Truth in Media: The Root of Police Militarization

Activate: 10 Step Action Plan On Militarization

All of our episodes are crowdfunded, Contribute to the Truth in Media Project Here

In the latest episode of Truth in Media, Investigative Journalist Ben Swann looks at the root of America’s current problem with the militarization of police.

“The militarization of America’s police forces has captured the nation’s attention, largely because of Ferguson, Missouri,” said Swann. “But what media has not told you, is how police forces got militarized in the first place, and why militarization is about a lot more than just military equipment.”

Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager was shot and killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson during a confrontation in August. His death triggered protests, some of which led to rioting and looting.

Swann points out that what really “stunned the nation” was the way police responded to the protests. Rather than responding like a police force that intended to serve and protect, Ferguson police responded like a military unit, complete with armored vehicles and flash grenades. Swann said that for millions of Americans, “this was a stunning site on American streets.”

Swann said that while has been working to raise awareness about the militarization of police for over a year, “the rest of the media acted like they had no idea.”

The program ignored by the mainstream media is the 1033 program. Also called the Department of Defense Excess Property Program, this platform is used by police departments to obtain military equipment. Swann explains:

“It is a federal program that provides surplus DoD military equipment to state and local civilian law enforcement agencies for use in counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism operations, and to enhance officer safety.”

While the 1033 program does provide armored vehicles and flash grenades, it also provides police departments with other emergency supplies that go beyond weaponry.

Larry Kirk, the Police Chief in Old Monroe, Missouri, which is just a few miles from Ferguson, said that he is against banning the 1033 program altogether, due to the fact that it gives smaller departments certain supplies they would not have been able to afford.

However, while Kirk is in favor of keeping the program, he is also one of the few police chiefs in the country who is opposed to departments receiving military weapons. Kirk explained that he is skeptical about the level is militarized weapons that he has seen come through the program recently.
“Being realistic, there is no reason I would ever need an MRAP,” said Kirk. “Most departments would never need one.”

Swann further described the “MRAP,” which is one of two armored vehicles that police departments are given by grant, through the 1033 program. The vehicles, which were originally made to fight in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, were kept by the Department of Defense after the wars cooled down, and are now being granted to local police departments.

According to a report from the New York Times, “about 500 planes, helicopters, and mine-resistant armored vehicles have been obtained, alongside 94,000 machine guns.”

Swann said that following the protests in Ferguson, Americans began to realize the size and scale of the military equipment that was available to local police, and they “began calling for police departments to do away with military vehicles.”

Swann also pointed out that while the mainstream media has covered the protests, it hasn’t worked to provide Americans with the keys to the root of the problem.

“What media has not helped the public understand is that the real problem with militarization is not military equipment,” said Swann. “It’s the use by police of military tactics.”

Swann gave three examples of incidents in which police used military tactics to serve warrants on drugs:

The first example occurred in Detroit, Michigan, when 7-year-old girl Aiyana Jones was awakened in the middle of the night by a stun grenade developed for wartime raids, called a “flash bang,” which was thrown by a SWAT team, and immediately set fire to her blanket. Following the release of the grenade, the SWAT team stormed into the house, and mistakenly shot Jones through the neck, killing her.

A second incident occurred in Tucson, Arizona, when a SWAT team attempted to serve a search warrant as part of a multi-house drug crackdown. Jose Guerena, an Iraq war veteran who lived in the house, instructed his family to hide while he got his gun, after his wife became alarmed at the sight of a shadowy figure standing in their front yard, holding a gun. Guerena retrieved his gun – leaving the safety on – and stepped into the living room. The SWAT team then entered the house and shot him 60 times.

Swann noted that the police “have still never said whether they found drugs” in Guerena’s home.

A third example occurred in Atlanta, Georgia, when a SWAT team visited a family’s home in search of a small amount of drugs they believed were in the possession of the family’s nephew. The parents, three daughters, and a 19-month-old baby boy were asleep in a converted garage when police opened the door and threw a stun grenade in. The grenade landed in the 19-month-old baby’s crib. It blew a hole in his chest, and resulted in such severe burns that the baby was placed in a medically induced coma.

Swann said that, according to author Radley Balkow, “The most common use of SWAT teams today is to serve narcotics warrants, usually with forced, unannounced entry into the home.”

These raids have become increasingly frequent, with as many as 40,000 occurring every year. Swann pointed out that the raids are “needlessly subjecting nonviolent drug offenders, bystanders, and wrongly targeted civilians to the terror of having their homes invaded while they’re sleeping, usually by teams of heavily armed paramilitary units dressed not as police officers but as soldiers.”

“Despite what the media spin-doctors will tell you, militarization has nothing to do with the war on terror, and it has everything to do with perpetuating the war on drugs,” Swann said.

Kirk said that he believed the United States has created so many different wars, from the war on crime to the war on drugs, that it has left police officers in the perpetual state of needing to be a “warrior.”

“If you continue to tell people they are in a war, you are going to create warriors,” said Kirk. “You are going to create soldiers that you are now putting on the street.”

Swann traveled to Washington DC to investigate the root of militarization. He noted that although DC has military gear and uses military tactics, “it does not participate in the 1033 program.”

Swann spoke with Seema Sadanandam, the ACLU Director of the Nation’s Capital. Sadanandam explained that while the picture of tanks in the streets was the “most visceral and extreme example” that came out of Ferguson, there is more to the concept of police militarization.

Sadanandam said that the fact that DC does not utilize the 1033 program would be surprising to members of the black communities who have been “subjected to law enforcement’s militarized war on drugs.”

While DC does not participate in the program, it does use military tactics on a daily basis. One of the tactics used, is referred to as the “jump out car.

Sadanandam explained that a “jump out car” is an unmarked car containing four to six officers, dressed in tactical vests, who jump out of the car to ambush their target. “They literally jump out of the car and surprise people,” said Sadanandam, who went on to say that the main objective is to convince people to submit to a so-called “consent search.”

According to Sadanandam, the tactic of using jump out cars is only acceptable in black, brown, and indigent communities, and is not seen in all-white communities.

“In Dupont circle, for example, which is a largely white community and where we know that there is regular cocaine use and cocaine possession, you would never see jump out cars jumping out on a group of white men in business suits, and police saying they fit the description of regular cocaine users,” said Sadanandam. “That would be considered completely unacceptable.”

Swann attended a meeting in southeastern DC, where black residents gathered to express their frustration with militarized police. He noted that people living in these neighborhoods say militarization for them is “not about the idea that so many of us have been confronted with” in the last few months. Instead, it is something they have been dealing with their entire lives.

Orlando Bego, the Pastor of Centerpoint Baptist Church, said that in the midst of the events in Ferguson, the nation was watching the wrong problem, and that getting rid of the 1033 program will not solve the real problem.

“Ferguson is not new,” said Bego. “It may be new for the mass of people who watch it on media outlets, but for people who live in inner city, urban neighborhoods, that is a common tactic that is used.”

Bego believes that even if the 1033 program were eliminated, the military mindset instilled in police officers would still be present. He said he dreads the day that his 10-year-old son, who currently wants to grow up to be a police officer because he views officers as heroes who serve and protect, is “pulled over for driving while black,” or “stopped and harassed for making eye contact.”

Ben Swann maintains that while Americans should be outraged at the idea of militarization, it should not be just because police show up in tanks to a protest. It should be because of the tactics that have been used by police for years, such as using battering rams to knock down people’s doors, and throwing stun grenades through windows, all for the sake of serving drug warrants.

“The militarized mindset isn’t about gear, it’s about tactics,” said Swann. “When we talk about things like ‘no hesitation targets,’ where police are taught to shoot a child holding a gun, or shoot a pregnant woman holding a gun, at what point do we as a public tell police, ‘Stop. We want you to hesitate.’”

Swann noted that while there are still many men and women who become police officers to serve and protect their communities, the problem occurs in the militarized way they are being trained. “They’re being taught to kill or be killed, that every suspect they encounter could be their last encounter, and that every person walking the streets of every community, is a threat, when in fact, it’s simply not true,” Swann said.

“Militarization takes good cops and teaches them to act like they’re in a warzone,” said Swann. “But the streets of the United States of America are not a warzone, and it’s up to us, the public, to keep it that way.”

  • Reality Check

    “But the streets of the United States of America are not a warzone, and it’s up to us, the public, to keep it that way.”


    Well said Ben.

    We will keep America from becoming a warzone by making people aware of the truth about 9/11, OK City, Sandy Hoax, etc.

    Watch this video Ben. It’s extremely well done and is EXTREMELY convincing.

    I think you are capable of this kind of work Ben, I don’t know what’s holding you back.

    You can be Ben Swann, mediocre journalist working for RT, or you can be a national icon.

    Make your children proud Ben, don’t they deserve it?

  • Don’tYouGetItYet?

    Excellent video Ben Swann & team!! Keep bringing the truth & thank you. I think it’s time this nation re-thinks it’s “war on drugs”. It’s tearing this country apart, literally. There’s got to be a better way.

  • Hi Ben, a
    little inaccuracy. The Bearcat vehicles are NOT surplus from the Afghan
    and Iraq wars, they’re being manufactured NOW in Pittsfield MA by LENCO
    for the 1033 program. The claim by the government that they are
    “surplus” is a fraud to make the militarization seem palatable, they are brand new equipment being funnelled to
    american police agencies like Ollie North funnelling American Hellfire
    missiles to the Iranians in order to pay for financing the Contra
    guerrillas. I have toured LENCO’s factory and they told me point blank that all Bearcat vehicles, like the other MRAP vehicles, going to police agencies are NOT previously used by the military, they are all new manufacture. The surplus claims are just to make local politicians agree to accept the vehicles, or give them cover with constituents, that they are preventing “wasted” government resources.

    • Just Sayen

      “I have toured LENCO’s factory and they told me point blank that all Bearcat vehicles, like the other MRAP vehicles, going to police agencies are NOT previously used by the military, they are all new manufacture”

      Can you back that up with anything? I don’t have any reason to doubt you, but those kinds of claims need to backed up with something. Did you get that from them in writing or on tape?

      • Don’t rely on me. Do your own digging, its simple: find a police department near you that has a Bearcat. Call their SWAT/Tactical/Special Response Team and ask them what the date of manufacture is for their Bearcat, when they took delivery, and when their 1033 grant was authorized. If they get huffy say it should all be public information and they should consider your request a FOIA request. FOIA is effective in all 50 states, and most states have state level FOIA laws too.
        As I said, I went to the source, I posed as a rich chairman of a private venture capital firm and told LENCO I was interested in buying a Bearcat to protect high value foreign clients who were visiting our offices. They gave me a tour of the facility and I’ve got emails from them about their vehicles.

        • Just Sayen

          Too bad you didn’t get that tour on tape so you could post it on YouTube.

          Have you posted those emails where we can all take a look at them or did you just do all of this to prove it to yourself?

          • I have the emails. Until now, nobody has expressed any interest. I had hoped to get others involved at the time and promote it, but nobody was interested.

          • Reality Check

            You may want to try

            If you have credible claims they will probably be interested in it.

            Try talking to Ben Swann about it. I don’t have his email but it should be available somewhere.

            Good luck and thanks.

          • Just Sayen

            You could try too.
            Just sayen brah

          • Reality Check

            Try … … I don’t see why he wouldn’t be interested.

          • Zak Carter

            Or you can pass it along to me at – I’m happy to pass along great info!

  • Neil
  • Cheryl Marie

    Thanks for your good efforts Ben. Here (Berrien County,
    Michigan), concerned people are pursuing the conscientious right to express
    their non-consent to militarized policing services per means of an automatic property
    tax exemption authorized under the Organic Laws of the United States (natural
    law), applicable to this State — the intentional apportioned line-item defunding
    of militarization, in other words. This self-responsible Fund-Down action (which
    is not a tax protest) is based on three societal factors. One: the Governor
    never obtained the peoples’ approval to militarize policing services; nor is there
    historic precedent for military tactics to be utilized by civilian police that might
    activate the legal doctrine of ‘implied consent‘. Governors must enter into an
    agreement with the DOD for the acquisition of 1033 and 1122 [re BearCat
    purchases] equipment that has resulted in police pursuing military-tactics
    training. Two: police are committing unconstitutional
    ‘compelled association’ by classifying all people as terrorists (being “threats
    to them”, as you aptly point out Ben). Three: the exercise of closely-held spiritual
    (religious) creed by choosing to defund the terrorizing tactics and likely injury
    to fellow members of humanity. Our efforts can be followed on the Facebook page
    “Exposing Excessive Policing”. Btw: a State legislator here likes our plan.

    • Just Sayen

      “concerned people are pursuing the conscientious right to express
      their non-consent to militarized policing services per means of an automatic property
      tax exemption authorized under the Organic Laws of the United States”

      “Organic laws” … sounds pretty trendy.

      Any links to where a person can read more that isn’t connected to “faceCrook”

      (People need to stop using a social media that spies on everything they do)

  • Ward Damon Hubbard

    In my discussions with retired law enforcement, I am told that the basic training of law enforcement has not changed, other then hand to hand tactics that are MMA style fighting. And that 1033 program is nothing new and military hardware, Has been filtered down to local law enforcement for years. In so much as that my e true to some extent, what is clear that peace officers that I was raised around have turned into a paramilitary style tactically, equipped law enforcement off…icer. And although this love affair between the DOJ and state and local law enforcement agencies may indeed been around before 9/11, it has only accelerate under The USA Patriot Act. Just as we are presently looking at how EIT changed the face of this nation, so to we should look at how, over the years the 1033 program is now wagering a type of war on the American public here at home. As it surly seem that freedom and liberty needs to be protect from the government.

  • cyberpigue

    Something a lot of people don’t realize is that a significant portion of LEOs are ex-military. The point being, how to take a person who has been in an environment where military tactics are the daily norm and “forget” that training an experience while dealing with US citizens.

    • Reality Check

      “how to take a person who has been in an environment where military tactics are the daily norm and “forget” that training an experience while dealing with US citizens”

      My first instinct is to use 10,000 volt shock collars.

      Their training means nothing, if they act like animals when dealing with the public, they need to be treated like animals.

      • Former blackhawk mech’nic

        Reality check, you are an f’n moron and you more than likely don’t know s**t about the military. From an ex military personnel. All it takes is retraining and the want to act right, as the majority of the LEO’s do. The very small minority of LEO’s that act like idiots get blasted all over the media and then all of the LEO’s get blamed.

        • RC

          Are you the shmuck who worked on that copter that Seal Team 6 was loaded onto and murdered, you treasonous rat?

          Be careful how you speak to your employer, you filthy, disgusting and treasonous rat.

        • deanna smith

          then explain the thin blue line.

  • StrictlyVoluntary


  • Andy

    I think ALL police should be removed from the street. We would no longer have those taxes as a burden. Jails can then be run by private corporations. We wouldn’t have to worry about stupid speeding tickets or the so called war on drugs or crime. That would save lives and there’d be no racial profiling….think on it

  • Ronny

    I think they just need to bring back civilian review boards over all of them, period. Oh wait we never had that since the *Union* took over everything. Keep us with Sheriffs again who we have oversight over, get rid of the union and bring back civilian review panels for sure.

  • Rothbardian Slip

    By definition-all cops are bad! There is no such thing as a good cop.

  • Phillip

    I thought this was good. I think it hit, as is everywhere, too much on the issue of race, though. The main point is that police abuses of power are running rampant–everywhere–to anyone, period. Yes, there is a race issue to be considered, but it is too much the focus. The main focus needs to be on holding officers and departments accountable. Their hardware is too extreme, their tactics are too extreme, and their attitudes/behaviors are abhorrent. As aforementioned, they have no accountability to those they “serve”. That in itself, is ridiculous. While I am in agreement with every officer wearing a camera (with audio), I think the strategy would be more effective if it were accessible to anyone in the public, at any time, via live stream. Now, I am not sure how feasible that actually is or would be; but regardless, the idea that the only group that oversees and investigates (officially) law enforcement activity is themselves, I believe, alludes to a pretty steep conflict of interest imho.

  • Joe McPlumber

    I’d have to wade through a thousand posts to find it again, but a Marine posting on Reddit objected to the word “militarization” because it slanders the professionalism of the military. He described his unit’s function as “death dealing” but described the process itself as far more civilized than a SWAT invasion. Basically he said that they first went in and secured the premises, and then knocked on the door and otherwise conducted themselves respectfully, as if (quote) “there were actual f*ing* human beings in the house”.

    So if i believe this guy, Americans are not afforded the equivalent dignity and professionalism in their own homes, in their own country, as our enemies are in a war zone. And his story had a distinct ring of believability to it. Seems the cops themselves have a hollywood vision of military ops, but none of the discipline and training.

    Wish i could find that post to link to it.

  • Boomergirl

    It is called militarization because the police are trained as in taking out a target during wartime. The private citizen is the target just like a terrorist in Iraq would be the target for the military soldier. But the police don’t operate in Iraq, they are in your local neighborhood, where the military isn’t needed but the traditional policeman is, only he’s acting like a military soldier in Iraq. Get it? The term isn’t meaning to slander the military. It is related to inappropriate action, not military readiness and protection.

    Until people of every color complain in huge numbers to their local police chief, this will continue to happen. Use this as a campaign issue the next time your local police chief is running for re-election. Explain that you want a peace officer who serves and protects, not a military policeman. And the police are attacking white people, too. Remember the warnings to law enforcement about those who belong to the Tea Party or support Ron Paul or quote their rights in the Constitution to a policeman who stops them on the road? Some of these people are being attacked and hurt by home invasions or at check points on the road, and not necessarily for this list of reasons. The policeman may be looking for a similar car or you may fit the description of a dangerous criminal. But instead of taking reasonable precautions, they are rushing in without knocking or identifying themselves. We’re not dealing with Sargent Joe Friday from “Dragnet” or Officer Pete Malloy from “Adam 12” anymore. We are the enemy now.

  • nimrod

    it’s about controlling us slaves on the slave farms that the powers that be call countries

  • Sandy Hoax

    It’s about staging events like this to justify stripping us of our freedom.

  • Guest

    gonna have to suggest you ditch the epic music in the beginning of the video… <3

  • second class

    As the people keep being kept purposely detached from military assaults by police by the media’s and government’s vilifying anyone connected to drugs, little do they think they are signing away their own property and freedom. The number of these assaults are rising, invading the population little by little. A few years from now, all the middle class people who just have there dope delivered will learn what all the dragnet sweeping of phone data was for all along. When their phones call a dealers number, then those phones are linked by location, retroactive property forfeiture will attack in full force. They will have to prove to the judge they didn’t use their houses to use drugs to get them back. Those who just visited friends to party will have their cars taken because their phone was at the scene of the crime and they stupidly let insurance companies track their location under the pretense of safe driving. It’ll be a huge property sweep. For those who do as their told, they will just submit to blackmail by the government They will be told “you voted for these laws” They’ll ask When? Everytime they allowed it to happen to the “low lifers” they were giving permission to do it to them. Nobody will help them because they are now the Low Life and anyone who could have fought for them has been silenced and made powerless