From Neighborhood Cops to Robocops: The Changing Face of American Police

By John Whitehead, constitutional and human rights attorney, and founder of the Rutherford Institute.

“Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards.” ― Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means

If 2014 was the year of militarized police, armored tanks, and stop-and-frisk searches, 2015 may well be the year of technologized police, surveillance blimps and scan-and-frisk searches.

Just as we witnessed neighborhood cops being transformed into soldier cops, we’re about to see them shapeshift once again, this time into robocops, complete with robotic exoskeletons, super-vision contact lenses, computer-linked visors, and mind-reading helmets.

Similarly, just as military equipment created for the battlefield has been deployed on American soil against American citizens, we’re about to see military technology employed here at home in a manner sure to annihilate what’s left of our privacy and Fourth Amendment rights.

For instance, with the flick of a switch (and often without your even being aware of the interference), police can now shut down your cell phone, scan your body for “suspicious” items as you walk down the street, test the air in your car for alcohol vapors as you drive down the street, identify you at a glance and run a background check on you for outstanding warrants, piggyback on your surveillance devices to listen in on your conversations and “see” what you see on your private cameras, and track your car’s movements via a GPS-enabled dart.

That doesn’t even begin to scrape the surface of what’s coming down the pike, with law enforcement and military agencies boasting technologies so advanced as to render everything up until now mere child’s play.

Once these technologies, which used to belong exclusively to the realm of futuristic sci-fi films, have been unleashed on an unsuspecting American public, it will completely change the face of American policing and, in the process, transform the landscape of what we used to call our freedoms.

It doesn’t even matter that these technologies can be put to beneficial uses. As we’ve learned the hard way, once the government gets involved, it’s only a matter of time before the harm outweighs the benefits.

Imagine, if you will, self-guided “smart” bullets that can track their target as it moves, solar-powered airships that provide persistent wide-area surveillance and tracking of ground “targets,” a grenade launcher that can deliver 14 flash-bang grenade rounds, invisible tanks that can blend into their surroundings and masquerade as a snow bank or a soccer mom’s station wagon, and a guided mortar weapon that can target someone up to 12 miles away.

Or what about “less lethal weapons” such as the speech jammer gun, which can render a target tongue-tied; sticky foam guns, which shoot foam that hardens on contact, immobilizing the victim; and shock wave generators, which use the shockwaves from a controlled explosion to knock people over.

Now imagine trying to defend yourself against such devices, which are incapable of distinguishing between an enemy combatant and a civilian. For that matter, imagine attempting to defend yourself or your loved ones against police officers made superhuman thanks to technology that renders them bullet-proof, shatter-proof, all-seeing, all-knowing and all-powerful.

Does rendering a government agent superhuman make them inhuman, as well, unable to relate to the mass of humanity they are sworn to protect and defend?

Pointing out that the clothes people wear can affect how they act, Salon magazine reporter Geordie Mcruer notes that “when clothing has symbolic meaning – such as a uniform that is worn only by a certain profession – it prepares the mind for the pursuit of goals that are consistent with the symbolic meaning of the clothing.”

Mcruer continues:

When we dress our police officers in camouflage before deploying them to a peaceful protest, the result will be police who think more like soldiers. This likely includes heightening their perception of physical threats, and increasing the likelihood that they react to those threats with violence. Simply put, dressing police up like soldiers potentially changes how they see a situation, changing protesters into enemy combatants, rather than what they are: civilians exercising their democratic rights…

When police wear soldiers’ clothing, and hold soldiers’ weapons, it primes them to think and act like soldiers. Furthermore, clothing that conceals their identity – such as the helmets, gas masks, goggles, body armor and riot shields that are now standard-issue for officers at peaceful protests – will increase the likelihood that officers react aggressively to the situation. As a result of the fact that they are also dressed like soldiers, they are more likely to interpret the situation as hostile and will more readily identify violence as the best solution.

While robocops are problematic enough, the problem we’re facing is so much greater than technology-enhanced domestic soldiers.

As I make clear in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, we’re on the cusp of a major paradigm shift from fascism disguised as a democracy into a technocratic surveillance society in which there are no citizens, only targets. We’re all targets now, to be scanned, surveilled, tracked and treated like blips on a screen.

What’s taking place in Maryland right now is a perfect example of this shift. With Congress’ approval and generous funding (and without the consensus of area residents), the Army has just launched two massive, billion dollar surveillance airships into the skies over Baltimore, each airship three times the size of a Goodyear blimp, ostensibly to defend against cruise missile attacks. Government officials claim the surveillance blimps, which provide highly detailed radar imaging within a 340-mile radius, are not presently being used to track individuals or carry out surveillance against citizens, but it’s only a matter of time before that becomes par for the course.

In New York, police will soon start employing mobile scanners that allow them to scan people on the street in order to detect any hidden objects under their clothes, whether it be a gun, a knife or anything else that appears “suspicious.” The scanners will also let them carry out enhanced data collection in the field—fingerprints, iris scans, facial mapping—which will build the government’s biometric database that much faster. These scanners are a more mobile version of the low radiation X-ray vans used to scan the contents of passing cars.

Google Glass, being considered for use by officers, would allow police to access computer databases, as well as run background checks on and record anyone in their line of sight.

One program, funded by $160 million in asset forfeiture funds, would equip police officers and vehicles with biometric smartphones that can scan individuals’ fingerprints and cross check it against criminal databases. The devices will also contain realtime 911 data, warrant information from federal, state and city databases, photographs of missing persons, suspects, Crime Stoppers posters and other persons of interest, and the latest cache of information on terror suspects.

Stand-off lasers can detect alcohol vapors in a moving car. “If alcohol vapors are detected in the car, a message with a photo of the car including its license plate is sent to a police officer waiting down the road. Then, the police officer stops the car and checks for signs of alcohol using conventional tests.”

Ekin Patrol cameras, described as “the first truly intelligent patrol unit in the world,” can not only detect the speed of passing cars but can generate tickets instantaneously, recognize and store the license plates of stopped, moving or parked vehicles, measure traffic density and violation data and engage in facial recognition of drivers and passengers.

Collectively, all of these gizmos, gadgets and surveillance devices render us not just suspects in a surveillance state but also inmates in an electronic concentration camp. As journalist Lynn Stuart Parramore notes:

The Information Age … has turned out rather differently than many expected. Instead of information made available for us, the key feature seems to be information collected about us. Rather of granting us anonymity and privacy with which to explore a world of facts and data, our own data is relentlessly and continually collected and monitored. The wondrous things that were supposed to make our lives easier—mobile devices, gmail, Skype, GPS, and Facebook—have become tools to track us, for whatever purposes the trackers decide. We have been happily shopping for the bars to our own prisons, one product at a time.

Unfortunately, eager as we are for progress and ill-suited to consider the moral and spiritual ramifications of our planned obsolescence, we have yet to truly fathom what it means to live in an environment in which we are always on red alert, always under observation, and always having our actions measured, judged and found wanting under some law or other intrusive government regulation.

There are those who are not at all worried about this impending future, certain that they have nothing to hide. Rest assured, soon we will all have nowhere to hide from the prying eyes of a government bound and determined to not only know everything about us—where we go, what we do, what we say, what we read, what we keep in our pockets, how much money we have on us, how we spend that money, who we know, what we eat and drink, and where we are at any given moment—but prepared to use that information against us, whenever it becomes convenient and profitable to do so.

Making the case that we’re being transformed as citizens, neighbors and human beings, Parramore identifies six factors arising from a society in which surveillance becomes the norm: a shift in power dynamics, in which the “watcher” becomes all-seeing and all-powerful; an incentive to turn citizens into outlaws by criminalizing otherwise lawful activities; diminished citizenship; an environment of suspicion and paranoia; a divided society comprised of the watchers and the watched; and “a society of edgy, unhappy beings whose sense of themselves is chronically diminished.”

As Parramore rightly concludes, this is “not exactly a recipe for Utopia.”

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  • What the whacked out government run media in America will not inform the American people of! You should do an article on this topic and stun everybody into a surge in Civics. Just saying! Keep up the great intellectual articles. I have been reading and sharing for years now albeit by another avatar title!

    Police Have No Duty To Protect Individuals

    Self-Reliance For Self-Defense — Police Protection Isn’t Enough! All our lives, especially during our younger years, we hear that the police are there to protect us. From the very first kindergarten- class visit of “Officer Friendly” to the very last time we saw a police car – most of which have “To Protect and Serve” emblazoned on their doors – we’re encouraged to give ourselves over to police protection. But it hasn’t always been that way. Before the mid-1800s, American and British citizens – even in large cities – were expected to protect themselves and each other. Their duty was to protect society as a whole by deterrence; i.e., by systematically patrolling, detecting and apprehending criminals after the occurrence of crimes. There was no thought of police displacing the citizens’ right of self-protection. Nor could they, even if it were intended.


    In the United States, you can get a pizza delivered faster than you can get the police to come to your home! To serve but not protect!

    • rivahmitch

      “To serve” whom?

      • robert

        right google the name joe lozito a guy going to work on the new york city subway.when this guy comes up to joe and says to him your gonna die,now joes in a life and death struggle with this butcher knife wielding thug,with 2 nyc police officers watching this from 25ft away in the next subway conductors car,watching this go down.anyway joe disarms this thug and joes been stabbed in the head the back and hand.only then do the 2 police officers come to joes aid,and tell joe we will take it from here.anyway joe goes to court to sue the nyc police dept,and do you know what the police dept lawyer says to joe,and i quote the police have no special duty to protect him or any other individuals.then what the hell do we need them and pay them for.we say the only one who is in charge of protecting you and your family,is you.the 2nd amendment is my firearms permit.not any politicans or any government.we are constitituional correct,not politically inept.god bless all legal american veterans/citizens

      • Only themselves apparently!

  • jadan

    There is just one solution to the problem of the surveillance state: more democracy. Fear and loathing of government is prevalent among those who cherish individual liberty. The national security state that seized control in a coup referred to as a terrorist attack on 911, controls the political machinery through the rule of secrecy, domestic surveillance, and police violence. Congress is controlled through political blackmail developed by NSA and other spy agencies. We have to take back our government which is simultaneously an enemy and savior. If we adopt the Reagan attitude that government is the problem, we fail to recognize that government is also the solution………the only force that can counteract the power of oligarchs and plutocrats and fascist militarists in our midst. We must make it more democratic and transparent…

    • Guest

      “democracy” is what got us here in the first place.
      This is a REPUBLIC, not a ‘democracy’.
      The Founding Fathers, all, spoke against a “democracy”, knowing that is was one of the worst possible forms of “government” and bound to fail.

      • cactusbob

        The founders acknowledged that their Constitutional Republic depended for its survival on a citizenry of moral beliefs, belief in God, family-oriented, honorable, and aware of its history. Thanks to decades of whittling away of these attributes, the Democrat/Socialist/Communist Party believers have so changed our thinking that the majority have a problem in carrying our form of government forward. As a result, forces favoring other forms of freedom-less rule by man, not by law, are taking over, and we seem unable to stop them. So now we are living the decline in the cycle of freedom thatt has destroyed all democratic forms of government after enduring for 250 or so years. It may well be too late to reverse course by now, since the political party most aware of the situation is being fragmented by its elite leadership to prevent recovery.

  • Frank W Brown

    A Country Founded by Geniuses but Run by Idiots!

    If you can get arrested for hunting or fishing without a license, but

    not for entering and remaining in the country illegally — you might

    live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

    If you have to get your parents’ permission to go on a field trip or

    to take an aspirin in school, but not to get an abortion — you might

    live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

    If you MUST show your identification to board an airplane, cash a

    check, buy liquor, or check out a library book and rent a video, but not

    to vote for who runs the government — you might live in a nation that

    was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

    If the government wants to prevent stable, law-abiding citizens from

    owning gun magazines that hold more than ten rounds, but gives twenty

    F-16 fighter jets to the crazy new leaders in Egypt — you might live in a

    nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

    If, in the nation’s largest city, you can buy two 16-ounce sodas, but

    not one 24-ounce soda, because 24-ounces of a sugary drink might make

    you fat — you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is

    run by idiots.

    If an 80-year-old woman or a three-year-old girl who is confined to a

    wheelchair can be strip-searched by the TSA at the airport, but a woman

    in a burka or a hijab is only subject to having her neck and head

    searched — you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but

    is run by idiots.

    If your government believes that the best way to eradicate trillions

    of dollars of debt is to spend trillions more — you might live in a

    nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

    If a seven-year-old boy can be thrown out of school for saying his

    teacher is “cute,” but hosting a sexual exploration or diversity class

    in grade school is perfectly acceptable — you might live in a nation

    that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

    If hard work and success are met with higher taxes and more

    government regulation and intrusion, while not working is rewarded with

    Food Stamps, WIC checks, Medicaid benefits, subsidized housing, and free

    cell phones — you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses

    but is run by idiots.

    If the government’s plan for getting people back to work is to

    provide incentives for not working, by granting 99 weeks of unemployment

    checks, without any requirement to prove that gainful employment was

    diligently sought, but couldn’t be found — you might live in a nation

    that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

    If you pay your mortgage faithfully, denying yourself the newest

    big-screen TV, while your neighbor buys iPhones, time shares, a

    wall-sized do-it-all plasma screen TV and new cars, and the government

    forgives his debt when he defaults on his mortgage — you might live in a

    nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

    If being stripped of your Constitutional right to defend yourself

    makes you more “safe” according to the government — you might live in a

    nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

    If the media panders to your openly socialist leader while the IRS targets groups with dissenting views— you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

    If your government ‘cracks down’ on legal gun sales to law abiding citizens while secretly supplying illegal guns to Mexican drug cartels— you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

    If your local government (Chicago) outlawed gun ownership for ‘the safety of its citizens’ and now boasts the worst murder rate in the country — you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

    What a country!

    How about we give God a reason to continue blessing America?

    This was borrowed from another blog, author unknown, please spread it far and wide!

    • Monty Montgomery

      funny how our government killed off or put onto lands a group of people who actually had it right to begin with……we don’t take from our elders we just borrow from our children. what a concept. wish the leaders of the world/nations tribes were as smart. I would put money on it when I say that the Native Americans were wondering about why God was not blessing them not to long ago, and we will be asking that question very soon ourselves.

  • ReaperHD

    All the awe and scare tactics of a super human cop comes out today and tomorrow a criminal has the same base equipment and it will be updated to out combat the officers.

  • Ralphinphnx

    So, what other new costly law enforcement wonders will the Kenyan Wonder in the White House Golfer in Chief Barack Hussein Obama and his corrupt incompetent US Attorney General Eric Holder soon be deploying against all of us now then? And so, will that allow our boys and girls in blue uniforms more free time to sit around the local police station eating donuts and drinking coffee as well?

    • Gerry Costa

      Hey — that donut shop crap is just a myth. A lot of them don’t drink coffee or eat donuts, surf & turf has become the food of choice.

  • Paul Revere Now

    I suppose that these Robots would be programed to deal with whomever the WH wants dead or alive? Make your own assumption on who or what group of people.

  • wdcraftr

    The end times of the Bible is All about Satan vs Jesus/his followers. We wrestle against spiritual beings, not man or Govts… The Vatican, Catholics, will join with most other Christian churches, as the Lutherans and Methodists already have since like 1998.. Then the world will be the Papacy/Jesuit Catholic Roman Empire, vs True Christians who believe totally in what Jesus and the Bible says.. Satan vs God’s people.. Remember when the Roman Papacy killed and tortured those who would Not believe as they said? Well, Pope Frances is a Jesuit, and the Roman Papacy will rise again and persecute, and kill those that oppose it’s False teachings and laws.. The end times are Not about Muslim’s vs Christians.. But Satan’s Papacy vs True bible believers, holders of the Gospel, the 10 commandments.. You cannot buy or sell without the Mark of the Beast, the Mark of the new one world Religious govt. You will have to take the Mark of God, or the Mark of the Beast.. There will be No in-between.. That Mark is in you mind, your thoughts, your beliefs..

  • Janice Foster

    Since the islams are involved in child sex and no telling what else their camps need to be looked at really well and all of them sent out of the Country and/or charged….Gitmo will be needed that day..hit every camp the same time!!

  • sovereigntyofone

    This makes the book 1984 by George Orwell, look like a nursery rhyme in comparison.
    Everyday they come out with another way to spy on WE THE PEOPLE. Can you imagine what our founding fathers would have to say if they were alive today and what has happened to the Republic they created. We have surpassed 1984 type social control and pushing the envelope of a lab rat controlled society. They know where we are 24/7/365, they know what we are doing, what we are writing about on line and in text messages on our cellphones. They know what we buy, what we eat and know what our political thoughts are. Question is, when and at what point will they use all this data they have on us against us. This has crossed the line of governmental abuse and tyranny, we have become inmates in an electronic prison and don’t even realize it… until it’s too late.
    Just my 2 cents worth.

    • Modern Day America: One Step Away from the Third Reich October 31st, 2014

      Unbeknownst to most Americans the United States is presently under thirty presidential declared states of emergency. They confer vast powers on the Executive Branch including the ability to financially incapacitate any person or organization in the United States, seize control of the nation’s communications infrastructure, mobilize military forces, expand the permissible size of the military without congressional authorization, and extend tours of duty without consent from service personnel.

      September 18, 2001 Wartime presidential powers supersede liberties THE WASHINGTON TIMES

      • sovereigntyofone

        You got that right, last I heard we had 26 states of emergency on the books, one of which was declared during the Korean war. Nothing like have a few extra just in case you need to declare martial law and round up the troublemakers, you know, the Patriots of this Republic or otherwise known as ” possible home grown terrorists ” because we still believe in God (not allah), Guns and the Constitution and Bill of (God given ) Rights.

  • marlene

    More front page news that the braindead media putas will not give us.