As President Obama ushers in the end of the “long season of war,” the tools of combat — M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, silencers and more — are ending up in local police departments, reports the New York Times. Police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft. The equipment has been added to the armories of police departments that already look and act like military units.
Police SWAT teams are deployed tens of thousands of times each year, increasingly for routine jobs. Masked, heavily armed Louisiana police officers raided a nightclub in 2006 during a liquor inspection. In Florida in 2010, officers in SWAT gear and with guns drawn carried out raids on barbershps that led to charges of “barbering without a license.” The expansion of SWAT teams has changed the way departments view themselves. Recruiting videos feature clips of officers storming into homes with smoke grenades and firing automatic weapons. The Pentagon does not push equipment onto local departments. The pace depends on how much unneeded equipment the military has, and how much the police request. Equipment that goes unclaimed typically is destroyed. Police chiefs say their choice is easy: Ask for free equipment that would otherwise be scrapped, or look for money in their budgets to prepare for an unlikely scenario.