Militarization of Police

2016 RNC: A Constitutional Playbook

The 2016 Republican National Convention (RNC) is a National Special Security Event (NSSE). The NSSE designation comes with $50 million to help pay for heightened security measures, including expanded law enforcement and surveillance. This means that security will be coordinated by a number of federal agencies, rather than the Cleveland Division of Police alone. It also means that whatever the City buys with the $50 million grant—everything from surveillance technology to military equipment—will stay in the region after the event ends. These funds will allow our local law enforcement to obtain military-style resources.

Cell phone at protest

City and county police forces look more and more like armies, as the federal government donates or sells old military equipment to local law enforcement.(1) This is a problem. First, American cities are not arenas of war, and when local police use military technology against their communities, they have been known to use more force than necessary.(2) Second, local law enforcement lacks the training and experience to safely use military equipment, and without proper training, people can be hurt. Finally, these tools, not to mention the image of armed military-style cops in urban and suburban communities, can scare people into not exercising their right to protest peacefully.

See the National Lawyers Guild presentation on “What to Expect When You’re Expecting the 2016 RNC

See the list of surplus military equipment sent to Ohio police departments under the federal 1033 program.

While President Obama has restricted grants of military equipment to local governments,(3) his actions do not prevent local police from using what they already have or from gaining gear through other ways, like the RNC grant.

  • Militarized police use less-lethal and lethal ammunition. Weapons are named “less-lethal,” when the government does not consider them deadly, even though they can cause death. These weapons include rubber or wooden bullets, Tasers, tear gas, sound amplifiers (like the Long Range Acoustic Device used during the 2009 G-20 summit in Pittsburgh (4)), bean bags, sting ball grenades, pepper spray, physical or hand-to-hand force, and other devices. But local militarized police forces can also have outright deadly weapons, like tanks and bombs.(5)
  • Militarized police use advanced surveillance. Non-weapon military technology includes drones, night-vision goggles, cell phone sniffers or stingray devices, biometric scanning technology, GPS, and helicopters, among other equipment.(6)

With military tools, local police have more opportunity to overstep the Constitution. People should be aware of the existence of military force in their communities and document and report illegal police behavior.

2016 RNC