NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

How Far Can Military Training Of Police Go?

September 9, 1999

Observers say that the military has greatly stepped up training of civilian police and arming them with weaponry over the past 20 years. But federal law bars the military from direct law enforcement activities -- such as searches, seizures and arrests.

Some criminal justice experts are worried that neighborhood police are becoming too militarized.

  • The Defense Department has provided everything from tanks at the 1993 siege at Waco, Texas, to explosives experts to blow out a prison door, to special forces training for the FBI and small-town law-enforcement officers.
  • In 1996-97, the Pentagon issued more than a million pieces of equipment to local police departments.
  • One military organization alone -- Joint Task Force Six, an anti-narcotics force based in southwest Texas -- provides 500 training missions to local law enforcement each year.
  • The task force's own guidelines in 1993 -- the year it trained agents for the Waco raid -- stated that "legal and policy barriers to the application of military capabilities are gradually being eliminated."

Some experts warn that increasingly militarized civilian police forces threaten civil liberties and can result in excessive force being used.

Source: Rowan Scarborough, "Military Training of Civilian Police Steadily Expands," Washington Times, September 9, 1999.


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