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Militarized police may be in a town near you

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SHOCK AND AWE: This photo from the police department in Hobbs, N.M., reflects the image a 30-second commercial the department is airing to lure recruits.

SHOCK AND AWE: This photo from the police department in Hobbs, N.M., reflects the image a 30-second commercial the department is airing to lure recruits.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE, N.M. — A New Mexico Watchdog story about a 30-second commercial for the police department in Hobbs has drawn national attention, with a well-known author and civil libertarian criticizing the ad running on television stations across the state emphasizing aggressive, military-style policing.

But Radley Balko points out the Hobbs video isn’t unique. In fact, the author of “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces,” gives examples of police departments across the country who showcase recruiting videos that highlight the “shoot ‘em up” aspects of the job.

To recap, here’s the 30-second Hobbs ad:


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“Now ask yourself: What sort of person would be attracted to a career in law enforcement based on the images and activities depicted in that video? And is that the sort of person you’d want wearing a badge and carrying a gun in your neighborhood?” Balko asked in the online edition of the Washington Post.

“The video isn’t disturbing only because of the type of police officer it’s likely to attract. It also suggests that the leadership in the Hobbs police department believes that these are the aspects of police work most worth touting — that this is the face they want to project to the community,” Balko said in the civil liberties and the criminal justice blog that he writes called “The Watch.”

Hobbs isn’t alone. Balko said the video is part of a trend and offered seven other examples from around the country.

Such as Newport Beach, Calif.:


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And Springdale, Ark., a town of 70,000 that seemingly had a budget big enough to make a video that looks like something out of a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced movie:


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Working on a tip from a colleague in Minnesota, we came across a story from last fall about how the police department in St. Cloud, Minn., rolled out an armored vehicle that was originally used for military training:

 Photo by Jim Maurice, WJON.com.

ROLLING OUT IN ST. CLOUD: A retrofitted armored military vehicle is in use by the police department in the town of St. Cloud, Minn.

According to WJON Radio in St. Cloud, the vehicle is an MRAP — Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected — and came from the Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department. It’s worth $400,000 and the town of just under 66,000 residents spent $10,000 to retrofit it for the city’s SWAT team.

Lt. Jeff Oxton said during the unveiling that the MRAP “has full ballistic capabilities, which will help us against any kind of small arms fire, rifle fire, even explosives and things like that.”

Back in 1988, hundreds of students at St. Cloud State University rioted during homecoming week at the school. As many as 1,500 people were involved and about 50 arrests were made.

In our original story, we mentioned a video of the Hobbs SWAT team that’s on the police department’s website. We have since found a link to the video that combines shots of officers firing automatic weapons to a heavy-metal music soundtrack:


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“The statement in the video that ‘The rules of engagement of SWAT are simple: Defeat the enemy … any way you can’ is also troubling,” Balko wrote. “The mission of  a SWAT team ought to be to resolve volatile situations without force and violence whenever possible.”

Former New Mexico Gov. and 2012 Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson also tweeted the NM Watchdog story out to his 123,000 followers:

gary johnson tweet on hobbs police video
Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

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Since 2010, Rob Nikolewski has covered New Mexico politics and investigated fraud, waste and abuse in government. He also writes an opinion column in the Sunday editions of the Santa Fe New Mexican. Rob joined New Mexico Watchdog after 20 years in television as a sports anchor and reporter. He anchored at MSNBC, New York City, Boston, Pittsburgh, Phoenix, Reno and Boise, winning three regional Emmy awards along the way. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, a master's in public administration from Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and a bachelor's degree in journalism from Trinity University in San Antonio.