The American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina and affiliates in 22 states have filed more than 255 public records requests to determine the extent to which local police departments are using federally subsidized military technology such as drones.
“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 the 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 South Carolina filed public records requests with sheriff’s offices in Horry, Beaufort and York Counties. The requests seek information on the use of:
SWAT teams, including their funding sources, types of weapons used and injuries sustained by civilians during their deployment.
Cutting-edge weapons and technologies, including GPS tracking devices, unmanned aerial drones and “shock-cuff” restraints.
Military weaponry, equipment, and vehicles obtained from or funded by federal agencies such as the Departments of Defense and/or Homeland Security.
The ACLU also filed open records requests with state National Guards seeking information regarding:
Cooperative agreements between local police departments and the National Guard counter-drug program
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 Susan Dunn, legal director of the ACLU of South Carolina.
Allie Bohm, ACLU advocacy and policy strategist, noted that, “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.”
The affiliates which filed public records requests are: Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Once the information has been collected and analyzed, the ACLU said it will use the results, if needed, to recommend changes in law and policy governing the use of military tactics and technology in local law enforcement.