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ACLU Launches Nationwide Investigation into Police Use of Military Technology & Tactics

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Militarization of Local Law Enforcement Erodes Civil Liberties, Encourages Overly Aggressive Policing

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 6, 2013 

CONTACT: Amy Miller, (402) 476-8091, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ; Tom Rosenthal, (212) 549-2582; This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

LINCOLN – American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska and affiliates in 22 other states today simultaneously filed public records requests to determine the extent to which the states are using federally subsidized military technology and tactics that are traditionally used overseas.

"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."

ACLU of Nebraska has filed a public records request with the Nebraska National Guard, seeking information regarding:

  • Cooperative agreements between local police departments and the National Guard counter-drug program
  • Incidents of National Guard contact with civilians
  • Whether the National Guard is loaning or leasing Light Armored Vehicles (LAV) to local law enforcement agencies

"Nebraskans deserve to know how military weapons and tactics are being used for everyday policing," said Amy Miller, ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director. "The militarization of local police is a threat to Americans' right to live without fear of military-style intervention in their daily lives. We need to make sure these resources and tactics are deployed only with rigorous oversight and strong legal protections. Tanks don't belong in Nebraska towns."

Additional law enforcement agencies in Nebraska will be asked to provide similar information in the next few weeks.

Affiliates from the following states filed the public records requests: Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin. 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.

ACLU of Nebraska has previously participated in open records requests seeking information on Automated License Plate Readers ("ALPR") and GPS trackers. The ACLU discovered that multiple law enforcement agencies were using these technologies but with minimal policies and training behind them. "We have done open records requests on use of ALPRs and GPS tracking in this state, and discovered that modern technology has arrived in Nebraska, but few policies or procedures have been developed yet in response to those new technologies," noted Miller.

The ALPR requests done by ACLU Nebraska last year revealed some disturbing realities about the use of technology. Omaha Police Department, Lincoln Police Department and the Nebraska State Patrol were all asked about their use of ALPRs. All three departments are using ALPRs with no written policies, written procedures and no guidelines regarding the use of the technology, data retention, or sharing of the data with third parties. Combined, these three departments spent over $150,000 on ALPR units.

The Nebraska State Patrol units have been used to read thousands of plates but at the time of the NSP evaluation, not a single hit was generated, though many false hits were initially given. While the technology is intended only to check license plates as cars rapidly move down the roads, the NSP admits to using the reader "during a gang funeral" in Omaha to conduct surveillance.

"Whether its GPS trackers, License Plate Readers or tanks in towns – the people of Nebraska have the right to know what police tools their taxpayer dollars are being spent on," said Miller.

You can learn more about responses to this previous request online at www.aclu.org/plates.

A copy of ACLU of Nebraska's letter to the Nebraska National Guard is available on our website at www.aclunebraska.org. An overview of this nationwide effort can be found at www.aclu.org/militarization.

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