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.


    Hardcover, 352 pages

    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?

    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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