New York magazine reported some telling figures last month on how delayed-notice search warrants — also known as “sneak-and-peek” warrants — have been used in recent years. Though passed with the PATRIOT Act and justified as a much-needed weapon in the war on terrorism, the sneak-and-peek was used in a terror investigation just 15 times between 2006 and 2009. In drug investigations, however, it was used more than 1,600 times during the same period.
It’s a familiar storyline. In the 10 years since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, the government has claimed a number of new policing powers in the name of protecting the country from terrorism, often at the expense of civil liberties. But once claimed, those powers are overwhelmingly used in the war on drugs. Nowhere is this more clear than in the continuing militarization of America’s police departments.
POLICE MILITARIZATION BEFORE SEPTEMBER 11
The trend toward a more militarized domestic police force began well before 9/11. It in fact began in the early 1980s, as the Regan administration added a new dimension of literalness to Richard Nixon’s declaration of a “war on drugs.” Reagan declared illicit drugs a threat to national security, and once likened America’s drug fight to the World War I battle of Verdun. But Reagan was more than just rhetoric. In 1981 he and a compliant Congress passed the Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Act, which allowed and encouraged the military to give local, state, and federal police access to military bases, research, and equipment. It authorized the military to train civilian police officers to use the newly available equipment, instructed the military to share drug-war–related information with civilian police and authorized the military to take an active role in preventing drugs from entering the country.