ACLU wants info on ‘militarization’ of Utah police
By Kimball Bennion
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Mar 07 2013 01:01AM
The Utah branch of the American Civil Liberties Union is joining 22 ACLU affiliates nationwide in requesting public records from law-enforcement agencies about whether military tactics and technology are seeping into local police operations.
In a statement released Wednesday, the ACLU said it is concerned about the extent to which local law-enforcement agencies are using federally subsidized military technology and tactics traditionally used in foreign military missions, including the growing number of SWAT operations, specialized military weaponry, and GPS tracking devices.
John Mejia, the legal director for the ACLU of Utah, said the nonprofit advocacy group filed requests with 20 agencies around Utah. They were chosen because they are in population centers and because of recent reports of perceived excessive police tactics.
Mejia specifically recalled a botched arrest by Ogden police in December, when officers in tactical gear, attempting to serve a warrant, knocked on the door of the wrong man’s house in the middle of the night and pointed rifles at Eric Hill and his family. Ogden has since changed its warrant policies due to the ensuing uproar.
Mejia acknowledged he didn’t know whether some of what is being requested, such as information about the Utah National Guard’s possible involvement in local drug-enforcement tactics, is occurring in Utah. "It’s a national trend that we think Utah may be a part of," he said.
Mejia said the ACLU isn’t necessarily opposed to using technology to fight criminal activity, but he thinks police agencies should be more open about what technology they have and how it’s being paid for.
In Utah, the ACLU has filed two requests under the state’s Government Records Access Management Act. The first was filed with 20 law-enforcement agencies and seeks information on their use of SWAT teams and of "cutting-edge weapons and technologies," including unmanned drones.
The Salt Lake City Police Department, one of the agencies listed in the records request, said Wednesday afternoon that it had not received the ACLU’s request.
The second request was filed with the Utah National Guard and asks for information about cooperative agreements between the guard and local police and any other incidents of National Guard contact with civilians.
The ACLU’s statement decried what it called the "militarization of local police" as "a threat to Americans’ right to live without fear of military-style intervention in their daily lives."