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

Newark, NJ – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) and ACLU affiliates in 23 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 in American military settings 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 New Jersey filed two public records requests. The first request, filed with 16 local law enforcement agencies, seeks information on the use of:

  • SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) Teams, including:
    • Number and purpose of deployments
    • Types of weapons used during deployments
    • Injuries sustained by civilians during deployments
    • Funding sources
  • Cutting-edge weapons and technologies, including:
    • GPS tracking devices
    • Unmanned aerial vehicles (“drones”)
    • Augmented detainee restraint (“shock-cuffs”)
    • Military weaponry, equipment, and vehicles obtained from or funded by federal agencies such as the Departments of Defense and/or Homeland Security

The first request was filed with the following agencies:

  • New Jersey State Police
  • New Jersey Transit
  • Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office
  • Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office
  • Passaic County Sheriff’s Office
  • Essex County Prosecutor’s Office
  • Warren County Prosecutor’s Office
  • Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office
  • Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office
  • Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office
  • Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office
  • City of Newark
  • Jersey City
  • City of Camden
  • Atlantic City

The second request, filed with the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to obtain information about the New Jersey National Guard, seeks information regarding:

  • Cooperative agreements between local police departments and the National Guard counter-drug program
  • Incidents of National Guard contact with civilians

“New Jerseyans deserve to know how much our local police are using military weapons and tactics for everyday policing,” said Jeanne LoCicero, ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director. “The militarization of local police is a threat to Americans’ right to live without fear of military-style intervention in our daily lives, and we need to make sure these resources and tactics are deployed only with rigorous oversight and strong legal protections.”

Affiliates from Arizona, 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, and Washington 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.

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