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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Black Box of the Blue Lights: Investigating Police Militarization Through Participation in the 1033 Program

The data associated with this publication are within the manuscript.

As handheld cameras and social media increase the visibility of officer involved shootings and excessive use of force, the use of advanced military technology by police has raised important questions on the war on crime. While aggrieved citizens decry this militarization, limited data and a lack of nationally homogenous accountability procedures prohibits systemic analysis of these concerns. Utilizing unique data on department acquisitions of military gear from 1996-2017, we assess the influence of demographic and economic factors on police militarization. Using a series of robust regression models, we find that rural areas are much more likely to acquire military-grade weapons and vehicles. Additionally, county political affiliation and minority population may also be predictive of these outcomes. This study is among the most rigorous efforts to identify causal relationships of an increasingly militarized police force, and informs the growing debate on law enforcement methods in the 21st century.

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