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Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization…

Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police…

by Radley Balko

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251972,590 (4.28)12
Relates the history of American police forces from the constables and sheriffs of the past to the modern-day SWAT teams and riot squads that blur the line between police officers and soldiers.
  1. 00
    Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong by Brandon L. Garrett (Jestak)
    Jestak: Balko focuses on issues in policing, Garret on the court/legal system.

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» See also 12 mentions

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When I read this, it was an easy 5 stars. However, retrospectively, there's a big problem in that Balko pulls so hard for body cams as a solution. Well, we now have that reality, and detractors have been borne out. Police surveillance is counterproductive at worst and ineffective at best. ( )
  pnppl | Jan 10, 2019 |
I am mostly sympathetic to Balko's central thesis (police are becoming too much like the military, and this is bad) but I don't think he did a great job of making his case. I found the polemical tone of the book frustrating and ultimately unconvincing. I wish Balko had calmed himself down a bit and assembled more persuasive arguments. ( )
  GaylaBassham | May 27, 2018 |
We have a problem with policing in this country. Hopefully this isn’t a surprise, although many people have only started to notice this since the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson last month. People in many communities, for years, have been more fearful of the police than of the criminals in their communities; this is especially true for black people, who can be shot for having a BB gun, a toy sword, or nothing at all. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/08/police-shootings-michael-brown-fergu...;

Mr. Balko has written a book that unfortunately is all too relevant these days. The book focuses on the problems with the militarization of the police and the culture that sees officers acting as though everyone is the enemy, and it specifically focuses on the drug war and SWAT teams. It has taken me over a month to read (I’ve started and finished two books and about 20 magazines in that time) because it is infuriating. It is well written and well-researched. It is ‘easy’ to read, in that the sentences and paragraphs flow logically, and the book itself is broken down by decade to clearly demonstrate how things have changed. But it is infuriating. I wrote a variation of ‘fuck’ or ‘ew’ on every other page, because each section made me angrier and angrier. Mr. Balko wrote a great, infuriating book, and I wish everyone would read it.

The drug war is ridiculous, but seeing it really spelled out in print, and reading how it is so tied into a culture that seeks bigger and deadlier toys to ‘enforce the law’ made me, and makes me, sick to my stomach. My blood pressure would rise, my pulse would race, and it would take a whole lot of self-control to not just fling the book at a window every couple of pages. Much of this comes from the illustrating stories that point out the times when SWAT teams utterly fuck up. The botched raids are not rare; they are examples of what happens when a group of people gets all the power but has none of the self-awareness to recognize that they are doing something wrong. Shooting dogs in the head, breaking down doors, holding people at gun point without ever announcing who they are. Can you IMAGINE being awoken at midnight by a bunch of people in dark clothes pointing guns and yelling at you? I assume I would pee myself and consider that I was about to be sexually assaulted and then murdered. There is rarely, if ever a need for this kind of use of force, and yet here we are, openly supporting it with federal grants, surplus Pentagon equipment and broken policies.

I live in Seattle, and was here during the WTO riots. Norm Stamper was police chief then, and he wrote a book saying that what the Seattle PD did during those protests – throwing tear gas into crowds, blocking people in – was right. But after his book tour he realized he was so very wrong, and now he realizes that his actions are partly responsible for the devolution of rights of civilians in the face of power-hunger cops. The way the police handled Occupy protests throughout the country was so disappointing; the way some handle the day-to-day operations with quasi-military force to recover a few ounces of marijuana or heroin from non-violent drug offenders should scare the crap out of you.

Are all cops bad? Obviously not. There are some amazing officers doing great work. That isn’t the point of this book. The point is that we’ve passed laws, set policy and created grants that make it easier for police to believe that the law doesn’t apply to them as they seek to enforce the law. That is unacceptable, and we need to speak out and demand some change. Now.
( )
  ASKelmore | Jul 9, 2017 |
It only takes a few minutes of watching the national news before you will see a crime story with police dressed in battle gear. In Rise of the Warrior Cop, Radley Balko traces the history of US law enforcement to see how we got to this.

Mr. Balko thinks the founding fathers, distrustful of a standing army, would be appalled by today's approach to law enforcement. Of course, the United States has changed dramatically over the last 240 years. The City of Boston had 15,000 residents then and has grown to over 650,000 today. The colonial era approach to policing of constables and private justice would not work today.

Mr. Balko takes the position that the current approach of militarization of the police also does not work.

Mr. Balko keys the rise of militarization to one event: the Texas Bell Tower Sniper. Local police did not have the weapons or techniques to end that mass shooting.

The next advancement was the work of Daryl Gates in Los Angeles. He pushed for the creation of the first SWAT team. I remember that television show. But they were far from the battle-clad soldiers of today's SWAT.

Next up was Nixon's "war on crime" that pushed federal money to local police. That transformed into the "war on drugs" and the latest iteration, the "war on terror". Each of those came with federal money for local police to buy weapons. Surplus military gear was made available to local police. Who would not want to have a tank for their police force.

All that money lead to this: Battle-clad, heavily armed police.

Mr. Balko proposition is that when they have these tools, they use them. Even if other police techniques would have been more effective. Rise of the Warrior Cop is full of stories of botched police raids using excessive force to invade people's homes for non-violent offenses.

He further presents the theory that acting more like the military than civil protectors, police forces develop an "us versus them" mentality. It's clear in the war who the enemy is. It's not clear on the streets.

Many will dismiss Rise of the Warrior Cop as anti-police, libertarian propaganda. There is no doubt that Mr. Balko brings his viewpoint to the story and his Cato Institute philosophy.

This book was published in 2013 and predates the current Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter debates that are happening today. The book takes a harsh look at the development of policing that got us to this point. It's not just the militarization of the police, but the erosion of Constitutional rights that I find troubling. ( )
  dougcornelius | Aug 16, 2016 |
This is an examination of how, in the last forty years or so, U.S. police forces have transformed into paramilitary operations, with even very small towns boasting a SWAT force of their own, and led to a concomitant erosion of civil rights. Radley Balko ties this in large part to the so-called war on drugs. When Balko lays out the narrative of this, and provides anecdotes about police brutality, this is a compelling exposé which gives non-Americans like myself a better understanding of why we see horrific footage like that which has recently come out of Ferguson, MO, and New York City.

However, while I'm broadly sympathetic to the book's key point—that while individual cops may be decent, the police-as-institution in the US is deeply flawed and needs major reform—I found myself disagreeing with parts of Balko's argumentation and methodology. He talks a lot about how politicians and police have used over-the-top rhetoric into scaring people to giving up some of their rights—yet writes consistently about screaming cops who burst through doors in search of "peaceful, consensual" drug users. This is either astoundingly obtuse or hypocritical. Balko's point could be made just as well without such manipulation. The historical background in which Balko couches his argument tries to trace the origins of the modern U.S. police back to medieval England and beyond to ancient Rome's Praetorian Guard, which is shoddy historiography at best.

Balko is also weak when it comes to defining the scope and terms of his argument. He never really provides a definition of what he means by "militarization", save to say that the police are now "more military than the military", which is circular logic and unsatisfying. Balko also often elides the parallel issues of the war on drugs and the militarization of the police, treating them as if they are the same issue, though I'm not sure if that's a deliberate obfuscation on his part or if he's even aware that he's doing it. He's clearly a libertarian who wants drugs to be legalized, but the police militarization and brutality is not just a problem when it comes to dealing with the issue of illegal drugs. Balko does mention briefly that race, class, and gender all factor into the equation—you're more likely to be assaulted or killed by the police if you're poor and/or black; a lot of the push for police to present themselves in a more military manner comes from an internalised pressure to be more "manly"—but he doesn't really dig into racialised policing or toxic masculinity and their consequences. I think you need to, if you want to write a comprehensive account.

Readable for the anecdotes, but I don't think you can trust Balko to be an honest broker. ( )
1 vote siriaeve | Jan 3, 2015 |
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