A reader writes:

Surely rhetoric plays a role in the way drug arrests are carried out, but there's another reason. During the hysteria over the crack epidemic in the 1980s, more and more money flooded police forces to create SWAT teams. This wasn't just in the big cities dealing with what was a really big problem. In small cities and towns across the country, police departments created elite militarized forces.

My first newspaper job was in a small town in Colorado in the late '90s that was as far from the problem as you could imagine. They had a SWAT team there, and rather than draw it down once everyone realized crack would never be a problem there, the police started deploying it for pot busts, domestic abuse cases - basically anything more than a traffic stop.

As I worked around the country, moving up to bigger papers and cities, I found the same thing. No matter the drug threat, the police had elite tactical units. After 9/11, those became terrorist-fighting forces. A friend of mine lives in Boise, Idaho, one of the last places anyone would expect terrorists to strike. Yet, money flowed there, just as it did around the country, to beef up preparedness, and often, to buy really big guns for the cops.

The goal for any government bureaucracy is to turn "temporary" funds into a permanent line item in the budget. So again and again, these SWAT forces get deployed; police brass make a big show of it and increase their level of rhetoric to match the threat they want to communicate.

There's an old saying: Use it or lose it. I get the sense that police across the country have taken this to heart.

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