The term "para-military" is one that I first became familiar with back almost 40 years ago when I was involved in the training of SWAT team police officers at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.
The police officers were there for an introduction to Urban Warfare and Weapons Familiarization training. Most, if not all, were assigned to their department's SWAT teams.
None were Federal law enforcement, all were police officers and sheriffs deputies from the Southern California area.
The term "para-military" is used to describe a group of civilians organized in a military fashion. They are not Soldiers or Marines, they're cops.
Though roughly organized in a military fashion, the mission of law enforcement is protect and serve.
The mission of the Marine Corps rifle squad, which they were there that day to learn from, is to locate, close with and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver and/or repel enemy assault by fire and close combat.
I was an Instructor at the time and volunteered to be there. It turned out differently that I thought it would.
I remember a fellow Instructor, another Marine Sgt. calling them, "amateurs" and "wannabes." Another referred to them as "mistakes waiting to happen!"
At the time, I really didn't know what to think of those guys other than not caring for their "know-it-all" attitudes.
They were there to get a crash course, a one day course, on Urban Warfare, and then go to the range for "FAM Fire" (familiarization fire) with weapons (small arms) which were used in a Marine Rifle Squad at the time.
If my memory is correct, on the range, the officers were all there to learn to safely handle and FAM fire the M1911A1 .45 semi-automatic pistol, the M14 7.62mm rifle in semi-automatic fire, the M16 5.56mm rifle in semi-automatic and fully automatic rates of fire, the M60 Machine Gun, the M79 40mm Grenade launcher, etc.
Most didn't know the basics of tactics or weapons, or as far as that goes weapons safety, but you couldn't tell them that. We were there to teach and they were there to learn, but many of us soon felt that they saw us as just taking up their time.
It became quickly apparent they learned everything watching television and playing soldier as kids in their backyards.
And yes, when it came to important aspects of the use of these weapons, such as Fire Control and Fire Discipline, it was very apparent that they weren't interested in what we had to show them. It seemed that they had other ideas.
Fire Control relates to a leader's ability to adjust fire onto a target, to shift all or part of the fire from one target to another, and to regulate the rate of fire. It has everything to do with having his men open or cease fire at the instant he desires.
The leader must teach his men fire discipline so that he may exercise fire control.
Fire discipline is achieved when the unit has been taught and pays strict attention to instructions regarding the use of weapons and can collectively execute fire commands with precision. Fire discipline also has everything to do with limited fire to conserve ammunition and shooting accurately.
It is the opposite of the "spray and pray" firing technique of choice for Hollywood and the movies.
I had very little to do that day other than stand around and be there if needed. I remember thinking that it was a waste of time because those guys didn't act as though they were interested in what our Instructors had to say.
The Militarization of Law Enforcement
As the years have passed, I've watched as many para-military law enforcement organizations at both the Federal, State, and local levels, become more and more equipped like the rogue constabulary in Third World countries: Fully armed and trying to justify their existence.
I read where in 1972, America conducted only a few hundred para-military drug raids a year.
By the early 1980's, that figure became 3,000 a year. By 2001, it is reported that the annual count had skyrocketed to 40,000 military style raids a years.
As one report put it, "today, even that number seems impossibly low, with one annual count of combat-style home raids hovers around 80,000 a year."
In some cases, the rationale for using military weapons and tactics on domestic soil seems obvious. Yes, we look no further than the recent hunt for the Tsarnaev brothers after the Boston Marathon bombings.
But folks, the Tsarnaev brothers is not the norm. That wasn't a routine situation.
What is incredible today is just how routine military style Urban Warfare tactics have become as a means of pursuing non-violent suspects and during low-level investigations.
Today, thousands of police departments nationwide have recently acquired stun grenades, armored tanks, counterattack vehicles, and all sorts of other para-military equipment, much of it purchased with asset-forfeiture funds.
In addition, as ABC reports, a U.S. Department of Defense program, often called the Pentagon Pipeline, has redistributed billions of dollars worth of surplus military gear to local police departments.
These acquisitions have no doubt helped to transform full-scale, bust-down-the-door raids on homes and businesses from red-alert rarities, reserved for life-threatening scenarios, to commonplace occurrences.
Most of us know about our city and county police and sheriff departments and their use of SWAT team Urban Warfare tactics, but have you ever wondered exactly how many of these military wannabe agencies there are in the Federal Government?
I have to admit that this comes to a surprise to me. Never would I have thought that 70 agencies within the Federal government have their own armed agents.
No, its not just the Secret Service, the FBI, and the BATF out there. There are a lot of agencies which have armed agents which you would really ask yourself "why do they need them?"
Now there are 73 agencies that all carry assault weapons - and probably have their own SWAT teams, armoured personnel carriers, explosives, heavy arms personnel, including armed aircraft.
In fact, now knowing that there are so many law enforcement agencies with para-military trained personnel - a lot of things now makes sense.
You see, last year, the American public got the run around and never really got direct answers from the Feds when asked why they needed so much ammunition and military hardware?
Yes, last year the Department of Homeland Security bought 1.6 Billion rounds of ammunition, along with 2,217 Tanks and Armoured Vehicles for "Domestic Use," and a couple of thousand M4s and M16s for agents of the Federal Government.
It now makes sense!
The Federal Government has a domestic para-military force almost as large as the entire United States Marine Corps.
And guess what, these guys only answer to Political Appointees put there by the President.
Fair being fair, let's be fair about things. I understand the need for non-military armed officers with arrest authority.
Thank God we do have the FBI, and the U.S. Marshals.
I don't have a problem with them, or the Border Patrol, or even the Coast Guard which are Federal agencies.
My problem is with some of the others!
Ask yourself, do Federal governmental agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, the Library of Congress, the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board, the National Oceanic and the Atmospheric Administration, the Federal Reserve Board, the National Institutes of Health, or the Government Printing Office need armed officers of their own?
So why are people finally talking about there being now at least 73 armed agencies of the Federal Government?
Well, an armed EPA raid in Alaska shed light on the 73 Federal agencies who have their own armed divisions within each agency.
In a report published September 14, 2013, on FoxNews.com, it was reported that:
The recent uproar over armed EPA agents descending on a tiny Alaska mining town is shedding light on the fact that 70+ federal agencies – including nearly a dozen typically not associated with law enforcement -- have armed divisions.
The agencies employ about 120,000 full-time officers authorized to carry guns and make arrests, according to a June 2012 Justice Department report.
Though most Americans know agents within the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Federal Bureau of Prisons carry guns, agencies such as the Library of Congress and Federal Reserve Board employing armed officers might come as a surprise.
The incident that sparked the renewed interest and concern occurred in late August when a team of armed federal and state officials descended on the tiny Alaska gold mining town of Chicken, Alaska.
The Environmental Protection Agency, whose armed agents in full body armor participated, acknowledged taking part in the Alaska Environmental Crimes Task Force investigation, which it said was conducted to look for possible violations of the Clean Water Act.
However, EPA officials denied the operation was a “raid” and didn't address speculation about whether it was connected to possible human and drug trafficking.
“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.
The other federal agencies participating in the operation were the FBI, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and the Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Park Service.
The EPA defended its use of armed officers, after the Alaska incident.
"Environmental law enforcement, like other forms of law enforcement, always involves the potential for physical, even armed, confrontation," the agency said.
That Doesn't Wash!
But Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell has already ordered an investigation, saying "This level of intrusion and intimidation of Alaskans is absolutely unacceptable."
In addition, Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski, Republican, and Mark Begich, Democrat, have inquired about the incident.
Murkowski said purported concerns about rampant drug and human trafficking in the area sounded “wholly concocted” to her.
“This seems to have been a heavy-handed and heavy-armor approach. Why was it so confrontational? The EPA really didn’t have any good answers for this,” she told the newspaper.
This is not the first time armed EPA agents have been accused of intimidating behavior.
In May 2012, North Carolina resident Larry Keller was visited by armed EPA agents after sending an email to Al Armendariz, the regional administrator who was video-taped saying his enforcement strategy was to "crucify" executives from big oil and gas companies.
But Where's The Need?
The DHS seems extremely willing to give American Taxpayer Dollars to any Federal, State and local department whatever military hardware they want.
As a result, today there is a dramatic increase in the use of para-military units for routine police work.
Whether it's the DEA, or ICE, or the BATF, or as we find out one of more than 73 government agencies, the most common use today is a forced unannounced entry into the home.
These increasingly frequent raids, estimated at 80,000 per year, are needlessly subjecting non-violent offenders, bystanders, and wrongly targeted civilians to the terror of having their homes invaded while they’re sleeping, usually by teams of heavily armed para-military units dressed not as police officers but as soldiers.
And yes, in many instances, masked!
Why Masked? Who Knows!
And if you are wondering, yes, they have resulted in dozens of needless deaths and injuries to children, bystanders, and innocent suspects.
We need to ask ourselves if this is what we want from law enforcement?
Do we need 70+ Federal para-military law enforcement agencies, all using SWAT tactics, all trying to justify their existence by doing things that are not "police work?"
Do we need the EPA and other agencies to have authority? Or, the ability to abuse its power?
Back some 40 years ago, after a day of dealing with police officers who would be assigned to SWAT teams, I remember a Gunny Sgt who put things this way.
He said, "These guys don't know if they want to be cops or soldiers. Most of these guys see themselves as soldiers when they're supposed to be cops. Power like this, used among our civilians? I've seen it in Third World countries, but not here. Unchecked, this can be very dangerous!"
He was right.
Story by Tom Correa