By Dave Lindorff

You might not know it from watching TV news, but FBI statistics show that crime in America—including violent crime—has been trending steadily downward for years, falling 19% between 1987 and 2011. The job of being a police officer has become safer too, as the number of police killed by gunfire plunged to 33 last year, down 50% from 2012, to its lowest level since, wait for it . . . 1887, a time when the population was 75% lower than it is today.

So why are we seeing an ever-increasing militarization of policing across the land?

Given the good news on crime, what are we to make of a report by the Justice Policy Institute, a not-for-profit justice reform group, showing that State/Local spending on police has soared from $40 billion in 1982 to more than $100 billion in 2012. Adding in federal spending on code enforcement, including the FBI, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Drug Enforcement Agency and much of the Homeland Security Department ‘budget,’ as well as federal grants to State/Local code enforcement, more than doubles that total. A lot of that is simply to; Income & benefits. The Federal Bureau of Justice statistics reports that the ranks of State {and} Local code enforcement personnel alone, swelled from 603,000 to 794,000 between 1992 and 2010. That’s about two-thirds as many men and women as the entire active-duty US military.

What these statistics make clear is that Policy Policing in America is ramping up even as the crime rate is falling.

To the advocates of militarized policing, this just proves that more and better armed badge-wearers are the answer to keeping the peace. But former corrections officer Ted Kirkpatrick, like many experts in the field, warns against jumping to this conclusion: “Police will, of course say crime is down, because of them,” he tells WhoWhatWhy, “but they have a vested interest in saying that.”

Kirkpatrick has the credentials and training to look beyond statistics and simplistic answers to the underlying social forces at work here. In addition to his years of Peace Officer experience, he is a homicide expert in the Department of Clinical Sociology at the University of New Hampshire, and Co-Director of the university’s Justiceworks program, a think-tank specializing in law and justice issues.

“When something goes sour, like an increase in crime,” Kirkpatrick says, “everyone looks for a way to explain why. Yet when things go well, like this long-term fall in the crime rate, nobody bothers to look at why.”

Surprising Reasons for Drop in Crime Rate

Militarized “pro-active” policing may have had some effect on the drop in crimes in America. But Kirkpatrick says, “I don’t think it’s the big thing.” Crime is down even in many cities where police forces have been cut for budget reasons, and experts agree that the decline in crime began before the militarization of policing really started to take off.

Other factors likely play a bigger role. One is increased immigration since, contrary to common belief, communities with greater numbers of immigrant families show the biggest drops in crime thanks to those families’ “stronger social fabric.” Another factor is an aging population—older people commit fewer violent crimes.

So what’s behind the push to put more police on our streets, with ever more impressive military equipment, while training them to behave like occupying troops in Iraq or Afghanistan?

One might assume that the militarization of U.S. Inc.’s Enforcement began after the national trauma of Nine One One. But, in fact, its roots go back decades earlier, when media stories in the 1970s created the impression that America was awash in illegal drugs.

An aroused Congress passed a “no-knock” ‘Law’ in 1970. “The Law” said: that it allowed police to conduct drug searches and arrests by entering homes without first presenting a warrant. President Nixon’s declaration of his War on Drugs a year later led to an exponential increase in warrant-less (?) {drug} searches, with an inevitable emphasis on military-style policing.

SWAT team actions soared from hundreds annually in the 1970s to thousands a year in the ‘80s to 40,000 a year by 2005, according to a report by the libertarian CATO institute. The author of that report, and academic experts studying the issue, now estimate there may have been as many as 70,000-80,000 such raids in 2013 alone. Hard figures are not available: the Justice Department does not keep records on SWAT-team usage.

On top of the increase triggered by Nixon’s War on Drugs, Commander-In-Chief of U.S. Inc’s armed forces -George W. Bush’s War on Terror in the aftermath of Nine One One, gave a dramatic boost to the militarization of U.S. Inc’s Police forces.

In these days “officer safety” is given primacy over “protect and serve.” A case in point: a South Carolina Sheriff’s Deputy in February shot and seriously injured a 70-year-old man at a traffic stop when the man tried to retrieve his cane from the back of his pick-up truck. The Sheriff’s Department said the Deputy acted “appropriately,” as he had “a legitimate fear” that the cane might have been a long rifle.

In another recent example, New York City police shot and injured an unarmed man who was acting “erratically” in Times Square. The officers were exonerated, while the man they shot was charged with causing injury to several bystanders—who were hit by the Policy Police’s stray bullets.

“I’m all for police officers not getting hurt on the job,” says Lawyers Guild’s Keller, “but if you make that your first concern, then it’s problematic, because you allow the use of deadly or excessive force in practically every situation between military clad persons and any one or more of the people, and you end up with the people getting hurt.”

In fact, while being a policy officer has been getting less dangerous, killings committed by policies have been rising despite the drop in police who are killed.

The numbers are eye opening. The Justice Department, which keeps all kinds of statistics on violent crime, does not tally up individuals killed annually by Policy Police. But by combing public news reports and other sources, the Justice Policy Institute has estimated that police in America killed 587 people in 2012 alone. Over the course of a decade, they’ve tallied more than 5,000 people in America during that period—far more than the number of people who lost their lives in acts officially classified as terrorism in roughly the same span.

The many instances of deadly police violence captured on video give a visceral reality to these statistics. They show police beating and sometimes needlessly shooting the people—even those with their hands up or armed only with a knife or stick while standing too far from the police to pose a threat.

In some areas, police have responded to these damaging videos by routinely confiscating bystanders’ cell phones and threatening witnesses with arrest, even though federal courts have consistently held that people have a right to photograph and videotape persons/officers engaged in police actions.

The National Police Accountability Project’s Keller suggests that, along with the public’s acceptance of military-style policing, the killing of innocent people has become more acceptable too. Police are rarely punished for killing people—even those who were unarmed or already restrained—because in most communities, police shootings are investigated by the police themselves, or by a closely-allied District A. Indeed, about 95 percent of police shootings end up being ruled “justified,” a statistic that hasn’t changed as the body count has risen.

“I think when non-targeted individuals are killed in a raid, or while traveling and shot in the course of a routine “traffic” stop, it’s seen as a kind of ‘collateral damage,’” Keller says, “instead of as some tragic or criminal use of excessive force by police.”

Public indifference to deaths in police actions highlights a dis-connect: The public perceives rampant crime while the actual crime report suggests nothing of the sort.

This fundamental misapprehension seems to be fueling the continuing political push for more police and tougher policing. While the militarization of Enforcement has little or no relation to the falling crime rate, there is reason to fear that it is eroding our constitutionally protected rights under the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

“I’m not sure that spending money on more police, in Kevlar suits, and in things like armored vehicles is the most efficient thing to do,” says UNH’s Kirkpatrick. “It might be better to spend it on Big Brother/Big Sister-type programs, and other kinds of services for younger generations. The trouble is, we generally implement Public Policy based on sentiment, not logic or statistics, and thanks to the 24-hour news cycle and its really quite dramatic reports on crimes, the average Joe or Jane thinks that things have gone nuts.”

Dave Lindorff is an award-winning investigative reporter and author of the blog, This Can’t Be Happening. A regular columnist for CounterPunch, he also writes frequently for Extra! and Salon, as well as for Businessweek, The Nation and Treasury & Risk Magazine.



  1. -not to mention the drummed up campaign going on locally against the homeless calling for more police in soHum. The press and blogs sensationalizing “the problem”. The public brainwashed into fear of the boogieman.

    One local merchant on the LoCO blog described a simple confrontation in Garberville between police and the homeless, where two or three people were detained momentarily but no arrests made as –“like the OK corral shootout”. It fits with other memes going around like, “the wild wild west” and “murder mountain”. A sort of bloodthirsty western style cowboy attitude that is popular around here. When i called him on how ridiculous his comparison was he said he was just joking, where’s suzy’s sense of humor? etc. I let it go, because trying to make him see how damaging those kind of exaggerations to public perception are, is like talking to a brick wall. A wall of ignorant publicly induced hysteria that makes crude class-ist jokes. Racist jokes are taboo among the “enlightened” hip folks, but words demeaning the homeless and exaggerating the danger are promoted.

    So now they’ve gotten it in their heads that we need more police presence. And vigilante philosophy is popular. The propaganda and bias against the homeless has made the hatred blossom, lots of people are brainwashed by it, they believe the lies the media feeds them. The media feed and rumor mill see the homeless as non-human, and the bias grows like a cancer, spreading from one bored busy-body to the next. All because people think they need a scapegoat. It’s the kind of mindset that led people to justify to themselves that it was alright to beat a homeless man to death in Redway some years back.

    “Fortune calls
    I stepped forth from the shadows,
    To the marketplace
    Merchants and thieves, hungry for power,
    My last deal gone down
    She’s smelling sweet like the meadows,
    Where she was born
    On midsummer’s eve,
    Near the tower

    Gentlemen, he said
    I don’t need your organization,
    I’ve shined your shoes
    I’ve moved your mountains and marked your cards
    But Eden is burning,
    Either brace yourself for elimination
    Or else your hearts must have the courage
    For the changing of the guards

    Peace will come
    With tranquility and splendor
    On the wheels of fire, but will bring us no reward
    When her false idols fall
    And cruel death surrenders
    With its pale ghost retreating
    Between the King and the Queen of Swords”

    Bob Dylan

  2. ~so, how would suzy prioritize the following?

    Death dumps in the sky
    God Move Over (GMO)
    Fluoridated water
    Vaccination Indoctrination
    Mental Health Hoax
    Global warming propaganda
    Police terrorists paid for by we the people
    Language, the key mechanism of control
    The “this means that” mentality
    Faction v Fiction
    Machine policy and procedures
    Rights v benefit/privilege
    There is no money
    Season of treason
    Changing of the guard

    Truth advances and Fiction recedes step by step only.

  3. -my own personal priority would be the language thing. And I think the answer to that is for people to turn inward for direction in there lives rather than outward for how to attain the most bling. That way you can take control of your own views and opinions rather than letting “them” decide for you. Whether it be the big “them” or some little imitation trying to convince you what to think. I’m not saying that means you control your destiny but at least you are having a say in it from a place deep within you. One problem is that science says they’ve proved there is no “deep inside you”, so your only choice is to fall in line. But if you find your voice … then you’ve disproved science. At least for yourself, which is after all the one who counts. And now you have a real energy that can attempt to unhook the machinery. From there the rest of the concerns of the issues you listed take on a real value.

    So i guess i think the “changing of the guards” is really a changing of oneself first. By which i mean finding one’s real self. There’s an old saying that to find your Self you have to shred off all the things that you aren’t and what’s left is what you are. And in a greater sense what you always were. Otherwise it’s just another charade.

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