Surveillance at the Local Level: the Militarization of America’s Police State

“We believe in transparency here, you have a right to know what the police are up to in your country.” – Camden Police Chief Scott Tomson

On VICE News, Vikram Gandhi went to Camden, New Jersey to preview the latest technologies and strategies that are being employed to help local law enforcement in the long fought, and long failing, War on Drugs here in America.


Photo: Anton Prado / Shutterstock

While we’ve spent a great deal of the past 12 months covering the overstepped bounds and under-table dealings of the NSA at the federal level, municipal police forces and their officers have spent that same amount of time arming themselves to the teeth with all the latest gadgets and gizmos every modern cop chop and investigation agency could want.

Microphones that can place a gunshot within three meters, cameras that record every street corner in a given neighborhood on any given night, granting the officers behind the screen that operates them a near omnipotent power to place the perpetrators at the scene of the crime within moments of it happening, and not a second too soon.

And now, they’re taking control of your cell phone too.

Urban assault tanks and brand new bulletproof vests aren’t all the fuzz down the street are getting excited about either, with dozens of major metropolitan stations around the country arming themselves with state of the art surveillance equipment that out-listens even the most advanced systems employed by the federal government on their never-ending hunt for the terrorist elite.

Dubbed the “Stingray”, these mobile signal towers strapped to the backs of police vehicles can not only target the cellphones of suspected criminals, but can actually vacuum up the details and call logs of every single mobile device within a three block radius, forcing all of them to connect at once to a faux network designed to hoover up information, sort through/analyze it, and spit it all back out in less than the few minutes it takes for the truck to move from one block to the next.

These tactics just go to show that even if you don’t think you have a reason to show up on no-fly list in the near future, Uncle Sam isn’t the only one out there who might be interested in what you have to say in the privacy of your own home.

Whichever side of the argument you side with, it’s not hard to see that the program has been effective at what it originally set out to do.

Crime is down in Camden across the board, from heroin dealing to murders, burglaries to bank robberies. Although the general consensus among the people of the town feel like their personal freedoms may be infringed upon, overwhelmingly they are glad that someone has stepped in to bring a sense of order and peace to what, until recently, has been little more than a battleground for drug kingpins to sling soldiers at one another in a never-ending battle for turf on the streets of a town that had almost been forgotten by the people who had sworn an oath to protect it.