Monday night, famed libertarian Radley Balko (Huffington Post and his personal site) spoke to Vanderbilt's Young Americans for Liberty. He spoke about the militarization of America's police forces, especially SWAT teams.
If you've ever read Balko, you won't be surprised to learn that he's eloquent and thoughtful in person. One thing that he discussed that I don't think gets enough attention is that SWAT teams were designed to meet violent force with with violent force, but they are deployed in all kinds of situations where there is no threat of violence, no evidence of a violent situation. When the SWAT teams come in, therefore, they are creating the violent situation. He pointed out that we encourage our police forces to act like soldiers and aren't shocked when they treat members of their own community as enemies — though, obviously, it should be shocking.
He also described in detail the ways SWAT teams are rewarded for focusing on the "war on drugs" often to the detriment of victims of other crimes, who would like the crimes against them investigated. SWAT teams get money based on drug busts, but they're also able to get surplus military equipment without then having to follow the same rules of use for that equipment that troops in the field do.
He finished by saying that the solution isn't simply to blame the cops, but to address this at the policy level. But then he pointed out that Republicans love to be seen as tough on crime while Democrats love to be seen as friends of unions, including police unions. So there's not a lot of political incentive to introduce some level of sanity back into the situation.
Depressing? Somewhat. Informative and thought-provoking? Undeniably.