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Is America Inching Toward a Police State?

Stronger police forces and a more robust surveillance apparatus are blurring the lines between law enforcement and military.

Rodrigo Sermeño


August 23, 2013 - 12:12 am

WASHINGTON – The recent revelations about the federal government’s surveillance programs underscore a subtle trend in the U.S. that should raise some concerns about personal freedoms in America.

According to John W. Whitehead – founder of the Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties and human rights organization – more Americans might find themselves in increasingly dangerous situations as SWAT teams and SWAT-team tactics are used more frequently in routine law enforcement activities.

Violent crime in America has been on a steady decline since the mid-1990s. No one knows exactly why criminal activity is down, but experts point to a variety of factors for the continuing decline in overall violence. They cite the end of the crack cocaine epidemic and changes in technology that include a substantial increase in surveillance cameras, among other reasons, as being responsible for bringing down crime.

Despite falling crime rates, some of the nation’s major cities are increasing the size and scope of their police agencies. For example, the New York Police Department (NYPD), the biggest police force in the nation, boasts more than 34,000 officers patrolling the streets of New York. Other cities with increasingly large police forces include Los Angeles (which has approximately 10,000 officers) and Chicago (13,400).

More robust police departments have also been credited with the fall in criminal activity. Nevertheless, other cities without similar increases in their police force, including cities like Dallas and Seattle, also saw decreases in crime rates during the 1990s.

In fact, both of these cities have reduced the size of their police departments, which has led some experts to question whether there is a strong correlation between department size and declining crime rates.

Notwithstanding the lack of evidence, police forces across the nation have not only continued to grow but have ramped up the scope of their activities.

In a Pulitzer prize-winning investigative series, the Associated Press revealed an NYPD surveillance program of Muslim communities. The AP investigation detailed how, after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly sought to transform elements of the nation’s largest police force into a miniature CIA, with the help from the intelligence agency, which is prohibited by law from spying on Americans.

Since President George W. Bush declared war on terrorism in the early 2000s, there has been a crucial shift in law enforcement policies.

In an effort to remedy their relative inadequacy to combat terrorism on U.S. soil, police forces throughout the nation adapted their operations to meet the demands of fighting against a different type of threat.

American police departments increased their use of military-grade equipment to perform counterterrorism duties. To assist them in deploying this new equipment, police departments sought and received extensive military training and tactical instruction.

Initially, only the largest metropolitan police departments maintained SWAT teams, and they were called upon only when a truly military-level response was necessary. In 1984, around 25 percent of towns with populations between 25,000 and 50,000 people had a SWAT team. That number rose to 80 percent in 2005. The number of annual SWAT deployments in the U.S. has gone from a few hundred in the 1970s to around 80,000 today. According to author and investigative reporter Radley Balko, there are an estimated 150 SWAT raids in America every day.

Under the 1033 Program, Congress has allowed the Department of Defense to transfer surplus military goods to state and local police agencies, including high-powered weapons and assault vehicles. Last year, the program stopped the transfer of firearms to police forces because of concerns that state coordinators were not keeping adequate inventory records. Suspension of the firearms distribution programs is expected to be lifted in October.

Recently, Whitehead discussed at the Heritage Foundation some of the startling findings he uncovered while doing research for his latest book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State.

In his book, Whitehead warns of the gradual transformation of America into a police state in which stronger law enforcement and a robust surveillance apparatus might give rise to a state governed by the strong arm of the law.

He contends that the lines between foreign and domestic surveillance and between law enforcement and military agencies are dissipating. This has resulted in an increasing number of military-style SWAT raids and the rapid growth of the government surveillance programs led by the National Security Agency (NSA).

In addition, he argues, the use of high-technology surveillance systems and the militarization of the police force have weakened the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure and the rarely invoked Third Amendment, which forbids the government from quartering soldiers in civilians’ homes without their permission.

Whitehead has been researching the growth of the NSA since the 1980s. But the rapid growth under the Obama administration is astonishing, he said.

Whitehead said NSA personnel told him that a new facility in Utah has a computer that downloads 1 trillion bytes of information from the Internet every month.

“The new computer they have is so powerful, it can actually download the entire content of the Library of Congress in six hours,” Whitehead said.

NSA has been under fire for its collection of phone and email records under its PRISM program, which was leaked to the press by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The Washington Post reported that Obama presided over the program’s “exponential growth.”

Last month, an amendment to a military spending bill sponsored by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) that would have terminated the government’s funding to collect the phone records of America citizens was narrowly defeated on the House floor. President Obama opposed the legislation, saying the “blunt approach” was not the product of an informed and open process.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the FBI are involved in the same type of surveillance, Whitehead mentions in his book.

He also talks about the often criticized “fusion centers” – data collection agencies created after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 that fall under DHS supervision. These centers, with help from the NSA, monitor everything from web searches to text messages, emails, and phone calls. This data is then passed on to government agencies like the CIA and the FBI. As of 2009, the government has admitted to having at least 72 fusion centers.

Shortly following the creation of fusion centers, their focus shifted from this exclusive interest in the dissemination of terrorism-related intelligence to one of “all hazards” to the public – a broad term used to describe virtually anything that may be deemed a threat to the public.

The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations uncovered widespread problems at fusion centers. The panel’s October 2012 report found significant intelligence gaps, frequent communications breakdowns, and pervasive bureaucratic waste.

At the book discussion, Whitehead cautioned that instances in which the growing power of the states clash with personal freedoms will only get more common until the American people stand up and refuse to accept what he calls “a major infringement on our constitutional liberties.”

Rodrigo is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C.

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Top Rated Comments   
You have a lot of ex-military who go into law enforcement.

The mistaken notion is that because military trains them to use weapons, and weapons are an integral tool of law enforcement, that military training is compatible with law enforcement.

I hold that this is a mistaken notion.

The purpose of the military is to break things and kill people.

The purpose of law enforcement is to apprehend criminals and maintain public order.

When law enforcements starts disturbing the public order by breaking down doors in no-knock search warrants, shooting the family dog as a standard operating procedure, and willfully violating our rights against unconstitutional search and seizure - and the Supremes in their infinite wisdom decide to carve out exceptions to make the actions of government easier for the government - our society is clearly in a decline.

At some point, it's less about the rule of law and becomes more about the rule of brute force.

Welcome to Obama's Amerika, comrades.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I think we're actually a Feudal state. We are no longer citizens, but serfs.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Inching?? As in creeping along? Apparently you've been out of the country for a while.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (65)
All Comments   (65)
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The Newport News Police and the Virginia State Police are implanting people with microchips. They imprint their brain for ubiquitous surveillance of their thoughts. In Safeguards in a World of Ambient Intelligence Page 9 it states that police would have you think we were not safe unless they know where we are at all times, what we are doing and what we are thinking. It enables them to see through your eye what your brain sees and hear everything you hear. They use laser/radar communication systems to make you think you're hearing voices - like the audiospotlight by Holosonics. They lock you in a crisis stabilization ward where they torture you, flat lining you repeatedly or they may put you in jail. The effort is to take away your second amendment rights to bear arms. This is all "crisis stabilization" BS. see and search Brandon Raub. In the BioInitiative Report 2012 states that "wifi" electric meters are known human carcinogens. Why do they allow them then? Police use the wireless routers to see through walls. Go to and you can see it or to They are installing yagi-uda antennas for surveillance in your neighborhoold that the BioInitiative report claims causes birth defects, cancers, autism, and altzheimers.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
We're already pretty far along the road to a police state. When the government can tell us where to live, what to teach our children, what we can and can't eat, take our money and give it to someone else, etc. It's already way too far. If you want to see where this road leads us, read "Good Intentions" by Bob Zeidman. Maybe it's not too late.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Unfortunately, the thugs are the ones who survive.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
One simple way to fix this is to end immunity for SWAT teams. If they make a mistake, break into the wrong house, lie on a warrant, every one of them should be liable for damages and/or criminal indictment as well as immediate dismissal.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The cops in this country are out of control, they need to be scaled back to be cops.

We now pay for Psycho cops and Psycho Swat team mentality.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Inching toward? Arrived quite a while back.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Anyone else see/hear this story?

I wouldn't let Cass Sunstein, the Nudgemaster, anywhere near reigns of power.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Next step: Innocent until proven guilty. --> Guilty until exculpated by video or other sensor.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Here's a key sentence:

"He [Whitehead, the book author] contends that the lines between foreign and domestic surveillance and between law enforcement and military agencies are dissipating."

Dear Readers, what's so surprising about that?....since we're a nation at war [that inconvenient fact is always irritatingly flicked aside by the Left] against our trans-national, border-less, butchering Muslim enemy?....c'mon, folks, think. We're at war. Foreign and domestic intelligence have now blended, crossed over, and have of necessity become closely coordinated.

We're physically involved, since 1979 in Teheran and here at home since 2001, in an international guerrilla World War waged against us by Muslim terrorists. No need to ask the Muslims if this indeed a fact, they're reminding us all of the time, and have been since 1979.

That necessarily means that this guerrilla war has metastasized across our national and urban boundaries and has become our national Muslim problem requiring closely coordinated urban combat, quite necessarily involving para-military tactics and strategy.

Part of our National problem is that we have now too few living memories of the Second World War. Those here muttering of a looming "police state" need to talk to their oldest surviving family members. Ask them what they remember about 1942-1945. Air raid drills and "blackouts" were only a part of it. Then came Soviet espionage, infiltration and penetration of our Federal government. The Muslim guerrilla enemy of today are applying these very same tactics right under our noses, and they're very good at it.

Our attention spans are now so truncated that these former tragedies have been flicked aside as being "so yesterday".
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I call BS. The Germans and the Soviets were both existential threats to our nation. A bunch of primitive pedophiles do not have the capability to be a serious threat. In fact, you have a greater chance of being killed by lightening than by terrorists: []
Further, since the September 11 attacks, 16 Americans have been killed inside the U.S by terrorism, while "There were at least 155 Americans killed by police officers in the United States in 2011. That means that you were more than 9 times more likely to be killed by a law enforcement officer than by a terrorist." - []
So you can cower from the terrorists if you want, and give up hard won rights because of some vague threat, but I have a lot more fear of my government than of a bunch of Middle Eastern zealots. In fact, historically, one's own government has usually been the biggest threat a person encountered; which is the very reason the Constitution placed such restrictions on Government's powers.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Except that our own leaders who are fighting with these "war" tactics refuse to even target the actual enemy. They're too busy locking and loading against conservative extremists like you and I. We're the real enemies to this government and all her domestic paramilitary units, not the Muslims.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
#Obama,Tyranny Is Lurking, #NSA, Screaming Goat:
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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