to a fundamental shift in policing: the militarization of local law enforcement. This transformation is largely a consequence of a drug war that has incrementally evolved into a real domestic offensive with all the accouterments and ordnance of war.
Increasingly, America's neighborhoods especially within minority communities, are being treated like occupied territories. In the past 25 years, police agencies have organized paramilitary units (PPUs) variously called SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) or SRT (Special Response Team), outfits that go to work in battle dress uniforms with automatic assault rifles, percussion flash-bang grenades, CS gas - and even armored personnel carriers. The number of these units and the situations in which they are deployed have been rapidly expanding. With predictable results: "civilian" casualties; police killed by friendly fire; and a growing, uneasy antagonism between the "peace-keepers" and the kept.5 Within the police, the elite, highly militarized units have fueled a culture of violence and racial antagonism.
Within the police, the elite, highly militarized units have fueled a culture of violence and racial antagonism.
A landmark study by Professors Peter Kraska and Victor Kappeler at Eastern Kentucky University's School of Police Studies revealed the depth of saturation that these paramilitary units have achieved in US communities.6 For one thing, they are no longer confined to big cities. In 1982, 59 percent of police departments had an active paramilitary police unit. Fifteen years later, in a huge increase, nearly 90 percent of the 548 responding departments funded such units.
More troubling, however, Kraska and Kappeler found that police paramilitary units are now called in to perform relatively mundane police work - such as patrolling city streets and serving warrants. Indeed, with the mainstreaming of police paramilitary units, cities including Fresno, California, and Indianapolis, Indiana, send police to patrol non emergency situations in full battle dress - giving these communities all the ambience of the West Bank. Of 487 departments answering questions about deploy ment scenarios, more than 20 percent said that their tactical teams were used for community patrols. Ironically, the rise in the number of PPUs is occurring at the same time as the concept of "community policing" is gaining in popularity.
One commander of a paramilitary unit in a midwestern town of 75,000 described how his team patrols in BDU, cruising the streets in an armored personnel carrier. "We stop anything that moves. We'll sometimes even surround suspicious homes and bring out the MP5s (an automatic weapon manufactured by gun manufacturer Heckler and Koch and favored by military special forces teams). We usually don't have any problems with crackheads cooperating."7
Just 15 years ago, city departments called out their tactical units little more than once a month on average, usually for those rarest of situations - hostage situations, terrorist events, or barricaded suspects. The mean number of call- outs for these units rose precipitously to 83 events - or about 7 a month - in 1995. Of that sample, more than 75 percent were for thrilling, no-knock drug raids like Operation Readi-Rock.
Lt. Tom Gabor of the Culver City, California Police Department contends that PPU call-outs have "less to do with officer or citizen safety issues than with justifying the costs of maintaining units. There exist literally thousands of unnecessary units." Moreover, he claims that regular police officers could have handled 99 per cent of the cases in which SWAT units were utilized.8
One of the greatest costs of this militarization of local law enforcement, says Joseph McNamara, a research fellow in the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, has been in the loss of public trust in police institutions, alienating communities from those resources. According to McNamara, a rotation onto these units is often given as a reward. "When you have police in military uniforms with military weapons sometimes with tanks and armored personnel carriers, this reinforces the idea that the police are an occupation army as opposed to partners in the community," said McNamara. "People often feel these raids do not take place in white middle class neighborhoods and, by and large, that is accurate."9
Nowhere has that alienation been more profound than in African American communities. In "Operation Readi-Rock" an entire block of an African-American neighborhood was raided and nearly 100 people were detained and searched. After Operation Readi-Rock, plaintiffs in a successful lawsuit claimed that all those arrested were black whites were allowed to leave the area. No prosecutions resulted from the raid.10 The survey by Kraska and Kappeler substantiated that black urban communities in the US are bearing the brunt of paramilitary police activity. In some 126 followup telephone interviews in his survey, Kraska found, "First and foremost most of the paramilitary activity we found was focused on a very small part of the black community - gangs and drug dealers."
"When the soldiers ride in, you should see those blacks scatter."
Kraska also found racism within the ranks of one of these paramilitary units, apparently amplified by its culture and experiences. In response to Kraska and Kappeler's survey, a PPU commander wrote of his patrols: "When the soldiers ride in, you should see those blacks scatter."11 At one "training" session, the researcher observed members of three police agencies - including the state police - from a large industrial "heartland" state as they were developing a multijurisdictional paramilitary unit. (Officers shot automatic weapons at "head-sized" jugs of water.) One of the officers there was casually - and, apparently, unremarkably - attired in a T-shirt embossed with a drawing of a burning city; the caption read: "Operation Ghetto Storm."
In terms of public policy, the arrival of police ninja corps was preceded by a number of factors that initially had little relation to one another. Paramilitary police units in the US were established in two separate waves. The first modern urban police paramilitary team was put together by then-Los Angeles Police Commissioner Daryl Gates when he founded the country's first local SWAT team in the mid 1960s.12 Los Angeles and the other big cities that followed its example created paramilitary units in response to civil disturbances of the 1960s and 1970s. At first, these teams were eyed with suspicion and used sparingly.
The War at Home
Then came the "War on Drugs" in the 1980s. Suddenly, there was a new rationale for aggressive use of state- sponsored violence since - any teenage moviegoer knows by now - drug dealers are wanton, diabolically violent characters, armed to the teeth, eager to fight to the death, and stereotypically non-white. From 1985 to 1995, the survey found, a second wave of paramilitary units was established - most in the smaller, less populous jurisdictions to fight the drug war.
Starting in the 1970s, the military had been only casually involved in drug interdiction activities. Its participation sparked court cases charging violations of the Posse Comitatus Act, which was passed to end the state of martial law that existed in occupied southern states after the Civil War. During that period of repression, in which internal passports, arbitrary search and arrest, public beatings and lynchings were the norm, the line between military and policing functions was routinely blurred.13 The Posse Comitatus Act became a guiding tenet of American democratic governance: the military is designed to engage in war, and the civilian police are charged with enforcing the law.14
Then two changes in the law, first in 1983 and then in 1989, brought the military and police institutions side by side formally and legally - at exactly the same time that the post-Cold War military was looking for a new mission. After those amendments to Posse Comitatus, the military could provide intelligence, materiel, transport services and training, as well as participate in drug interdiction efforts in almost every way short of direct search, seizure and arrest.15
Subsequently, through programs including Joint Task Force Six at Ft. Bliss in El Paso, Texas, local police began receive ing some of the same kind of military training as the Special Forces units. More than 20 of the respondents in Kraska and Kappeler's survey reported their paramilitary teams were trained by Army Rangers or Navy SEALS, military units that specialize in commando tactics. One commander told Kraska in a follow-up interview: "We've had teams of Navy SEALS and Army Rangers come here and teach us everything. We just have to use our own judgment and exclude the information like: 'at this point we bring in the mortars and blow the place up.'"16
The similarities between police and military operations have raised serious questions about civil liberties. In May 1997, Marines conducting a border control "anti-drug" training mission shot dead a goat herder tending his flock in Texas at the Mexico border. The four soldiers, dressed in camouflage, claimed that the herder - armed with a World War 11 era single-shot rifle, as is usual when protecting livestock in rattlesnake and coyote territory - had fired on them. But where police would be required by law to announce their presence and fire only when their lives were in danger, the soldiers remained hidden and unannounced as they stalked high school student Ezequiel Hernandez for several hours.17
As the army assumes civilian police functions, the police are acting - and looking - more like soldiers. McNamara, who served as a police chief in San Jose and Kansas City after 15 years in the New York City police department, partially blamed the militarization of police forces on the proliferation of assault weapons: "I predicted a long time ago, the failure to control military-style weapons into the general population would lead to further militarization of police."18 The drive toward high-tech weaponry was facilitated soon after the end of the Cold War when military spending reductions brought cheap war-surplus materiel into the market. (St. Petersburg, Florida, just bought its first armored personnel carrier this Spring for $ 1,000 from the US military.) Gun companies, perceiving a profitable trend, began aggressively marketing automatic weapons to local police departments, holding seminars, and sending out color brochures redolent with ninja-style Imagery.19
, , , continued at http://www.copi.com/articles/gstorm.html