Citizens of Watertown, Massachusetts, know more than most Americans about the weapons, tactics, technology, and vehicles employed by law enforcement.
In the wake of the Boston marathon bombings, residents of Watertown were ordered by police to stay inside and then subjected to involuntary searches of their homes. Besides the obvious violations of the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee of the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, Watertown citizens were eyewitnesses to SWAT officers dressed in combat gear using weapons and riding in vehicles more at home in the battlefield than suburbia.
The militarization of local and state law enforcement didn’t make its debut in the Watertown lockdown, however. For decades, police have received millions in grants from the federal government. Cash-strapped police departments and sheriffs' offices have traded local control for new technology and martial materiel.
The blurring of the lines between armed forces and police forces has accelerated quickly, resulting in a situation where “it would be difficult to discern fully outfitted police SWAT teams and the military.”
Another significant step in fully federalizing and militarizing local law enforcement was taken earlier this week when the Pentagon published amendments to the Federal Register affecting key sections that control civilian and military cooperation in law enforcement.
Under Section 32 CFR Part 182 — Defense Support of Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies — critical and constitutionally suspect changes were made that permit units of the U.S. armed forces to “engage temporarily in activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances.”
The relevant revision mandates that military assumption of local law enforcement powers is only valid in “extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the President is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation.”
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