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Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forcesby Radley Balko
Synopses & Reviews
The last days of colonialism taught Americas 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, Americas 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.
Todays 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. Nixons War on Drugs, Reagans War on Poverty, Clintons COPS program, the post9/11 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.
"'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)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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 todays 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 Americas 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. Balkos 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.
About 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 writer and investigative reporter for the Washington Post. Previously, he was a senior writer and investigative reporter for the Huffington Post, 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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