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The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday requested documents from police departments across the country in what leaders described as an effort to learn when American police are using federally subsidized, military-grade equipment generally used in a war zone.
The group sent 255 requests in 23 states asking for data on SWAT team call-outs and use, if any, of GPS tracking devices, drones and select other equipment.
Locally, the Pennsylvania ACLU office requested records from the state police, Allegheny County SWAT, Beaver County Emergency Services Unit and the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, among others.
Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, the attorney who completed the paperwork for the state ACLU office, said she sent the requests to local agencies that she knew had a SWAT team.
"At this point, we're mostly just gathering information," she said. "The more information we have, the more we can suggest better policy changes."
Ms. Morgan-Kurtz said she expects to get at least some of the documents she requested under the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law and hopes to have more information in about a month.
She said she is especially interested to see how the Pittsburgh police department has been using the Long Range Acoustic Device, a sophisticated speaker system capable of sending out a recorded message that can be heard a quarter-mile away.
The LRAD, used here during the G-20 Summit a little more than three years ago, has been used on open seas against pirates and to disperse crowds of bar patrons on the South Side.
Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in a statement: "Pennsylvanians deserve to know the extent to which our local police are using military weapons and tactics for everyday policing. The militarization of local police is a threat to Americans' right to live without fear of military-style intervention in their daily lives, and we need to make sure these resources and tactics are deployed only with rigorous oversight and strong legal protections."
Representatives for local agencies reached on Wednesday declined to comment.