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Baton Rouge Chief Of Police Defends 'Militarized Tactics'

After a man attacked several law enforcement officers in Baton Rouge, La., on Sunday, killing three of them, Baton Rouge Chief of Police Carl Dabadie said the attack demonstrated the need for so-called "militarized tactics" by local police forces.

The shooting involved a man armed with two long rifles and a handgun, police said at a press conference Monday. He appeared to be seeking out officers, officials say, describing the attack as an "ambush" and an "assassination."

He was killed by a member of a SWAT team firing from more than 100 yards away, police officials say.

After that information was released to the public, Dabadie addressed criticisms his department has received over its tactics.

"We've been questioned for the last three or four weeks about our militarized tactics and our militarized law enforcement," he said. "This is why. Because we are up against a force that is not playing by the rules. ... They didn't play by the rules in Dallas and they didn't play by the rules here.

"We don't ever want to use it but we have to have the ability to use it when we needed it, and we needed it here," he said. "As several have said, this guy was going to another location. He was not going to stop here. After he was finished here I have no doubt he was heading to our headquarters and he was going to take more lives.

"Our militarized tactics, as they're being called, saved lives here."

Dabadie made a similar point last week, after three people were arrested for allegedly stealing weapons to use to shoot police officers. As we noted then, Baton Rouge police had recently been criticized for carrying batons, long guns and shields at protests where they arrested around 200 people.

NPR's Eyder Peralta and David Eads reported on militarized equipment and tactics last year, when the White House announced a plan to block local police forces from acquiring military-type equipment from the federal government. They noted there's a long history of debate over police forces and militarization:

"Local police began acquiring significant amounts of military-style equipment after the urban riots of the 1960s. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a law in 1968 that gave local police grants to purchase equipment to suppress riots.

"As Radley Balko writes in Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces, President Richard Nixon then declared a rhetorical war on crime and drugs, which was followed by President Ronald Reagan's real war on drugs. Police began acquiring tactical equipment to conduct raids, and as they seized property, local forces found themselves with more money to buy equipment on their own.

"The 1033 program, one of the main sources for military-style equipment for local agencies, was created in 1990 when Congress authorized the Department of Defense to transfer excess property to local law enforcement. It was intended to help drug-enforcement efforts, but was expanded in 1997 to include other law enforcement purposes.

"In a report last year, the American Civil Liberties Union concluded policing in the U.S. had become 'excessively militarized.' It found, for example, that 79 percent of SWAT team deployments were for the purpose of simply executing a search warrant. Only 7 percent of deployments were for 'hostage, barricade, or active shooter scenarios.' SWAT teams also were found to be more likely than other police to use 'violent tactics and equipment.'

"The ACLU called on the federal government to rein in 'the programs that create incentives for local police to engage in excessively militarized tactics.'

You can read Eyder and David's full report here.

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Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.