RISE of the WARRIOR COP: The Militarization of America's Police Forces

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    An award-winning journalist tells the story of how politicians transformed America's police forces into a standing army

    The American approach to law enforcement was forged by the experience of revolution. Emerging as they did from the shadow of British rule, the country's founders would likely have viewed police, as they exist today, as a standing army, and therefore a threat to liberty. Even so, excessive force and disregard for the Bill of Rights have become epidemic in today's world. According to civil liberties reporter Radley Balko, these are all symptoms of a generation-long shift to increasingly aggressive, militaristic, and arguably unconstitutional policing—one that would have shocked the conscience of America's founders.

    Rise of the Warrior Cop
    traces the arc of U.S. law enforcement from the constables and private justice of colonial times to present-day SWAT teams and riot cops. Today, relentless "war on drugs" and "war on terror" pronouncements from politicians, along with battle-clad police forces with tanks and machine guns have dangerously blurred the distinction between cop and soldier. Balko's fascinating, frightening narrative shows how martial rhetoric and reactionary policies have put modern law enforcement on a collision course with the values of a free society.


    Softcover, 352 pages

    Table of Contents


    Acknowledgements - vii

    Introduction - ix

    Chapter One:

    From Rome to Writs - 1

    Chapter Two:

    Soldiers in the Streets - 11

    Chapter Three:

    A Quick History of Cops in America - 27

    Chapter Four:

    The 1960's-From Root Causes to Brute Force - 43

    Chapter Five:

    The 1970's-Pinch and Retreat - 81

    Chapter Six:

    The 1980's-Us and Them - 139

    Chapter Seven:

    The 1990's-It's All About the Numbers - 177

    Chapter Eight:

    The 2000's-A Whole New War - 239

    Chapter Nine:

    Reform 309

    Conclusion - 333

    Notes - 337

    Index - 369

    Excerpt from the Introduction

    Even if the earliest attempts at centralized police forces would have alarmed the founders, today’s policing would have terrified them. Today in America SWAT teams violently smash into private homes more than one hundred times per day. The vast majority of these raids are to enforce laws against consensual crimes. In many cities, police departments have given up the traditional blue uniforms for “battle dress uniforms” modeled after soldier attire. Police departments across the country now sport armored personnel carriers designed for use on a battlefield. They carry military-grade weapons. Most of this equipment comes from the military itself. Many SWAT teams today are trained by current and former personnel from special forces units like Navy Seals and Army Rangers. Aggressive SWAT-style tactics are nor used to raid neighborhood poker games, doctor’s offices, bars and restaurants, head shops, despite the fact that targets of these threats pose little threat to anyone. …

    There’s been nothing secretive about this transformation, but because it’s been unfolding over several decades, we don’t seem to have noticed. …

    Most Americans still believe we live in a free society and revere its core values. These principles are pretty well known: freedom of speech, religion, and the press; the right to a fair trial; representative democracy; equality before the law. These principles were enshrined in the Constitution and cherished by the Framers precisely because they’re indispensable to a free society. This book answers the question: How did we get here? How did we evolve from a country whose founding statesmen were adamant about the dangers of armed, standing government forces–a country that enshrined the Fourth Amendment in the Bill or Rights and revered and protected the age-old notion that the home is a place of privacy and sanctuary–to a country where it has become acceptable for armed government agents dressed in battle garb to storm private homes in the middle of the night–not to apprehend violent fugitives or thwart terrorist attacks, but to enforce laws against non-violent, consensual activities? How did a country pushed into a revolution by protest and political speech become one where protests are met with flash grenades, pepper spray, and platoons of riot teams dressed like Robocops? How did we go from a system in which laws were enforced by the citizens, often with noncoercive methods, to one in which order is preserved by armed government agents too often conditioned to see streets and neighborhoods as battlefields and the citizens they serve as the enemy?

    Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept

    “The best and most comprehensive account of the dangers of police militarization.”

    Sarah Stillman, NewYorker.com
    “A fascinating and at times wrenching new book.”

    The Daily Beast
    “Virtually peerless as a writer on the issue”

    The Economist
    “Mr Balko manages to avoid the clichés of both right and left, and provokes genuine outrage at the misuse of state power in its most brutal and unaccountable form: heavily armed police raiding the homes of unarmed, non-violent suspects on the flimsiest of pretexts, and behaving more like an occupying army in hostile territory than guardians of public safety. “Rise of the Warrior Cop”, Mr Balko’s interesting first book, explains what policies led to the militarisation of America’s police. To his credit, he focuses his outrage not on the police themselves, but on politicians and the phoney, wasteful drug war they created.”

    Glenn Greenwald, constitutional lawyer, Guardian columnist, and New York Times-bestselling author
    “Vibrant and compelling. There is no vital trend in American society more overlooked than the militarization of our domestic police forces, and there is no journalist in America who is more knowledgeable and passionate about this topic than Radley Balko. If you care about the core political liberties of Americans, this is a must-read.”

    Charleston (WV) Gazette
    “For Americans who care about their core political liberties, Balko's book is a must-read.”

    Pacific Standard
    “Fascinating and sometimes terrifying”

    "Jack Dunphy" (nom de plume of a police officer with the Los Angeles Police Department), National Review Online
    “For all my cop's quibbles with Rise of the Warrior Cop, I was struck by how much I found to agree with in the book. Balko makes a compelling case that in America today there are too many SWAT teams operating with too little accountability, further exposing the country to the dangers this magazine identified in 1996. ‘No, America today isn't a police state,’ he writes in the concluding chapter. ‘Far from it. But it would be foolish to wait until it becomes one to get concerned.’ One need not be a libertarian to appreciate the warning.”

    Arianna Huffington, president and editor-in-chief, Huffington Post
    “With his thorough reporting and compelling storytelling gifts, Radley Balko builds a powerful narrative of the militarization of our police forces, which both liberals and conservatives have allowed to flourish. And he shows the chilling results of both parties’ unwillingness to stand up to increasingly aggressive police tactics that often pit cops against those they are sworn to protect.”

    Ron Paul, former Texas congressman and Republican presidential candidate
    Rise of the Warrior Cop is a comprehensive look at the reasons for, and the results of, the increasing militarization of law enforcement. Civil libertarians on the left and limited government conservatives on the right should pay especially close attention to Radley Balko’s examination of the link between the ‘the war on drugs’ and law enforcement’s increased use of police state tactics.”

    Diane Goldstein, Huffington Post
    “Rise of the Warrior Cop asks many questions about the proper role of law enforcement and the effect of the drug war, America's longest war, on our communities… Balko interweaves history, the Constitution, and case law to create an account of how the massive expansion of SWAT teams occurred as the perfect storm of politics, ideology and federal fiscal coercion.”

    New York Journal of Books
    “This historic review of America’s police and police tactics is clear and direct in its nondismissal narrative. This is not an anti-police book, but a serious look at the growth and use of SWAT and military style tactics, at America’s war on drugs, and the financial incentives that created the new “community police force”… This book is highly recommended for the historic value of the information; it is clear, concise, and well argued. Whether you are a lifetime, card carrying member of the ACLU or the newest law and order politician The Rise of the Warrior Cop provides a clear timeline and important information making it a must read.”

    Publishers Weekly
    “’Are cops constitutional?’ It’s a bold and provocative question, and the more Balko delves into the history of law enforcement, the more that question seems worth considering. … After reading Balko, you’ll be aware, alright—and scared.”

    Salt Lake Tribune
    "a well-researched book that piques the reader's intellect as much as it does his or her emotions."

    Ilya Somin, Volokh Conspiracy
    “The best new book on a law-related topic I have read so far this year”

    StoptheDrugWar.org
    “In Balko’s hands, an entertaining and illuminating story — as well as depressing and frightening — told with verve and gusto, meticulously researched, and filled with telling historical detail… Rise of the Warrior Cop is an important book and deserves to be read by small government conservatives, civil libertarian liberals, police commanders, and politicians alike.”

    Simple Justice blog
    “It's critical to appreciate the history of policing, to understand that what we now see as normal and inescapable wasn't always the case. For most of our history, this country did not have a group of people with shields and guns who wandered the streets ordering people about.… If there is any hope of changing the course of the militarization of law enforcement, it will come from a greater understanding of why this was never meant to be the internal norm of this country, and that it doesn't have to be. Radley Balko has done an exceptional job of making the case. Every person who hopes to preserve the integrity of his Castle from dynamic entry needs to read The Rise of Warrior Cop.”

    Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union
    “Excessively militarized policing is easy to ignore when a SWAT team is ramming down someone else’s door or tear-gassing someone else’s protest. What makes Rise of the Warrior Cop so important is that Mr. Balko makes police militarization real for all of us. This is a meticulously researched history book that casts needed light on a central civil liberties issue. Police militarization is something we should all care about, and Rise of the Warrior Cop will show you why.”

    Arianna Huffington, president and editor-in-chief, Huffington Post
    “With his thorough reporting and compelling storytelling gifts, Radley Balko builds a powerful narrative of the militarization of our police forces, which both liberals and conservatives have allowed to flourish. And he shows the chilling results of both parties’ unwillingness to stand up to increasingly aggressive police tactics that often pit cops against those they are sworn to protect.”

    Ron Paul, former Texas congressman and Republican presidential candidate
    Rise of the Warrior Cop is a comprehensive look at the reasons for, and the results of, the increasing militarization of law enforcement. Civil libertarians on the left and limited government conservatives on the right should pay especially close attention to Radley Balko’s examination of the link between the ‘the war on drugs’ and law enforcement’s increased use of police state tactics.”

    Norm Stamper, thirty-four-year police veteran and police chief of Seattle, Washington, 1994–2000
    “A rich, pertinent history, with unexpected but critically important observations of the increased militarization of American policing. And so well presented: clear, lucid, elegantly crafted. Rise of the Warrior Cop should be on the shelves of every police chief, sheriff, and SWAT commander in the country. A huge contribution.”

    Glenn Greenwald, constitutional lawyer, Guardian columnist, and New York Times-bestselling author
    “Vibrant and compelling. There is no vital trend in American society more overlooked than the militarization of our domestic police forces, and there is no journalist in America who is more knowledgeable and passionate about this topic than Radley Balko. If you care about the core political liberties of Americans, this is a must-read.”

    Peter Kraska, Chair and Professor, Police and Justice Studies, Eastern Kentucky University
    “Balko excels at an excruciatingly difficult task: telling the history of police militarization in a way that will grip any curious mind – without any loss of intellectual rigor. A fascinating, highly educational, and deeply disturbing read.”

    PolicyMic.com
    "Balko gets it right. There is very much an attitude and subsequent policy of police militarization in the U.S. Neighborhoods are being treated as warzones, even when they're not."

    Radley Balko is an award-winning investigative journalist who writes about civil liberties, police and prosecutors, and the broader criminal justice system. He is a senior writer and investigative reporter for the Huffington Post. Previously, he was a senior editor for Reason magazine and a policy analyst for the Cato Institute. Balko's 2006 Cato report Overkill is considered the seminal work on the rise of SWAT teams and paramilitary police tactics in America. Follow him on Twitter: @RadleyBalko

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