In September 2014, the Department of Homeland Security and approximately 100 corporate sponsors hosted the eighth annual Urban Shield training exercises in Oakland, CA. The event, billed as the largest first-responder training conference in the world, brought together 35 SWAT teams from across the country and as far away as Singapore, South Korea, Israel, and Bahrain. As Shane Bauer reported for Mother Jones, in addition to Homeland Security, more than a hundred corporations provided up to $25,000 each to sponsor the event.
During training exercises, teams tested the latest equipment from corporate sponsors including Verizon, Motorola, and SIG Sauer, as well as military supply companies such as FirstSpear, which makes body armor and bandoliers. As a “platinum sponsor,” Uber, the San Francisco-based taxi and rideshare company, provided participants with discounted black-car rides.
Urban Shield promotes a common theme: Since the bad guys are well armed, police need better defenses and an intimidating appearance. However, as Bauer reports, data do not support the claim that police face more violence today than in the past. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting figures, felony killings of police have been “flat” since the late 1990s, and both violent crime and assaults against officers are in decline.
SWAT teams, which were originally instituted to address extreme scenarios, like saving hostages and taking down active shooters, now frequently serve warrants. As Peter Kraska, an Eastern Kentucky University researcher who studies tactical policing, observes, today, 85 percent of SWAT operations are for “choice-driven raids on people’s private residences.” A study released by the ACLU earlier this year found that 62 percent of SWAT deployments were for drug raids. However, according to the study, only half of these raids found drugs, and in cases where weapons were “believed to be present,” this was not the case in half of the cases for which the outcome was known. The same study found that 71 percent of SWAT raids target people of color, even though white people are more likely to be involved in the types of situations for which SWAT teams were created.
Source: Shane Bauer, “The Making of the Warrior Cop,” Mother Jones, October 10, 2014, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/10/swat-warrior-cops-police-militarization-urban-shield – comment-1650636192.
Student Researcher: Cydney Shorkend (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Peter Phillips (Sonoma State University)