Let’s demilitarize the regulatory agencies too

by Walter Olson on August 18, 2014

One consequence of the events in Ferguson, Mo. is that people are talking with each other across ideological lines who usually don’t, a symbol being the attention paid on both left and right to Sen. Rand Paul’s op-ed last week in Time. And one point worth discussing is how the problem of police militarization manifests itself similarly these days in local policing and in the enforcement of federal regulation.

At BuzzFeed, Evan McMorris-Santoro generously quotes me on the prospects for finding common ground on these issues. The feds’ Gibson Guitar raid — our coverage of that here — did much to raise the profile of regulatory SWAT tactics, and John Fund cited others in an April report:

Many of the raids [federal paramilitary enforcers] conduct are against harmless, often innocent, Americans who typically are accused of non-violent civil or administrative violations.

Take the case of Kenneth Wright of Stockton, Calif., who was “visited” by a SWAT team from the U.S. Department of Education in June 2011. Agents battered down the door of his home at 6 a.m., dragged him outside in his boxer shorts, and handcuffed him as they put his three children (ages 3, 7, and 11) in a police car for two hours while they searched his home. The raid was allegedly intended to uncover information on Wright’s estranged wife, Michelle, who hadn’t been living with him and was suspected of college financial-aid fraud.

The year before the raid on Wright, a SWAT team from the Food and Drug Administration raided the farm of Dan Allgyer of Lancaster, Pa. His crime was shipping unpasteurized milk across state lines to a cooperative of young women with children in Washington, D.C., called Grass Fed on the Hill. Raw milk can be sold in Pennsylvania, but it is illegal to transport it across state lines. The raid forced Allgyer to close down his business.

Fund goes on to discuss the rise of homeland-security and military-surplus programs that have contributed to the rapid proliferation of SWAT and paramilitary methods in local policing. He cites Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop, which similarly treats both manifestations of paramilitary policing as part of the same trend.

As McMorris-Santoro notes in the BuzzFeed piece, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) has introduced a bill called the Regulatory Agency Demilitarization Act, citing such unsettling developments as a U.S. Department of Agriculture solicitation for submachine guns. 28 House Republicans have joined as sponsors, according to Ryan Lovelace at National Review.

There has already been left-right cooperation on the issue, as witness the unsuccessful Grayson-Amash amendment in June seeking to cut off the military-surplus 1033 program. As both sides come to appreciate some of the common interests at stake in keeping law enforcement as peaceful and proportionate as situations allow, there will be room for more such cooperation. (& welcome Instapundit, Radley Balko, Bainbridge readers; cross-posted at Cato at Liberty)

{ 6 trackbacks }

An Unfair Fight | Simple Justice
08.18.14 at 7:22 am
Monday Reading – 8/18/2014 | Finance and Physics
08.18.14 at 2:46 pm
While We Have Your Attention: State By State Map of Military Surplus Distribution | The Universal Spectator
08.19.14 at 5:38 pm
Let’s demilitarize the regulatory agencies too | A Moral Outrage
08.19.14 at 9:12 pm
SayUncle » I have a better idea
08.19.14 at 9:28 pm
Klavan On The Culture » Instapundit on Militarized Police
08.27.14 at 9:31 am


1 John Gardner 08.19.14 at 1:48 pm

What!? Do away with the Federal Library Service swat team? There will be anarchy in our libraries!

2 jay 08.19.14 at 4:07 pm

I just had an encounter with and IRS security team doing and active shooter survey in my building. Entered my office through a back elevator, with badges and holstered pistols. Joked about the risk of some sort of action against the IRS office 2 floors down. Why does IRS have badged and armed security working for it?

3 Boblipton 08.19.14 at 6:56 pm

To deal with murderous CPAs.


4 markm 08.19.14 at 10:51 pm

Why does the USDA need submachine guns? Perhaps they are concerned about this threat:

5 Rick Caird 08.20.14 at 7:19 am

I am not an Alan Grayson fan, but every once in a while, he does find an acorn. The fundamental problem with the militarization of the police is if you have the military equipment, every problem comes to require the use of that equipment. A lot of these SWAT team raids are more of a training effort than a necessity. So, we terrorize citizens for training purposes. Lovely.

6 richard40 08.21.14 at 11:46 am

The over militarization of law enforcement, especially of bureaucratic regulation enforcers, is indeed a serious problem, that should be addressed. I just wish they had chosen some other moment than Ferguson to bring it up. The problem is at Ferguson, where you have peaceful demonstrators, but you also have even more unruly mobs looting and attacking police, law enforced needs to be militarized to some extent to cow the unruly mobs. So at the moment, I think they are taking a real concern, misuse of military assets by law enforcement, and potentially losing support for that concern by misapplying it to a situation, responding to unruly mobs and looters, where the concern should not apply.

7 Acad Ronin 08.21.14 at 12:36 pm

Why does AMTRAK have a SWAT team? All their lines run through jurisdictions that have SWAT teams (cities, towns, and counties). Furthermore, if they deploy along the rail lines, it will take them longer to get where they are going than it would take the local police or sheriff’s department.

8 Boblipton 08.21.14 at 4:28 pm

Only, Acad, if they take the train.


9 Peg Manning 08.22.14 at 2:47 pm

I noticed this trend first decades ago when the DoD health care fraud investigators started showing up with guns. For audit meetings. It turns out that government employees who qualify as law enforcement officers get a bump in pay and pension, at least in the federal government and in California state government. So it’s not just the worrisome psychological profiles of the people who tend to go into these fields; it’s government waste as well.

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