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

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

4.6 12
by Radley Balko

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The last days of colonialism taught America’s revolutionaries that soldiers in the streets bring conflict and tyranny. As a result, our country has generally worked to keep the military out of law enforcement. But according to investigative reporter Radley Balko, over the last several decades, America’s cops have increasingly come to resemble ground troops


The last days of colonialism taught America’s revolutionaries that soldiers in the streets bring conflict and tyranny. As a result, our country has generally worked to keep the military out of law enforcement. But according to investigative reporter Radley Balko, over the last several decades, America’s cops have increasingly come to resemble ground troops. The consequences have been dire: the home is no longer a place of sanctuary, the Fourth Amendment has been gutted, and police today have been conditioned to see the citizens they serve as an other—an enemy.

Today’s armored-up policemen are a far cry from the constables of early America. The unrest of the 1960s brought about the invention of the SWAT unit—which in turn led to the debut of military tactics in the ranks of police officers. Nixon’s War on Drugs, Reagan’s War on Poverty, Clinton’s COPS program, the post–9/11 security state under Bush and Obama: by degrees, each of these innovations expanded and empowered police forces, always at the expense of civil liberties. And these are just four among a slew of reckless programs.

In Rise of the Warrior Cop, Balko shows how politicians’ ill-considered policies and relentless declarations of war against vague enemies like crime, drugs, and terror have blurred the distinction between cop and soldier. His fascinating, frightening narrative shows how over a generation, a creeping battlefield mentality has isolated and alienated American police officers and put them on a collision course with the values of a free society.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
”Are cops constitutional?” It’s a bold and provocative question, and the more Balko (Overkill) delves into the history of law enforcement, the more that question seems worth considering. And yet it’s not the mere presence of a police force that concerns the Cato Institute policy analyst (he readily concedes that one is necessary to any functional society); it’s the force’s gradual militarization that bothers him and many who’ve found themselves on the wrong side of a SWAT team. Our country’s “founding statesmen were adamant about the dangers of armed, standing forces,” but Balko argues that we have strayed far from their vision. From the creation of the first SWAT teams in response to the violent riots of the 1960s, to the literal war on drugs, the much-publicized crackdowns on the Occupy movements, and the increasingly frequent deployments of heavily armed units to address minor incidents (underage drinking, anyone? unlicensed barbers?), the list of questionable tactics and militarized raids has grown longer with each passing year, especially in the wake of 9/11. The problem, Balko insists, is that we “tend not to take notice of such long-developing trends, even when they directly affect us. The first and perhaps largest barrier to halting police militarization has probably been awareness.” After reading Balko, you’ll be aware, alright—and scared. Agent: Howard Yoon, Ross Yoon. (July 9)
From the Publisher

One of Gizmodo's Best Books of 2013

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

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.”

American Conservative
Rise of the Warrior Cop diagnoses a grave threat to our constitutional rights. If Americans still possess the wisdom of our Founders, we will heed Balko’s warning and turn back our drift towards a police state.”

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.”

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.”

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

“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.”

Library Journal
★ 07/01/2016
Journalist Balko opens with a history of policing in America, documenting the shift to police officers resembling soldiers more than peace officers, both in mentality and equipment, a trend that has had negative effects on the relationship between police and citizens. He asks important questions about the long-term impact of a military mind-set.
Kirkus Reviews
Huffington Post senior investigative reporter Balko combines a searing exposé focusing on a specific kind of police brutality with a contextual history of police violence from the Roman Empire through today. The contemporary brutality forming the centerpiece of the exposé derives from Special Weapons and Tactics units--SWAT teams. At Reason magazine and, before that, at the Cato Institute, Balko was a pioneer at tracking the excessive violence of SWAT teams, especially in the context of raids on private homes suspected of harboring violators of drug laws. With SWAT teams often serving as the front line in the so-called "war on drugs," abuses have been occurring with alarming frequency since the 1960s. Balko takes pains to state that police officers face daily danger and that most of them serve honorably. However, he writes, those who volunteer for SWAT teams or are chosen by police chiefs and sheriffs frequently harbor a cowboy mentality inappropriate when raiding homes unannounced with high-velocity weapons at the ready. Balko provides copious examples of SWAT teams raiding the wrong addresses or finding nothing but decriminalized marijuana inside. Meanwhile, injuries and sometimes deaths occur, and community trust in the police is shattered. And it can happen anywhere: The author opens with an egregiously conducted SWAT raid in Columbia, Mo., a small city with few violent drug offenders. Some of the historical sections are slow going--the book is organized chronologically, which means little compelling information arrives before page 50--and the book sometimes loses focus as Balko overreaches in terms of police department operations, which are only loosely related to SWAT team conduct. Nonetheless, the vast amount of evidence is certain to give pause to even the most ardent supporters of law enforcement agencies. An important, sometimes-groundbreaking account of police gone wild.

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Meet the Author

Radley Balko is an award-winning investigative journalist who writes about civil liberties, police, prosecutors, and the broader criminal justice system. He is currently 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. In 2011, the Los Angeles Press Club named him “Journalist of the Year.” Follow him on twitter: @RadleyBalko

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Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
mermao More than 1 year ago
Even those of us who have followed for some time the horrendous escalation in police abuses will be taken aback by Balko's study. He is also very careful to place events into both immediate and long range historical context and to show how small weeds grew into an immense poisonous jungle. But he also has a host of excellent recommendations at the end of the book to halt and reverse the process by which police forces have become a militarized occupying army. What is needed as a companion to this volume is an account of how the US prison system has become the Gulag of the 21st century and what to do about that.
zach-downing-6 More than 1 year ago
Rise of the Warrior Cop is extremely powerful and dangers while talking about the military force. This fascinating historical piece of writing written by Radley Balko explains exactly how our military and police force has progressed over time. Both liberals and conservatives have their sides brought up within the book, and Balko is able to display a gruesome picture within one’s mind while he explains the military and their role in the drug busts and other acts taken. This is a must read for anyone who wants to learn exactly how the police and military force has progressed over time, and how they affect their people that they’re trying to protect. Throughout the reading, I gained a strong liking for the book as it became very intriguing. The beginning of the book started out very slow, and wasn’t too interesting, but once I was able to get past the beginning, the rest of the book was magnificent. While reading this book, one must read it with an open mind, and try not to let their opinion sway them on way or another. This book is very detailed and a tough read, so this wouldn’t be a book for someone looking for an easy read, although it is packed with information. Rise of the Warrior Cop would be a great book for school education if it were in a government or military class, as it contains information that hits hard and is powerful while trying to understand our military and their ways of working, whether it’s wrong or right. If I were to rate this book on a five star scale, I would give this book a four and a half out of five stars, because it is an amazing book with the exception of the slow beginning.
Anna_in_Pdx More than 1 year ago
This book is not happy reading. It is rather upsetting. However it is a very well-written book. I loved the fact that he gave a lot of historical context for why local police forces have evolved over time to become more miltarized, how SWAT teams started, how this is a bipartisan issue, how the issue connects to other criminal justice issues such as the drug war, incarceration rates, "tough on crime" policies like "three strikes you're out", etc. Also, I really liked the fact that he was equally critical of politicians, police, career bureaucrats, etc. who were part of the problem across the political spectrum. This is truly an issue that spans normal American political divides, and in this fact lies a strength for those of us who wish to unite to change things. This is better than lots of nonfiction political books I have read recently. Radley Balko is truly indispensable on this issue and one of the very few people I respect who have blogged either at Huffington Post or at Reason. Go out and read this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An timely account!
drakevaughn More than 1 year ago
Balko presents a detailed and ideology-free account of the militarization of police forces across the United States. Much of the focus is on the negative aspects of this trend, such as SWAT teams raiding wrong homes and their overuse within the war on drugs, but by no means is this an anti-cop, or even an anti-SWAT team, book. Instead, Balko is careful to reinforce his points through hard stats printed in every chapter and uses a critical eye to suggest changes that would assist in making policing policy better for both civilians and cops. His level-headed reporting is so precise that he even begins by describing policing within colonial America, before continuing to modern times. The book reminds me of one of those terrific New Yorker articles that describe every minor facet, yet draw you in to the point where you’re unable to stop reading. Great reporting on a topic which deserves far more attention.
Mikey1969 More than 1 year ago
Wow... Very detailed and scary breakdown of the breakdown of our personal rights. More than just covering the increased militarization of the police, it covers just how or rights have eroded, from the original Castle Doctrine where police weren't able to serve warrants at night, and were required to give you time to get to the door if serving a warrant , to our current cycle of warrants only being a formality, and judges being to lazy to do anything more than rubber stamp a warrant, if one is even submitted. This has the added distinction of being one of the few nonfiction books that I have read cover to cover. Most books make their case in the first 75 pages or so, produce their evidence, argue their point, and then repeat and rehash the same 75 pages over and over. This book follows a very straight timeline, only touches back on earlier points when they are related to whatever is being discussed in that section. Every time that you think you couldn't possibly get more deserved, you turn the page and find out that the part in the last chapter that pissed you off is small potatoes compared to the next chapter. And the one after that. And the one after that... An so on. By the end of this book, you'll be reminiscing about those wonderful Rodney King riots, because they are so "normal" compared to the latest headlines.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book with tons of good information.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lived in L.A. during the 1960's and can relate to what the police were going through.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book makes a mountain out of nothing. The police have no tanks or offensive weapons from DoD.