The Pennsylvania ACLU – along with ACLU chapters in 22 other states – yesterday filed more than 255 right to know requests in an attempt to measure local police departments' use of federally subsidized military technology and tactics.
"It was part of a national effort to get a better picture across the country of the militarization of police," legal fellow Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz of the Pennsylvania ACLU said yesterday.
"In recent years, police have been seen less as being there for protection and more like a combat unit, in both their weaponry and their tactics, most of which has come out of the War on Drugs and federal funding. We wanted more information about what departments are getting funding, where they are receiving it from, what they are using it for and what are their interactions with citizens."
The requests seek records related to the funding, protocol and tactics of Philadelphia SWAT and the Department's use of cutting edge weapons and technology, including Mobile Forensic Data Extraction and GPS devices, biometric technology, unmanned aerial vehicles, shock cuffs and facial or behavioral recognition technology.
"From an anecdotal perspective, this disproportionately impacts poor and minority communities," Morgan-Kurtz said.
"We want to make sure they're getting adequate protections and not being afraid of police. When we get this information, we will recommend policy changes, if we something on a state level needs to be changed in regards to how SWAT teams perform their duties."
The filings also request information about funding and equipment the Department requested and received from the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
"A lot of departments don't need the technology they're getting," Morgan-Kurtz said.
"They're not in Iraq or Afghanistan, where they would need drones and tanks and really high-powered rifles. But they've been trained to be fearful of the population and think they need them. And in turn, the population is afraid of them and reacts negatively to them."
She said she expects the group's request will be granted – for the most part. "It might not be the entire request – as you can see, we asked for a lot of information and there are some exceptions to the Right to Know Law. ... But we definitely feel the information we're requesting absolutely is public information."
Similar requests were also filed with 27 other local law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania, as well as with the state police and National Guard.
"Pennsylvanians deserve to know the extent to which our local police are using military weapons and tactics for everyday policing," executive director of the Pennsylvania ACLU Reggie Shuford said.
"The militarization of local police is a threat to Americans’ right to live without fear of military-style intervention in their daily lives, and we need to make sure these resources and tactics are deployed only with rigorous oversight and strong legal protections."