Using military equipment and tactics brought home from wars abroad, police departments across the country and in Massachusetts increasingly treat neighborhoods like combat zones. Massachusetts has already received more than 1,000 military weapons—including machine guns, grenade launchers and "peacekeeper armored vehicles"—through the 1033 program, which gives Department of Defense items to state and local law enforcement, without public oversight.
The ACLU has grave concerns about police militarization. We documented this dangerous trend in our national report War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing, which the White House cited in recommendations on how federal law enforcement agencies can support local agencies' appropriate acquisition of equipment.
The ACLU of Massachusetts has also taken on this issue locally. We sued to challenge the secrecy surrounding the use of SWAT teams in Massachusetts, reaching a settlement agreement with the Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC) in 2015. The settlement resulted in a declaration that NEMLEC’s records are subject to the state’s public records law, and the disclosure of more than 900 pages of documents.
Our 2014 report on police militarization in Massachusetts, Our Homes Are Not Battlefields, details how the militarization of law enforcement relates to our work on racial justice, because it disproportionately targets the poor and people of color. In one particularly terrible local incident, an officer killed Eurie Stamps—an elderly, unarmed African-American grandfather of 12 in Framingham—when the city's SWAT team used battering rams and flash bang grenades to smash into his apartment to search for Stamps' stepson and another man suspected of dealing drugs.
Incidents like this show that treating our neighborhoods like battlefields is counterproductive and does not make us safer. We must demilitarize law enforcement agencies and ensure their focus is serving and protecting all of us, not finding uses for weapons and tactics of war.
Learn the facts
- Massachusetts police departments have for years accepted equipment from the Department of Defense (DoD), free of charge. The transfers are governed by the US military's 1033 program, which gives used DoD items to state and local law enforcement for "counter-drug or counter-terrorism activities."
- Between 1994 and 2009, 82 police departments and other authorized agencies in Massachusetts received 1,068 military weapons from the Department of Defense—including 486 fully automatic M-16 machine guns and 564 semi-automatic M-14s.
- West Springfield, Massachusetts—population 28,137—got two grenade launchers through the 1033 program.
- Unjustifiable force and SWAT raids against people in their homes most often target people of color and the poor.
- Unarmed and innocent 68-year-old Eurie Stamps of Framingham was killed in a 2011 SWAT raid in his home.
Read the reports
ACLU of Massachusetts: Our Homes Are Not Battlefields
National ACLU: War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing
Stamps v. Town of Framingham - Case involving Framingham SWAT raid that killed innocent African-American grandfather Eurie Stamps centers on safety of people seized by the police.
ACLU of Massachusetts v. NEMLEC - This state lawsuit sought the release of documents about the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council's SWAT team and other military-style tactics.
Read media coverage
Boston Globe: Northeastern to equip officers with semiautomatic rifles