Americans can be raided by a federal SWAT team for violating such laws as the Clean Water Act. As unbelievable as that sounds, it actually happened in August in the town of Chicken, Alaska.
Local residents reported that heavily armed agents from several federal and state agencies took over the community of 17. The agents were apparently checking to see if local miners had violated the act. The residents told reporters that the agents were armed and that some of them were wearing body armor.
“Imagine coming up to your diggings, only to see agents swarming over it like ants, wearing full body armor, with jackets that say ‘POLICE’ emblazoned on them, and all packing side arms,” gold miner C.R. Hammond told the Alaska Dispatch. “How would you have felt? You would be wondering … what have I done now?”
The raid or investigation was carried out by something called the Alaska Environmental Crimes Taskforce, consisting of state and federal agents.
It looks and sounds like a drug taskforce — even though its mission is to enforce environmental regulations. Critics are wondering: Since when do inspectors need to wear body armor to enforce regulations?
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The Militarization of Federal Law Enforcement
A number of observers, including Slate journalist Radley Balko, have been chronicling the increasing militarization of federal law enforcement. Balko, the author of The Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces, in particular has unearthed some shocking facts. For instance:
- The FBI alone maintains 56 SWAT teams.
- The number of federal agencies that maintained their own police forces in 1996 was 53. By 2008 the number had grown to 73.
- The number of federal law enforcement officers in 2008 was 120,000, or 40 per 100,000 citizens. That’s a dramatic increase from the number of federal law enforcement officers in 1996, when it was 74,500, or 28 per 100,000 citizens. The number does not include all the state and local police officers that are used to enforce federal laws or employed by federal agencies. Nor does this number include the military police and law enforcement agents employed by the armed forces.
- Some of the surprising federal agencies that may maintain SWAT teams include:
- The U.S. Department of Education.
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
- The Consumer Products Safety Commission.
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- The National Park Service.
- The Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
It is hard to keep track of the number of federal SWAT teams because some of these agencies deny that they have such teams. Yet average citizens have reported encounters with such units. A big problem is that such agencies often use local SWAT teams or teams from other federal agencies when they undertake raids or enforcement actions.
- Federal agencies that employ armed agents include the Government Printing Office, the Federal Reserve Board, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Library of Congress, and the National Institutes of Health.
- The number of armed federal agents is growing dramatically. Fox News estimated that the number of armed agents employed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) increased by 33 percent between 2004 and 2008. The number of armed agents employed by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) grew by 20 percent in the same period.
Federal SWAT Raids Becoming Common
The Chicken raid is only the latest incident of heavily armed federal law enforcement agents being used to enforce regulations. In 2009 armed agents from the Fish and Wildlife Service raided the Gibson Guitar factory. In 2006 a SWAT team was used to arrest Buddhist monks in Iowa; the monks had overstayed their visas while on a peace mission to the United States.
We need to ask ourselves, does the federal government really need all those armed agents and SWAT teams? What do you think?