Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Giant black armoured vehicles, assault rifles, gas masks and drones: the modern face of policing in America

Sprawled across the ground floor of the Marriott, a trade show was under way that represents the modern face of policing in America. Hundreds of burly men (they are largely men), heads shaved and dressed in battlefield uniforms in black, green or camouflage are milling around in groups of 10 or 20. There to greet them are scores of weapons manufacturers and military-grade technology companies eager to win their business.
On three sides of the hall, giant black tactical armoured vehicles are stationed, wheels chest-height, sides armour-plated to resist an AK-47 round or blast of a roadside bomb, roofs decked out with spotlights, surveillance cameras and swivel turrets able to house machine guns. One of the vehicles, the aptly named Sentinel – 21ft long, 17,500lbs in weight, and costing $250,000 and up – was developed by a Florida-based company called International Armored Group that began supplying the US army in Iraq and Afghanistan. “With all that experience in blast resistance, we decided to branch off into tactical vehicles tailored to police departments at home,” said the company’s Sally Stefova.
The men huddling in groups around the stalls are all members of police Swat teams, 35 in all, who have come to Oakland from across the US and as far afield as Singapore, South Korea and Brazil. They are here for the annual Urban Shield – a four-day event that concludes Monday.
The schedule includes a 48-hour simulated disaster training program that has put the Swat teams through mock scenarios of a mass shooting, hostage-taking or terrorist radiological attack. When they are not engaging in such exercises, police departments are invited to browse the Urban Shield vendors’ show where weapons contractors who normally deal with the US military seek to redirect their products to domestic use on America’s streets.
‘Keep calm and return fire’- This year’s Urban Shield has been held under the shadow of a police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. As a result of the shooting of the unarmed black teenager Michael Brown on 9 August and the protests that ensued, ordinary Americans were introduced for the first time to the look of their modern police force.
Pictures of black armoured personnel carriers trundling through city streets topped by marksmen wielding sniper rifles, while on the ground officers kitted out in full camouflage gear pointed M-16 assault rifles at protesters standing with their hands above their heads, were beamed into millions of living rooms. As the tragedy of Ferguson unfolded, the country collectively gasped and shook its head. Where was all this happening? In a suburb of St Louis, Missouri, or in Fallujah?.. read more: