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4 Reasons the Police Are Suddenly Terrifying

Despite a continuing lack of rich vigilante superheroes, crime in America has been dropping for decades. Among other things, this means that police officers now have it easier: It's safer to be a cop today than it has been in over 50 years. In fact, the number of police officers killed by guns in 2012 was the lowest since 1887, and I'm pretty sure guns back then were steam powered and required 10 minutes of hand cranking.

And yet, as we've written about before, police departments all over America are going mad with power. SWAT teams are everywhere, doing stuff like storming art galleries for serving alcohol without the right permit and raiding Tibetan monks who overstayed their visas. In general, American cops are projecting less "friendly face of public order" and more "bad guys who just stumbled out of a young-adult dystopian movie."

Via Wall Street Journal
Add in an angsty love triangle between the drone and those two SWAT guys, and you've got 2015's big summer blockbuster.

Why has this happened? Why are so many of America's police, who I'd like to assume are mostly normal, decent human beings, acting like they're policing a futuristic war zone instead of crime-lite America? Well, for a start ...

#4. Local Police Keep Getting Anti-Terrorism Money

After 9/11, a lot of us thought that America was on a fast descent into a terrorist apocalypse. Soon we'd all be wrestling armed extremists on top of airplanes and blowing up trains before they plowed into nuclear power plants full of Ebola. It was our responsibility to deal with this inevitable future, and part of that responsibility was equipping America's police. So the Department of Homeland Security started giving terrorism grants to police departments to help them deal with the wave of Osama clones that was soon to wash across the nation.

Brand X Pictures/Stockbyte
This came up in the stock image search for "terrorist," so I guess they would look like this.

Almost 13 years later, it turns out we're not all punching terrorists to death on our way to the bathroom every morning, but that anti-terrorist money is still spewing into the faces of police budgets like blood in an Evil Dead movie. Since 9/11, police departments have received $34 billion in anti-terrorism bonuses, and cops have used that money to buy stuff more suitable for Imaginary Fighting Terrorists on Airplanes Land than today's relatively peaceful America. I'm talking gear like armored personnel carriers, which are now owned by police departments in terrorist hotspots such as the ninth-largest city in Wisconsin.

Via Blue Cheddar
"Hey, someone might target Wisconsin." -Wisconsin

And that's just the start of the "Let's arm our cops like they're in Future Stalingrad" bonanza. For the past decade or so, companies that produce intelligence and surveillance technology have been making bank selling it to the U.S. military. Now that America's war spending is winding down, it's much harder to use military contracts to build your own gold-coin swimming pools. When you're a defense contractor, potential new customers are limited: The federal government is not exactly big on American companies selling spy equipment to China. So, these companies are now actively targeting one of the only markets left to them: local police departments dripping with grant money.

In other words, a bunch of shit that was specifically developed to fight terrorists, like a radar system that allows users to see through walls into buildings, is now being marketed to cops near you. So, like, try not to take many showers. And that's just the start, because ...

#3. Police Are Also Getting Free Ex-Military Gear

It's not just federal grants and defense companies that are putting shady supervillain equipment in the hands of local police. Around 20 years ago, the Defense Department started the 1033 program, which hands out free surplus military equipment to local law enforcement agencies. When everyone started getting their war on after 9/11, the program exploded, and since then $5 billion worth of military equipment designed to blow up foreign enemies has been given out to police departments in towns and counties across America. Among the gear transferred out of the hands of soldiers and into the possession of Constable Smith down the road: tanks, aircraft, and machine guns, as well as 181 grenade launchers, for all those times when cops just have to launch a grenade at someone.

Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images
Sure, let's let those jaywalkers just walk away.

Like the terrorism grants, the 1033 program chooses not to dwell on the unhandy fact that no one in America really needs this shit. For example, last year the sheriff's department of a rural county in New York State accepted a 19-ton armored military vehicle worth $600,000 as part of the program. The vehicle seats six people and a gunner, and I'm sure everyone in the department let out a deep breath when they realized they'd finally be able to travel the savage, IED-laced byways of upstate New York in peace and safety. A sheriff's department in Indiana received a mine-resistant vehicle, and then argued that they needed it to handle the bomb-making capacities of veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, because terrorism is ... contagious, I guess? You get hit by shrapnel and it's like a werewolf bite?

Brand X Pictures/Stockbyte
Above: a veteran, shown here during the full moon.

That excuse is dumb, but it's also predictable. Everyone loves getting free stuff, and no one wants to be the boss who tells their men that they turned down an awesome tank. And of course there's never any 100 percent guarantee that terrorists (or a huge swarm of bears, or Canada) won't attack a certain place, so anyone who asks "Does Wisconsin really need another tank?" just ends up looking like they're on the side of the bad guys. And hey, speaking of veterans ...

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C. Coville

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