Militarization of Local Law Enforcement Erodes Civil Liberties, Encourages Overly Aggressive Policing

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

CONTACT:  Lizabeth Thomson-Gorman, ACLU of Arizona, (602) 773-6000 (office); Alessandra Soler, ACLU of Arizona, (602) 301-3705 (cell); or Tom Rosenthal, (212) 549-2582,

PHOENIX– The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona and affiliates in 22 other states today simultaneously filed public records requests to determine the extent to which local police departments are using federally subsidized military technology and tactics that are traditionally used overseas.

“Equipping state and local law enforcement with military weapons and vehicles, military tactical training, and actual military assistance to conduct traditional law enforcement erodes civil liberties and encourages increasingly aggressive policing, particularly in poor neighborhoods and communities of color,” said Kara Dansky, senior counsel for ACLU’s Center for Justice. “We’ve seen examples of this in several localities, but we don’t know the dimensions of the problem.”

The ACLU of Arizona filed 10 public records requests to the following Arizona law enforcement agencies: the Arizona National Guard, Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, Pima County Sheriff’s Office, Arizona Department Public Safety, Phoenix Police Department, Mesa Police Department, Tucson Police Department, Payson Police Department and Yuma Police Department.

The requests seek information on: (1) the use of SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) Teams, including the number and purpose of deployments, types of weapons used during deployments, injuries sustained by civilians during deployments, training materials and funding sources; (2) the use of cutting edge weapons and technologies, such as GPS tracking devices, unmanned aerial vehicles (“drones”), augmented detainee restraint (“shock-cuffs”) and military weaponry, equipment, and vehicles obtained from or funded by federal agencies such as the Departments of Defense and/or Homeland Security; and (3) information regarding cooperative agreements between local police departments and the National Guard counter-drug program and incidents of National Guard contact with civilians.

“The American people deserve to know how much our local police are using military weapons and tactics for everyday policing,” said Alessandra Soler, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona. “The militarization of local police is a threat to Americans’ right to live without fear of military-style intervention in their daily lives, and we need to make sure these resources and tactics are deployed only with rigorous oversight and strong legal protections.”

In addition to Arizona, affiliates from Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin filed the public records requests.  Once the information has been collected and analyzed, if needed, the ACLU will use the results to recommend changes in law and policy governing the use of military tactics and technology in local law enforcement.

For more information about this issue and the coordinated public records request,click here