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Militarizing American Police: The Rise and Normalization of Paramilitary Units

NCJ Number
Social Problems Volume: 44 Issue: 1 Dated: (February 1997) Pages: 1-18
P B Kraska; V E Keppeler
Date Published
18 pages
This paper examines growth in the number of and significant shift in the character of police paramilitary units (PPU's) in the United States and distinguishing characteristics of such units.
Recent developments illustrate the profound impact of the "war metaphor" on criminal justice, and police history demonstrates how civilian police have often been formed from militia groups. In contrast to traditional police, PPU's are equipped with an array of military equipment and technology and often refer to themselves in military jargon as heavy weapons units. To examine the growth and normalization of military tactics and ideology in the United States, a survey was sent to police agencies serving jurisdictions of 50,000 or more in 1996. The first mailing yielded 413 responses, for a 61 percent response rate. The second mailing yielded an additional 135 responses, for a total response rate of 79 percent. Researchers selected 81 respondents for unstructured follow-up interviews by telephone. Of the 548 responding police agencies, 89.4 percent had a PPU and over 20 percent of those without a PPU said they were planning to establish one in the next few years. Findings documented an escalation in the level of PPU activity, a normalization of PPU's into mainstream policing, and a direct link between PPU's and the armed services. Findings also reflected the aggressive turn of many police agencies even in the face of rhetoric about community and problem-oriented policing reform. Implications of the findings are discussed in relation to emerging trends in formal social control. 80 references, 14 footnotes, 1 table, and 4 figures