In my book on police militarization, I have a section on the role pop culture has played in blurring the line between cops and soldiers, particularly with the onset of reality(ish) shows like A&E's Dallas SWAT or Spike TV's DEA. Over at the blog Gun Culture 2.0, sociologist David Yamane looks at a bizarre new reality competition on the Outdoor Channel called Elite Tactical Unit: S.W.A.T., which features SWAT teams from across the country competing in a number of SWAT-like competitions for a $100,000 prize. As Yamane describes it, "ETU is basically 'Survivor' set in the world of police special forces."
Of particular interest is the show's sponsorship by the Swiss gun manufacturer SIG Sauer. Yahame points to this commercial which apparently often airs during the show, and makes no effort whatsoever to distinguish cops from soldiers, or the police from the military.
We're looking at the formation of what you might call a "police-industrial complex," in which we now have companies like SIG, Lenco, and others who either have recently sprung up entirely to build military-grade gear for police agencies, or who are diverting resources away from securing Pentagon contracts toward marketing their services to police. This has all been driven by federal, state, and local policies that have eroded the distinction between the military and law enforcement, but these companies have then of course have a strong incentive to continue to chip away at that distinction themselves, as you see in the videos like the one above, or the one Lenco has used to market its Bearcat line of armored personnel vehicles.
We have policies that provide incentives for police to become more militarized. Those policies have given rise to a cottage industry of corporations whose bottom line now relies on further and perpetual police militarization. And over the last decade or so, the cable dial has been stuffed full of programming that serves to make us more comfortable with police units that treat neighborhoods like battlefields. It should be of no surprise then, when we learn of SWAT raids not just for low-level drug crimes, but also for zoning violations or underage drinking, or that there are now police departments in America that serve every felony search warrant with a SWAT team, regardless of the crime.
HuffPost writer and investigative reporter Radley Balko is also the author of the new book, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces.