Archive

Police use of military technology, tactics in Pennsylvania eyed by ACLU in open-records request | TribLIVE.com
Allegheny

Police use of military technology, tactics in Pennsylvania eyed by ACLU in open-records request

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania wants to know whether police departments are using federally subsidized military technology and tactics, claiming their use erodes civil liberties and encourages aggressive policing.

The group on Wednesday filed public-records requests for 31 state agencies, including Pittsburgh police, Allegheny County, Beaver County, state police and the National Guard. It’s part of a national effort.

“We’ve already seen the negative impact of police militarization from G-20,” said Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, a Pittsburgh-based legal fellow at the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “We want to see how much that has extended.”

Clashes between protesters and heavily armed police during the Group of 20 economic summit in Pittsburgh in September 2009 led to dozens of lawsuits.

A spokeswoman for Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl referred calls to Solicitor Dan Regan, who did not return a call. Amie Downs, a spokeswoman for Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, said she hadn’t seen the request and could not comment.

The ACLU is seeking the number of times SWAT teams have been deployed, the type of weapons and training materials SWAT teams use, funding sources, and the number of injuries to civilians during deployments since January 2011.

The group also is seeking information about GPS tracking devices, the use of drones, and military weaponry and vehicles obtained through federal agencies such as the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security.

“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 in Washington, which is coordinating the investigation.

When police use military tactics it’s because they have to, not because they’ve chosen to, said Mark Lomax, executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association in suburban Philadelphia.

“We didn’t create this, the bad guy did,” Lomax said. “This is policing that has had to adapt to the crime, the criminal, and to the type of weaponry that’s out there today.”

Lomax said a release of information should come with stipulations.

“When it comes to tactics, equipment, and when it comes to certain incidents that may be under investigation or litigation, those types of records should not be released,” Lomax said.

Terry Mutchler, executive director of the state’s Office of Open Records, said issues dealing with police enforcement and training “get more deep scrutiny” because of the potential security issues involved.

“There certainly is a policy argument related to the release of them, but as to whether they’ll be available under the law, we’ll have to wait for the legal analysis,” she said.

The ACLU wants to recommend changes in law and policy governing the use of military tactics and technology in law enforcement, Morgan-Kurtz said.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or [email protected].


TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.