ALCU of Michigan investigating police use of military technology, tactics

Public record requests filed in police departments, Michigan National Guard


DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and affiliates in 22 other states said they simultaneously filed 255 public records requests Wednesday to determine the extent to which local police departments are using federally subsidized military technology and tactics that are traditionally used overseas.

"Through federal grant programs, state and local police departments have virtually unlimited access to military equipment and training at no cost," said Sarah Mehta, ACLU of Michigan staff attorney. "Although these wartime tools and tactics are free for cops, they come at great cost to communities."

ACLU of Michigan filed five public records requests with police departments in Flint, Dearborn, Detroit and with the Michigan State Police.

What they want information on

SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) Teams:

  • Number and purpose of deployments
  • Types of weapons used during deployments
  • Injuries sustained by civilians during deployments
  • Training materials
  • Funding sources

Cutting edge weapons and technologies:

  • GPS tracking devices
  • Unmanned aerial vehicles ("drones")
  • Augmented detainee restraint ("shock-cuffs")
  • Military weaponry, equipment, and vehicles obtained from or funded by federal agencies such as the Departments of Defense and/or Homeland Security 

A separate request, filed with the Michigan National Guard, seeks information regarding: Cooperative agreements between local police departments and the National Guard counter-drug program

and incidents of National Guard contact with civilians.

"Equipping state and local law enforcement with military weapons and vehicles, military tactical training, and actual military assistance to conduct traditional law enforcement erodes civil liberties and encourages increasingly aggressive policing, particularly in poor neighborhoods and communities of color," said Kara Dansky, senior counsel for ACLU's Center for Justice. "We've seen examples of this in several localities, but we don't know the dimensions of the problem."

Who else has filed 

In addition to the ACLU of Michigan, ACLU affiliates from Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin also filed the public records requests. 

What will happen next

Once the information has been collected and analyzed, if needed, the ACLU will use the results to recommend changes in law and policy governing the use of military tactics and technology in local law enforcement.

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