In a police state the government maintains a repressive social control over the population, and people have little freedom to exercise political power or openly express controversial views. In many police states, the military is in charge.
In the United States, the Posse Comitatus Act was passed in 1878 to remove the US Army from patrolling the post Civil War South. It restricts the use of the military in domestic law enforcement.
But it has been substantially eroded in recent years, even as domestic police forces have become steadily militarized. Over the past three decades, the “war on drugs” has brought police departments across the country a huge influx of federal dollars and military weapons. In the closing three years of the 20th century, more than 11,000 police departments ordered 3.4 million pieces of military equipment from the Pentagon, including aircraft, M-16 rifles, grenade launchers and night-vision goggles. Now law enforcement nationwide are getting drones.
As a retired New Haven police officer told The New York Times, “I was offered tanks, bazookas, anything I wanted.”
Much of this equipment is in the hands of rapidly-growing paramilitary SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams. SWAT teams made 40,000 deployments a year by 2001, many of them military-style no-knock drug raids on homes, housing projects and even schools. In one 2011 case, Arizona police SWAT officers descended on a home as if they were seeking dangerous criminals in a hostage situation. It turns out they were after a man running an illegal chicken fighting game.
The advent of the 21st century “war on terror” saw the establishment in late 2002 of a new military US Northern Command (NORTHCOM) to spearhead “homeland
defense.” The military now has a presence in fusion centers and a pivotal role in surveillance – it has collected and disseminated intelligence on groups ranging from Planned Parenthood to Alaskans for Peace and Justice. In September 2009, Admiral Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, told the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco that “the traditional fault line” between military and overall intelligence activities is “no longer relevant.”
The Pentagon is meanwhile making its “Long Range Acoustic Devices” which have been used by the military to incapacitate insurgents and Somali pirates and its Predator drones available to local law enforcement. It is also harnessing Total Information Awareness-style technology in the effort to predict future attacks at military bases.
Above: a long range acoustic device in use by the NYPD at the Republican National Convention protests of 2004. Image courtesy