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Ferguson shooting highlights growing militarisation of US police

As the violence in Ferguson, Missouri in Midwest America stretches into its second week, coverage of the shooting of a black teen Michael Brown has shone a spotlight on the country's growing militarisation of its police.

MARYLAND: As the violence in Ferguson, Missouri in Midwest America stretches into its second week, coverage of the shooting of a black teen Michael Brown has shone a spotlight on the country's growing militarisation of its police.

A report by an American civil liberties group said innocent people are becoming the victims of over-militarised law enforcement.

One such victim, the mayor of a small town near the US capital, is fighting for new laws to hold officers accountable for using military equipment. It all started on a calm evening in Maryland’s idyllic Berwyn Heights when armed police raided the home of an unsuspecting family.

"I heard my mother-in-law scream. It was a frightened scream that didn't make any sense. She said, ‘Cheye, I think it's SWAT!’", recalled Cheye Calvo, mayor of Berwyn Heights. The reason was a box of marijuana delivered to his house. Though no evidence connected him to the drugs, police did not leave for more than four hours, after shooting his two dogs with a gun.

"We didn't have a warrant. We didn't have a front door. We thought that there was some drug dealer out there who thought we had their drugs. We had a house that was torn upside down with the search and two enormous pools of blood," said Cheye. Cheye eventually recovered and even adopted new dogs. But he has since learned that similar traumatic incidents happen to hundreds of families every year in his county alone.

Violent raids on homes are increasing across the country. Critics say they are turning American neighbourhoods into war zones as equipment from overseas conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan gets repurposed for local police departments.

Over the past few years, local police departments like have been given millions of dollars of military equipment, free of charge. Congress created the programme to reuse hardware like vehicles left over from US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Police officers are being trained to believe that they are soldiers going into battle when they go into communities. And we find this troubling because their mandate is to 'Protect and Serve'," said Kara Dansky, senior counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union.

A nationwide investigation found that the use of militarised police teams has dramatically increased over the past few decades. Tens of thousands of homes are now raided by SWAT teams every year, a trend critics say has strayed from the programme's original purpose.

"The SWAT team, Special Weapons and Tactics, was created in the 1960s, to deal with real emergency scenarios like active shooter scenarios, barricade situations, hostage-taking situations. But we're seeing over the last several decades increasingly is SWAT teams being used for all sorts of purposes," said Dansky.

The police force that raided Cheye's house say their frequent use of SWAT teams has led to "safe execution of high risk operations."  

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