Hudson NY and Its SWAT Team
Even here in our little city of Hudson NY (population ~ 7,000) we have a police SWAT team, benignly referred to officially as the Columbia County Shared Services Team. There has been plenty of concern over its use here in the last couple of years, most recently in June of this year.
The website CityLab has published an article highlighting academic research on the impact of this particular brand of militarized police, “Militarization of Local Police Isn’t Making Anyone Safer” by Tanvi Misra.1 The article is largely based on the research paper “Militarization fails to enhance police safety or reduce crime but may harm police reputation” by Jonathan Mummolo, Princeton University professor in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2.
Here is the “Significance” statement from Mummolo’s article:
National debates over heavy-handed police tactics, including so-called “militarized” policing, are often framed as a trade- off between civil liberties and public safety, but the costs and benefits of controversial police practices remain unclear due to data limitations. Using an array of administrative data sources and original experiments I show that militarized “special weapons and tactics” (SWAT) teams are more often deployed in communities of color, and—contrary to claims by police administrators—provide no detectable benefits in terms of officer safety or violent crime reduction, on average. However, survey experiments suggest that seeing militarized police in news reports erodes opinion toward law enforcement. Taken together, these findings suggest that curtailing militarized policing may be in the interest of both police and citizens.
Armories – our earlier SWAT teams
One should note that a militarized police force is not exactly a late twentieth century innovation in American life. The Hudson Armory, now home to the Hudson Area Library, Hudson Senior Center, and Perfect Ten, was part of a national movement to place soldiers in urban areas throughout the US during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In large part this was in reaction to the large numbers of new immigrants and the perceived threat of urban unrest. 120 armories were built in NY state alone. As with the recent equipping of local police with military weapons and uniforms, Federal and state monies were engaged.