Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

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

Rate this book
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.

400 pages, Hardcover

First published July 9, 2013

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Radley Balko

6 books121 followers
Radley Balko is a opinion blogger at the Washington Post, where he writes the popular blog on civil liberties and the criminal justice system, The Watch., Balko’s work on paramilitary raids and the overuse of SWAT teams was featured in the New York Times, has been praised by outlets ranging from Human Events to the Daily Kos, and was cited by Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer in his dissent in the case Hudson v. Michigan.

Balko is also credited with bringing national attention to the case of Cory Maye, a black man who prior to Balko’s work was on death row in Mississippi for shooting and killing a white police officer during a raid on Maye’s home. Balko’s Reason feature on Maye was also cited in an opinion by the Mississippi State Supreme Court. National Journal also profiled Balko’s coverage of the case. Balko’s November 2007 investigative report on Mississippi medical examiner Steven Hayne won second place in the investigative reporting category for the 2007 Los Angeles Press Club awards.

Balko was formerly a policy analyst with the Cato Institute. He has been a columnist for FoxNews.com, a senior editor at Reason, and has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, Time, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Slate, Forbes, ESPN, the National Post, Worth and numerous other publications. Balko has also appeared on the BBC, CNN, CNBC, Fox News Channel, MSNBC and NPR.

Balko is also the author of Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces, published in 2013. He graduated from Indiana University with a degree in journalism and political science.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
1,727 (47%)
4 stars
1,398 (38%)
3 stars
376 (10%)
2 stars
73 (2%)
1 star
33 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 464 reviews
Profile Image for Andrea Augustinas.
Author 1 book5 followers
October 27, 2014
I don't usually review nonfiction books, particularly ones about topics on which I consider myself such a novice, but the pure dismay and frustration this book has inspired in me has forced me to change my policy, to advocate for this book as required reading for anyone who cares about the country we live in, and the ways which that country has chosen to enforce law, order, and justice.

If you've been watching the coverage of events like Ferguson and wondering why so many in positions of authority seem downright accustomed to seeing cops in full riot gear, armed to the teeth and more than willing to utilize force and other excessive measures, Balko provides the simple yet alarming answer: no one who makes or enforces law is outraged because they are the ones who have allowed police militarization, who have been allowing it for decades.

Balko manages to walk the line between keeping things interesting and anecdote-based, and peppering the stories he tells with cold, hard, well-cited facts. His book doesn't fall victim to what I'll call "documentary syndrome", where about 1/3 of the way in the point gets lost amid some dry analysis; rather, incident after incident is detailed with care, and every step of the legislative process which has made the militarization of America's police forces such a rampant problem weaves in between, painting a picture of gradual corruption for which responsibility is splashed across departments and divisions from the smallest peon town precincts to the men and women of the federal government.

Historical context is provided, from the origins of policing forces in the Roman empire to the founding fathers of the United States and their fear of a standing army within their new nation. This gives way to a discussion of legislation which began largely following the second world war, laws which allowed for never-before-seen powers for police officers including no-knock raids, laws regulating search warrants which have been weak at the best of times, and eventually the birth of the SWAT team in America. Looking at the evolution of police forces from this progressive perspective, it becomes clear that we've been building to events like Ferguson for years. And a surprising amount of otherwise reasonable people have done almost nothing to stop it.

It is unsurprising that Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan were quick to jump onto the militarization band wagon, obsessed as they both were with delivering a victory in the war on drugs (which was essentially just a war on the counter-culture of the sixties loathed by both of them). What seems more astonishing is the fact that liberals Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were and have been just as eager to prop up these laws and even increase police authority in the context of a changing world. Consider that "by the end of his first term, Barack Obama had overseen more federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries in four years than George W Bush had presided over in eight" (301). Sounds strange, right? Balko also reminds the reader of the startling fact that one of the main proponents of much of the legislation that has done away with civilians' fourth amendment rights in police matters is none other than the man currently one heartbeat away from the presidency, good old Joe Biden. Support for law enforcement's use of excessive measures has managed to become one of just a handful of issues that somehow transcends party lines as well as standing the test of time. As recently as 2011 funding was increased for programs enabling and encouraging the Defense Department to transfer their excess military equipment to police departments across the country, and there does not seem to be an end in sight.

More than anything, though, the theme of aggression in the incidents Balko details is striking, even as the names, dates, and purported offenses begin to stack up. Police officers have come to think of themselves as soldiers, as enforcers of the law against agitators who are "other" to them, men and women with whom they do not feel even a remote sense of camaraderie. They use their suspicions of citizens as part of circular reasoning which allows them to justify violent raids which come without any warning and which often result in property damage and even injury or death to individuals who have not even been charged with a crime. Profiling, heavy reliance on questionably reliable informants, and policies which encourage an "intimidate first, ask questions later" strategy, have created an atmosphere in which people fear the police, and in which they are in legitimate danger of getting on the wrong side of an officer who has literally been trained by military personnel, equipped with gear and weaponry that belong in Fallujah, and who thinks of himself as a warrior first and foremost.

You can read the rest of this review at my blog:
Profile Image for Christopher.
161 reviews11 followers
November 12, 2013
Book review - Warrior Cop

Balko starts out his book by say that it is not anti-cop and then proceeds to go on a 336 page anti-cop diatribe which unfortunately has taken away from some of the valid points that he raises.

I'm connected to the criminal justice field and have worked with members of SWAT teams. They do fill a vital roll but at the same time many of them have that "You're SWAT or not" attitude. Not all but a good many that I have encountered.

Throughout the book he cites example after example where someboody screwed up on the the law enforcement side but other than the North Hollywood bank robbery/shootout never gives another example of where SWAT did fulfill their function. Basically the book devolves into a 50 year history of all the bad things that SWAT teams have done. He loves to critize departments getting any type of armored vehicle but doesn't point out that in the NH shootout the police had to borrow a bank armored truck to rescue wounded officers and civilians pinned down by the gunmen's fire.

Many times Balko tries to justify his "militarization"theory by citing examples of any equipment that a law enforcment agency has received from the Department of Defense even if it was a used Humvee or a computer. He even cited a small agency receiving TWO M16 rifles as the department was now being militarized but never points out that before those rifles can be field that they have to be converted to single shot only. Balko takes that stand that because events like Columbine and the NH shootout are so rare that law eforcement really does not need to prepare for them. Many people don't realize that until SWAT arrived on scene in the NH shootout that patrol officers had to borrow rifles from a nearby gun store in order to start effectively engaging those two lunatics.

Another example of the "militaization" of law enforcement is that both use the same titles for ranks. Really!?

The book really takes an nose dive when he gets to the WTO riots in Seattle. By Balko's account this was completely the fault of the police and the protestors were just responding to the heavy handed force being used by the police. Afterall all they wanted to do was just mash things up to make a perfectly legitimate politcal statement. Balko then goes on to quote over and over, Norm Stamper who was the Seattle police chief at the time. The man who has been completely discredited in the law enforcement community as being wholly unprepared for what the protestors did. This is man who left his own officers on the line for hours with no breaks, no meals or any other support. I've been to training on planning for large scale special events. Guess who the example was of what not to do?

I agree with Balko that there are issues that need to be addressed but most of them are at the political level. The are a few things that can be done at the law enforcment left but only if a chief or sheriff has the backing. With that said the major disappointment in this book was the finally chapter "Reform". Most of it was once again look at the bad things SWAT teams have done. His actually reform proposals were condensed to about 4 pages with no real discussion about them other these grandiose ideas that he dismisses himself which just reinforces that the purpose of this book was to just bash SWAT teams.

I'm all for the legalization of marijuana. I equate it to Prohibition. With that said I started reading this book hoping that it was a critical examination of how tactical teams are used but it wasn't. It was just Balko's rant that tactical teams are just a bunch of trigger-happy neanderthal's that have no place in a civil society. There are even a couple of examples where he lets slip that this is his opinion of law enforcement in general. I really believe that Balko would be quite happy if all law enforcement is disarmed and just used harsh language when appropriate.
Profile Image for Jordan.
Author 4 books94 followers
November 24, 2014
Radley Balko's Rise of the Warrior Cop pulls a bit of a bait and switch. The book begins with a good summary of the origins of "Castle Doctrine" and the Constitution's Fourth Amendment; the former argues that, legally, a man's home is his castle, and entering it without permission amounts to an act of aggression, and the latter, which built on castle doctrine, protects American citizens from unreasonable search and seizure and established the legal requirement for warrants and probable cause.

These are live and important issues given recent events, and at first Balko seems to be laying out a history of the erosion of castle doctrine and fourth amendment protection. Balko uses case studies beginning in the 1950s to discuss breaches of fourth amendment rights by both federal and local police, breaches that not only violated civil rights but in a number of cases resulted in the deaths of civilians ostensibly protected by those rights. Balko also describes a number of incidents during the 1960s--including Charles Whitman's massacre at UT Austin but especially the Watts Riots--that raised concerns about the under-preparation of police for mass violence. The modern SWAT team, Balko shows, developed within the LAPD as a result of the lessons learned during those six days in Watts. The stage was set for the future "militarization" of American cops.

At this point Balko's focus shifts to the "War on Drugs" and barely looks back. Fourth Amendment rights are mere background to the rest of the book, in which Balko details a litany of botched drug raids, most of which involved civilian casualties. While Balko points out that the Nixon administration--and virtually every presidential administration thereafter--used drugs as an excuse to extend federal power, his obsessive focus on drugs implies that government overreach would not be a problem if marijuana were legalized.

What Balko does best in this book is invite outrage. "Wrong-door raids," in which police mistakenly pile into the homes of innocent people--sometimes the neighbors of their actual targets--are an especially infuriating idea, and Balko selects his numerous anecdotes for maximum outrage. He very clearly points out the way that, since the inception of SWAT teams, they have gone from specialized task forces to a first-response cure-all. He also shows quite well the difference between the US of a hundred years ago and the US now, in which Americans are so accustomed to the idea of SWAT teams that it takes a litany of outrageous stories to provoke questioning. Furthermore, when Balko talks about legislation--especially at the federal level, where much of the problem originates--his narrative is clear and concise and capably lays out the legal cause and the real world effect.

But the book has a lot of problems. First, and most minor, there are many small errors of basic fact. A handful of examples: the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, bombed by Timothy McVeigh in 1995, is referred to as the "Arthur Murrah" Federal Building (203). Navy SEALs are referred to as "Seals" (208). Police are described "blasting locks open with specialized explosives called shape chargers" (155); the correct term is "shaped charges." These in themselves are not damning, but they do not build confidence, especially when it comes to describing the technical equipment used by "militarized" police.

Balko, for someone very concerned about the rhetoric used to "dehumanize" drug users (passim), uses a lot of emotive language himself. Drug users are always "peaceful" or "peacefully smoking marijuana" in contrast to the police, who always burst in, rip doors from hinges, shout, swear, and point or even hold guns to the heads of those being raided. Wrong-door raids in particular are outrageous enough without painting them with such melodramatic language.

Like many libertarians, Balko attacks both sides of the aisle, which can be refreshing. But it is readily apparent whom Balko does and does not like when reading his book. He is always ready to play the hypocrisy card. For instance, here he describes George HW Bush's drug czar, William Bennett: "He had run both agencies [where he had previously served] as a proud moral scold. Which isn't to say he was a prude. Bennett was an obese man, a chain-smoker, and, the country would learn years later, he had a pretty serious jones for video poker" (164). Later, after quoting a G. Gordon Liddy rant in which Liddy advised people to shoot to kill if their homes were raided by the ATF, Balko muses, "It was some remarkable language to be coming from the guy who helped create ODALE, the Nixon-era office that sent narcotics task forces barreling into homes to make headline-grabbing busts" (199). But--without defending Liddy, about whom I know next to nothing--surely it does not amount to mere "cognitive dissonance" to care more about a federal raid to confiscate second amendment-protected firearms than a police raid to confiscate illegal drugs. In instances like these, it seems that Balko is simply incapable of considering the other side of an argument.

But the two biggest problems in the book have to do with Balko's focus. First is the issue of "militarization" itself. This is Balko's devil term throughout the book, and he never takes the time to define it. Anything "military" or "military-style" is anathema. Balko points out the rise of SWAT teams, which receive literal military training, as well as the adoption of assault rifles, grenade launchers, and even armored personnel carriers (which Balko refers to a few times as "tanks"). Balko confusingly describes a South Carolina police unit that had just received an APC "with a belt-fed rotating machine gun turret capable of firing .50-caliber rounds of ammunition" (239). But he also repeatedly points out police units that have used "military" computers and clothing. Balko even condemns a police force that switched from the .38 Special revolver to the .45 automatic, the standard US Army sidearm for 80 years (230). This particular instance betrays a lack of understanding of firearms, as the .45 is actually a downgrade in penetrative power--a good thing considering the triggerhappy cops Balko describes throughout.

Second, the narrative Balko is selling is that, since the late 1960s, police forces have been egged on to greater "militarization" because of an unwinnable war against drug users, a war furthered by corrupt legislation that allows polices forces to seize and use assets (a very good point) and resulting in an often literal assault on fourth amendment rights. There's a lot to this; the problem is that there's more to it. The erosion of constitutional rights and the war on drugs are a chicken-and-egg argument. If Balko wanted to provide a comprehensive history of the "militarization" of police forces and the breach of constitutional rights, he'd have to go back further, much further than he does. He briefly mentions the Palmer Raids of the early 1920s but moves quickly on to his main subject--the rise of SWAT and the war on drugs. The Palmer Raids occurred during the Red Scare, and 50,000 suspected Bolshevik or anarchist revolutionaries were monitored with warrantless wiretaps, raided, arrested without warrant and held in violation of habeus corpus, and of them several hundred were eventually deported. The basis for all of that was a series of bombings analogous to the violent events of the 1960s, with the exception that legislation already existed to support these unconstitutional arrests--Wilson's Sedition Act of 1918. If he wanted to talk specifically about "militarization" he could talk about the widespread adoption by police forces of Browning Automatic Rifles and Thompson submachine guns, considered antiques today but cutting-edge military hardware during the 1920s. The fight against mobs and bootleggers at this time is pretty clearly analogous to the modern war on drugs, but the latter is all Balko cares to talk about.

The point is that militarization and the breach of constitutional rights is a much bigger problem than the war on drugs; it's ultimately a problem of how much authority rests in the federal government, not with which problems it tries to fix. A government that would launch a war on drugs would militarize and violate the fourth amendment for any number of other reasons--and has.

Recommended on the basis of its extensive anecdotal evidence and with those problems in mind.
Profile Image for Stephanie McGarrah.
97 reviews122 followers
March 21, 2019
First off, you have to ignore the blatantly false statement made at the very beginning where he makes the absurd claim that during colonial times "predatory crimes like murder, rape, and robbery were almost non-existent." But I'm no historian so what do I know.

Unless your an American who has been actually living in an isolation chamber without any media whatsoever for the past few decades, you have noticed the increased militarization of law enforcement. I didn't do any research on the author but I have a sneaky suspicion they are libertarian. I read this for a history of SWAT though, so their political inclinations don't matter to me as much as their knowledge. I just didn't want to read a polemic, which is why I completely ignored the last chapter on reforms.

What's interesting about libertarian's views on law enforcement, and Balko rightly points this out, is that they are so blatantly contradictory. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say it's a racial thing. The contradiction is while libertarians are (rightfully) hostile to the curtailing of individual rights and broadening of police powers, there are crickets when a young black man is killed.

I don't need statistics to tell me that the largest demographic represented in libertarian circles are middle aged white men. Even a breach of a black family's property, their sacred cow and one spoken a whole lot about (see the castle doctrine) in Rise of the Warrior Cop, isn't compelling enough for there to be outrage from that ideological sewer. Anyways, the book makes it clear that these contradictions are part of the larger issue of the right and left both raising a shitstorm when something bad happens to them, but then gloating when that same thing happens to the people they don't like. I'm an anarchist on the sideline with no stake in this conversation, and I see this hashed out on social media all the time.

ROTWC is more of a 3 star book because ultimately I wanted something with a little more depth than statistics, but I'm bumping it up because cops are disgusting and there are some truly horrifying accounts inside of how police operate on both a mental and physical level and the role of politicians fear mongering. What could be more relevant today to ponder as we enter into deeper level's of hell. I'm not sure how many people know it was the democrats, particularly Biden who, in a bid to distance themselves from their opponents allegations that they are soft on crime, signed off on some truly draconian crime bills before the republicans could throw there's down, as well as playing on fears of rising crime, which funnily enough Americans believe is a problem even when studies show it's going down, so it's clearly a bipartisan moral crusade.

As for myself, it was confirmation of what I already knew. I'm too old to have been alive when cops wore dress blues without bullet proof vests and weren't armed. That time has long past. There too many stories like the ones in this book, the last I read was of the scandals surrounding the vice squad that picked up Stormy Daniels (one allegation being the officer forced two women to have sex under threat of arrest) at a strip club. Look up officer involved shooting and you will see at least one high profile case being tried, which as everybody knows is just for show as the cops are rarely convicted, and, sadly, fresh blood spilled that we can often watch on a body cam at a later date.

Profile Image for Brendan Monroe.
569 reviews149 followers
April 7, 2018
I've been binging on a buffet of depressing non-fiction books lately, detailing the way in which the world, and America in particular, is terribly screwed up. It's the anti anti-depressant and the inspiration for my new Goodreads tag, "Death, Drugs, and Political Corruption".

But the thing about social issues is that some can be explained very quickly - problem, example 1, example 2, how to fix it, done - and some require much more time to understand the full gravity of the situation. Basically, can John Oliver adequately explain it in 20 minutes or do we need a book on it?

The militarization of America's police forces is one of those issues that I think could be covered pretty adequately in 20 minutes. That's not to say it isn't an important issue, it absolutely is, but only that I could have done without 300+ of this book's 400 and some odd pages. While truly well-researched, I didn't feel that I really needed quite the level of detail that Radley Balko goes into here. The final 20 minutes of "Last Week Tonight" or a nice, lengthy NPR interview with the author would have satisfied me just fine.

Instead, I kept feeling at times like I was already full and on the verge of puking my guts back up. I've lived in America for most of my life so I was well aware of the militarization of America's police forces before I started reading. Hearing all the individual stories about how bad the situation is and how it got to this point ultimately taught me nothing because I'd already presumed that it was really bad and that it had gotten really bad due to both horrible leadership (namely, Nixon, Reagan, and basically everyone who came after), the failed War on Drugs (hence the "Drugs" part of my aforementioned tag. It seems just about every problem in America today can be traced back to the moronic "War on Drugs"), and the fear of added terrorist attacks after September 11th.

According to Balko, it looks like I was right.

Balko's book is divided into decades, which means we can hear how the problem grew out of the 1950s and 60s and how it rapidly ramped up in every subsequent decade. The army supplies police forces with weaponry, politicians and courtrooms have drastically watered down search and seizure laws, as well as the so-called "Castle Doctrine" (the basis for some states' "Stand your ground" laws), which states that a person can use deadly force to defend his or her property, person, etc., and policing has moved out of the community. All big problems, but once the War on Drugs is mentioned, the spotlight is turned full force on marijuana laws.

If you are highly interested in this subject, then you'll find a lot to love about Balko's book (starting with the guy's name - Radley Balko. I mean, how cool is that?) If your interest is more casual - you know there is a problem and just want a bit more information on it - then you should save your time and just find an interview with the author online.
Profile Image for wally.
2,373 reviews
September 2, 2016


5-stars for the information herein. contained here is a powerful statement about the state of our union and the manner and method whereby our police have become a kind of standing army, rarely held accountable for actions others would be and have been prosecuted. forget whatever preconceived idea you entertain about the militarization of our police, you owe it to yourself and your family to read this. if you are not alarmed and angered you have no heart and we are without hope. please read this.

Profile Image for Sean O'Hara.
Author 19 books91 followers
September 11, 2013
I wish I could write a coherent review of this book, but just thinking about the abuses of civil rights presented in this book makes me angry beyond the capacity for rational thought.
Profile Image for Ray.
1,047 reviews46 followers
October 16, 2014
I just finished "Rise of the Warrior Cops", and was about to add my comments here when I came across an article written today (October 24th) by Radley Balko for the Huffington Post. The article, the first of a six part series, capatures the essence of the book, e.g., too many drug raids gone wrong based on too much militarization of the Police Forces, and having this military capacity, too much tendency to over utilize this force in minor situations. Balko claims not to be anti-cop, but rather is simply against the policies which foster the over use of force against minor pot smokers, grandmothers, and neighborhood nickle-dime poker games. Balko's article tells the story of the book much better than I ever could, so I copied most of the Balko article below, with credit to the author and the Huffington Post.

This article is the first in a six-part series about the drug war and police reform.

OGDEN, Utah -- It's late summer, and the house at 3268 Jackson Ave. has been boarded up for months. The front door, riddled with bullet holes, is pasted over with police tape and a "No Trespassing" sign. As Erna Stewart pries open the door, shards of glass from the edges of its already shattered window fall to the ground.

The air inside is stale and hard to breathe. Belongings are strewn about. There's a dusty television, an answering machine, a computer printer still in its box, some video games stacked on bookshelves. The police have ripped up sections of floor that had been soaked with blood, leaving a scar in the bathroom and another in the kitchen.

More bullet holes call out from all sides: the walls, the doors, the ceiling, the floor, the windows, the molding, the kitchen cabinets. Two of the bullets hit the brick siding of a neighbor's house. One pierced a bedroom window. The trail of damage leads out to the pock-marked backyard and the shed where Erna's brother-in-law, Matthew, attempted to take refuge.

Between 130 and 250 bullets were fired in all, according to various accounts, an arsenal's worth. A cleaning service recently found a bullet while vacuuming.

In the basement, in a small room to the left of the stairs, there's a large pile of tubing and plastic containers. It's here that Matthew David Stewart, a 37-year-old Army veteran, committed the crime that precipitated the armed raid on his home -- an assault that left one police officer dead and five others wounded, and eventually led to Stewart's death as well. It's here that he grew marijuana.

Michael Stewart says his son, a former paratrooper, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety, and may have been self-medicating. Others have suggested that he smoked pot to alleviate his shyness and social awkwardness. Perhaps the pot was simply for pleasure. There were 16 plants in all. But there is no evidence that he ever sold the drug, and there were no complaints from neighbors.

Still, on the night of Jan. 4, 2011, 12 members of the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force assembled in the parking lot of the church across the street from Stewart's house. At 8:30 p.m., according to a neighbor, they exchanged high-fives. Then they broke down Stewart's door with a battering ram.

The police claim to have knocked and announced themselves several times. But Stewart said he never heard them. He worked the graveyard shift at a local Walmart and was asleep at the time. Awaking to the sound of armed men storming into his house, he jumped out of bed, naked, threw on a bathrobe and grabbed his 9-millimeter Beretta.

Who shot first remains in dispute. But after exchanging fire with the officers for about 20 minutes, Stewart dove out a bedroom window and attempted to take shelter in the shed behind his house. The police opened fire on the shed, "lighting it up," as one officer later put it. Stewart, who had been shot in the arm and the hip, crawled out and surrendered.

One of the members of the strike force, Jared Francom, 30, had been shot seven times, and died at the scene. Stewart was arrested, taken to the hospital for his injuries, and charged with murder.

Francum's death elicited a wave of "cop killer" outrage directed at Stewart. Eight days after the raid,Weber County Attorney Dee Smith announced that he'd be seeking the death penalty. As more details emerged, however, a growing chorus of critics began to question whether the aggressive police tactics had really been necessary, and whether the battle on Jackson Avenue could have been avoided entirely.

An editorial in the Salt Lake Tribune asked why the police decided to wage"a military-style attack on a small-time weed grower." The editors of Ogden's Standard-Examiner expressed similar concerns over "beefed-up police tactics" and called for a "re-evaluation of how local law enforcement handles its duties, particularly concerning raids and late-night police procedures."

"It’s very clear that middle-of-the-night arrest warrant servings by armed officers need to be reconsidered," the editors wrote.

In the months following the raid, a number of other controversial police actions hit the news. Police in Salt Lake City broke into the home of a 76-year-old woman during a mistaken drug raid. A SWAT team in Ogden went to the wrong address in search of a man who had gone AWOL from the Army and ended up pointing its guns at an innocent family of four. Two narcotics detectives shot and killed a young woman in a suburb of Salt Lake City as she sat in her car.

Together, these incidents have spawned a budding police reform movement in Utah. At the head of it, Stewart's family members have been joined by a political odd couple: Jesse Fruhwirth, a longtime progressive activist rabble-rouser, and Connor Boyack, a wonky libertarian with a background in Republican politics. And independently, in Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County, the police chief and lead prosecutor have already begun to adopt some unconventional, reform-minded approaches to crime and punishment.

That Utah, one of the most conservative states in the country, would become a hotbed for police reform, is surprising. But these reformers have carefully crafted their approach, honed a message that seems to be resonating with the community, and won over some early converts. As botched raids and excessive SWAT-style tactics have gained increasing notoriety around the country, other communities may soon be looking to Utah as a model for less aggressive but more effective approaches to public safety.

* * * * *
The tip about the marijuana plants came from an ex-girlfriend of Stewart's named Stacy Wilson. They had dated for about a year and a half but broke up in the summer of 2010. Erna Stewart introduced them. "I still feel guilty about that," she says. "He caught her cheating on him, they broke up, and it ended really badly. She was angry with him. He was heartbroken. She tried to get him fired from his job. She really had it out for him."

Wilson reported Stewart to a tip line that the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force, a federally funded anti-drug task force that serves both counties, set up to collect information about illicit drugs.

In a bus ad promoting the initiative, the strike force members pose in full SWAT attire: armor, face masks, camouflage and guns. The tip line number is at the top of the ad, along with a plea for citizens to report "drug abuse," a term more often associated with drug use than with distribution. Below the photo, the ad reads, "We've got your back!"

According to police documents, Wilson called the tip line in November 2010, two months before the raid, and spoke with Officer Jason Vanderwarf. Vanderwarf visited Stewart's house three times, but no one answered. After finding what he described as signs of a marijuana grow, however, he filed an affidavit to get the warrant.

That appears to be the extent of the investigation. The police never ran a background check on Wilson to assess her credibility. In fact, after their initial conversation, Vanderwarf said that he was "unable to contact her." He later told investigators that "She kinda fell off the face of the earth."

Neither Wilson nor officials from the Ogden Police Department and Weber County Sheriff's Department responded to requests for comment.

What is clear, however, is that if instead of raiding the house, the police had simply arrested Stewart as he was leaving to go to work, or as he was coming home, or even at his job at Walmart, there would have been two fewer funerals in Ogden.
101 reviews3 followers
February 5, 2014
I don't remember when I first heard the parable of the boiled frog - that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. This parable is not technically true, but as a metaphor it covers many real-life evolutions, including the topic of this book - the gradual militarization of our civilian police forces from the late 1960s to the present, and the concomitant erosion of constitutional protections and the "original" Castle Doctrine - focused not specifically on defending our home, but rather our general entitlement to peace in our home except under extraordinary circumstances.

I dare to say that this book is a must read for anyone concerned, as I am, about the militarization of our domestic police forces, and the brutality of the "wars" they fight: the wars on drugs, terrorism, etc. Triggered and fed by the cynicism of politicians of all stripes, who have no qualms about whipping the population into a frenzy that benefits them, these wars have led not only to increase militarization, but to the use of the resulting militarized forces in ever-more-trivial scenarios. There is a justification for SWAT teams and the like, but there is very little justification for how they have come to be really used - mostly serving warrants on low-level, non-violent criminals, and that's when the get things right. When they get things wrong, as they do often (but lack of transparency means we don't know how often), they terrorize the completely innocent, put lives at risk (and take them - humans and pets - with nearly complete impunity.

This heavily annotated work covers a huge range of topics:
- The history of militarization
- The incentives, from special civil forfeiture laws covering federal drug crime, to the reuse of military gear whether it's needed or not, to "community policing" funds being distributed with no care as to their use, etc
- The lack of oversight, accountability, and transparency - how courts' complacency (on warrants and rights) and various "support the police" laws have led to a lower standard for police behavior, not a higher one
- How militarization can affect recruiting, and perpetuates an "us" versus "them" view
- How violence begets violence (including police deaths), but how ironically SWAT teams typically do the "bad ass bust down the door" only when they DON'T expect the occupants to be firing back

This is not an anti-cop book. It's a book about how the system is broken, and how lack of accountability and consequences leads inevitably to bad outcomes. And if you had any before, you will have few political heroes left: Nixon, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Obama, and very especially then-Senator Biden --> they all escalated this in various ways. All too often, the party out of power is outraged at police brutality against certain groups, only to embrace it against other groups when power is attained.

It is not hopeless. Social media and the proliferation of camera phones means that many things that were hidden are now seen. The indiscriminate and unaccountable killing of pets does, for some reason, often raise more hackles than the risk that is imposed on innocent children when violent raids happen (to innocent people or non-violent ones). But it is grim. In many ways, our police forces are MORE militarized - with less oversight - than our military!

This book aligns with my libertarian beliefs, and my cynical view of politicians, so I'm not surprised that I like it. But the author, a Huffington Post writer now but a former staffer at Reason Magazine, makes what I find to be a strong case against rampant militarization and especially the widespread application of this force. I stand ready to read a rebuttal - one that is as well supported and thoughtful in support of: SWAT raids on barber shops, police departments with tanks and 50-cal machine guns, no accountability for mistakes, and the many positive benefits of the war on drugs. Just point me to it...
17 reviews1 follower
December 4, 2013
An overview of the continuing militarization of the police in this country, post Drug War and 9-11.

I began reading this after the Boston Marathon Bombing. In the days following, The city was placed on total lockdown, with heavily armed policemen in all matter of armored vehicles. It wasn't long until the guns started firing, cross fire between the police and the fugitives, bullets entering homes, breaking glass, with horrified citizens looking on. The "black comedy" event, however was when scores of heavily armed police fired over 300 rounds into a boat where the "terrorist" was hiding, somehow failing to kill him.

Somewhere in the US today, A SWAT team will arrive at a private residence, throw flash-bang grenades and kick in the door. They'll force occupants to the floor at gunpoint and start tearing the place apart. They will use profanity and screaming. They may kill the family dog. And if they don't find anything, or it turns out they came to the wrong address, you don't get an apology.

More and more, police sentiment is that the general public is the enemy. More and more, SWAT teams and police squads are being used to serve drug warrants, enforce regulatory issues and quell political dissent.
Profile Image for Gerald Churchill.
8 reviews47 followers
April 22, 2014
Radley Balko's Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces is polemic. It takes a position on the militarization of American law enforcement. By militarization, Balko means the use of the military in policing, law enforcement training with the military, law enforcement acquiring military weapons, and the use of military tactics in dealing with the public. He points out that the militarization of American policing has supported or been supported by court decisions that have narrowed constitutional rights and by policy decisions-President Nixon's war on crime (and drugs), President Reagan's war on drugs, President Clinton's war on crime, and Bush the Younger/Obama's war on terror.

Balko begins by pointing out that American rights to the sanctity of the home in Anglo-American law originated with the Castle Doctrine, the notion that "a man's home is his castle" and that government could not violate the sanctity of the home without just cause and without giving the owner time to answer the door when law enforcement knocked on it. The abuse or disregard of the Doctrine during the rupture with Great Britain led Americans to write the Third and Fourth Amendments into the United States Constitution. The disregard of the Doctrine during the rupture with Great Britain led Americans to write the Third and Fourth Amendments into the United States Constitution. The country moved in fits and starts toward the militarization of law enforcement during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

In the 1960s, the urban riots and a number of spectacular crimes such as Charles Whitman's mass killing at the University of Texas at Austin led to up-and-coming Los Angeles policeman Daryl Gates forming the nation's first SWAT team. The team consulted with the military, as the military had much of the experience that the team needed to draw on. It had a nationally televised baptism of fire during the Symbionese Liberation Army standoff in 1974. The gun battle, in which SLA members shot it out with the LAPD until they were burned alive inside of a house, seemed to the nation's law-and-order advocates, particularly police officers, to justify forming SWAT teams.

The tumult of the sixties and early seventies led to President Nixon declaring war on crime, particularly on drugs, which he and many American conservatives linked to the counterculture. The "silent majority" to which Nixon appealed wanted action to restore law and order. He gave it to them. Task forces were formed that carried out drug raids with no-knock warrants. In addition, Congress passed crime bills that allowed for preventive detention and no-knock warrants. Court decisions upheld police actions. (Terry v. Ohio, a 1968 U.S. Supreme Court decision, lowered the threshold for stopping and searching from probable cause to what the Court termed "reasonable suspicion.")

The beat got louder during the 1980s. President Reagan's war on drugs prescribed harsher penalties for drug offenders and more raids to capture more drugs. Police crackdowns were coupled with asset forfeiture, in which the assets of the accused-not the convicted-were sold, with cooperating agencies getting cuts of the rake-off. That led to cities forming SWAT teams to carry out more drug raids to acquire more money in asset forfeiture and federal grants. The militarization of American policing now had a financial incentive.

President Clinton's war on crime consisted of the COPS program, which supposedly put 100,000 thousand police officers on American streets (the actual numbers are debated) and eviction of drug users from public housing, which required SWAT teams. Court decisions continued to buttress police actions-to the point of gutting the Fourth Amendment--and spectacular crimes, such as the Columbine school shootings, the Branch Davidian standoff, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the North Hollywood bank robbery/gunfight, justified the possession and use of SWAT teams to the public.

The September 11 attacks escalated the militarization of law enforcement. Communities needed SWAT teams to round up real, suspected, and imagined terrorists. The war on crime continued, of course, with more raids searching for more drugs being carried out. In addition, SWAT teams were used to police peaceful nonviolent demonstrations and to serve warrants for minor offenses such as unpaid traffic tickets and to enforce regulatory decrees.

Balko writes in an agreeable style, although sometimes he becomes too colloquial, referring to Reagan administration Secretary of Education William Bennett as having "a jones for video poker." I admit to being a member of the choir to whom Balko preached, but he introduced me to aspects of militarization, particularly the financial aspect of it, that I had not considered before reading the book. He points out that arms firms lobby to sell weapons that have proven themselves on battlefields to policemen. The policemen do not consider whether an armored personnel carrier with a heavy machine gun is appropriate for a domestic police force. In addition, there is a keep-up-with-the-Joneses mentality that mandates that a town have a SWAT team if its neighbor has one. Moreover, the vulnerability that the 9/11 attacks exposed caused police chiefs and mayors to say, "It could happen here, too."

If you need horror stories, you will find them in Rise of the Warrior Cop. SWAT teams sometimes go to the wrong address. Families are terrorized, homes are damaged, and pets and innocent people are sometimes shot. Occasionally, people who think that the officers entering their homes without identifying themselves are home invaders shoot those officers. Balko points out that police forces have sought veterans without necessarily ensuring that those veterans are psychologically suited to police work. Perhaps many of the readers who have had routine encounters with policemen over parking tickets, traffic tickets, or nonfunctioning tail lights would agree. That background, along with police academy training and service with likeminded policemen, tends to create an us-or-them mentality that bodes poorly for routine encounters with the people whom they serve.

Balko notes that statistics and experience do not justify the us-or-them mentality, which mandates that the cop do whatever he or she must do to get home alive. Statistically, police work has gotten safer since the 1970s, with 2012 being the safest year for police officers since the 1950s. Violent crime has decreased for the last 20 years. However, this mentality has led to police investigators rarely questioning whether officers should have drawn, much less fired, their weapons, and officers rarely being brought to book for questionable shootings.

The book questions the use of SWAT teams in some situations. At the Columbine school shooting, SWAT arrived 45 minutes after the shooting started and did not attempt to enter the building even though the gunmen were still shooting. The reason given was preserving the lives of policemen. Instead, the SWAT team searched students who escaped from the school. Eventually, the shooters shot themselves. If an elite unit cannot be used in a school shooting for fear of some of its members being killed, when can it be used?

Balko concludes by suggesting reforms based on terminating the drug war, which necessitates most of the SWAT raids; ceasing SWAT raids for regulatory agencies, illegal gambling, underage drinking, and other situations for which they are not necessary; recording forced-entry raids and warrants in publicly accessible databases, along with judges and prosecutors and the warrants that they seek and do or do not sign off on, as well as departments that receive federal funding being required to record officer shootings; employing community policing to decrease the tension between public and officers; changing police culture from an us-or-them mentality to one based more on negotiation and dispute resolution; more accountability among policemen, who can use police unions and the Blue Wall of Silence to cover up wrongful activity; and increased public attention to police misconduct and increased pressure on politicians. Balko's last paragraph is the most important one of the book. It reads as follows.

"No, America today isn't a police state. Far from it. But it would be foolish to wait until it becomes one to become concerned."

Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces is a provocative, informative look at the trends of militarization of law enforcement and courts and policies that narrow American rights. It is a clarion call. I give it four stars.
Profile Image for Liberté.
217 reviews
July 6, 2020
This is a very well researched and written book. Balko's thesis is primarily that the drug war, pushed from the federal level, expanded the reach and extent of the police in American cities. That thesis fits with what I've read before. I found it interesting that the military objects to the term "militarization" of the police not because they don't agree that the police have become more violent towards Americans, but because they think militarization requires more organization and training than police agencies have bothered to engage in.

My one critique of the book is that at times Balko concedes that the police may have been justified in the use of force at a particular point in history. General laws should not allow for exceptions, because that is how we got where we are today. A S.W.A.T. force was "justified" in one instance, and because the precedent was set, we get S.W.A.T. forces all over the country. However, Balko only concedes this point a few times in the book, and he is making the case that the book is not "anti-cop" -- but rather anti-militarization.

One item of note is that the book doesn't include any discussion of the racial component that may drive police violence, or of the Black Lives Matter movement, but this book was published before the movement really took off. The book is also focused more on the causes and reasons behind the growth in police violence and militarization -- the exercise of racism is possibly an outcome rather than a cause of militarization.

The book is also very well cited, making it a great resource and starting point for someone interested in learning more about this topic.
Profile Image for Samuel.
195 reviews3 followers
March 10, 2020
Radley Balko definitely did his research for Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces. This book will make most sensible citizens upset with story after story of the trampling of the Fourth Amendment rights by the offers we hire to protect us. Happening gradually over the past 50 years, Rise of the Warrior Cop reads almost like a law history book but with real world drama mixed in. James Madison warned us that "There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." Well that moment has passed and we're seeing the results everyday in the news. The take away from Balko's well written account reminds us that step one to solving the militarization of our police offers is to become aware and care. This book should be read by politicians, judges, and offers alike to remind them that we hire police offers to protect and serve, not to terrorize law abiding citizens with weapons and machines intended for war.
Profile Image for Kevin Underhill.
Author 1 book12 followers
September 29, 2014
I had trouble putting this book down. This is a very well-researched, well-written book about a really scary development in US society. Not only are police forces more and more heavily armed, police are more and more willing to use those weapons. Balko writes about SWAT raids being conducted for all kinds of non-violent offenses, and several of these have resulted in someone's death. Sometimes the cops aren't even at the right house.

The book will (or should) make you mad but that's a good thing in this case. Definitely an important book. It's very clearly written, so it's a good read despite the heavy subject matter.
Profile Image for Stephen Adkins.
27 reviews
February 7, 2019
[Shelved under Dystopia]
[Shelved under Horror]

This is probably the most unsettling, dread inducing book I can remember reading. Highly recommended!

But seriously, the problem of police militarization is bipartisan in nature, and having read through the extensive accounts of botched raids that resulted in deaths, maimings, and terrorization of the innocent (remember, citizens of the US are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in court), the rapid expansion of SWAT tactics throughout the country, the use of pre-dawn no-knock raids on people merely suspected of non-violent offenses, the murder of dogs, the grenading of sleeping children in their cribs, all I can say is I fear for the future of The Land Of The Free. The Department of Education has SWAT Teams, ostensibly for dunning student loan delinquents? So does the FDA, which it uses to raid doctors offices in order to make sure they aren’t overprescribing pain meds, and to raid family farms that produce unpasteurized milk. Barber shops have been raided by SWAT Teams, without a warrant, simply to check that their license is up to date. Barbering without a license is a misdemeanor for which jail time is hardly ever sentenced. Casual poker games with $5 buy-ins have been raided, guns a-blazing, in which people died. Bars are raided in order to check that alcohol is properly labeled. This is all indicative of a shoot first ask later mentality, and police who murder people are rarely punished, or even made to apologize. There is an elderly couple in Brooklyn whose home was wrongfully raided over 50 times in a 3 year span. They have no recourse but to complain, but their complaints go unaddressed. People are currently serving jail time, even facing capital punishment, for having defended their homes against unannounced home invasions by masked, armor clad intruders who break down doors and windows at 3am, tossing in flash grenades and tear gas, often in the wrong homes. Even when the raids are at the correct location, the attitude of the police has generally flipped the presumption of innocence on its head. If, after destroying a front door, killing a dog, screaming at terrified people in the middle of the night while pointing a gun at their head, ziptying children and holding them face down on the floor for hours, all without warrant, or with a rubber stamped warrant backed only by the word of unreliable confidential informants; if after arrests are made, lives shattered, and careers threatened, police decide the whole thing was a mistake and drop charges, they simply shrug and move on. No accountability. At worst a slap on the wrist. Maybe paid vacation for the offending officer. Maybe a settlement, paid for by the taxpayers. Just heinous. One particularly despair-inducing case involved a drug raid of a home (in which no drugs were ultimately found), wherein an officer, pointing his gun at the head of an 11 year old boy, accidentally discharged his weapon at close range, killing the child instantly. The outcome was a 3 million dollar settlement to the family, borne by the taxpayers, and no professional repercussions for the soldier, I mean policeman.

The author provides a compelling history of policing in this country, and in England before colonization of the new world. We are reminded of the castle doctrine, which was a foundational principle of the founders and the English common law. The founders all had an instinctive aversion to the idea of a standing army, and codified as much in the 3rd amendment, which guarantees the right against quartering of soldiers. Much of the author’s analysis centers on the nearly 50 year drug war, which only reestablishes the historically obvious point that prohibition does not work. Worse, the War on Drugs incentivizes police departments toward ever more draconian tactics, and it provides them with military grade equipment, like tanks, grenade launchers, machine guns, and so on. Civil asset forfeiture has allowed the police to become legally sanctioned armed robbers, and the spoils of their piracy finance the SWAT teams that carry it out. Mission creep means the intended “last-resort” nature of SWAT is transformed into ever more mundane police work. The initial justification is that the police need to overawe any criminals which might threaten the public, so they stockpile tanks, grenades, drones, sound cannons, and sniper rifles. But with the new hammers, even routine police work begins to look like a whole lot of nails. So SWAT comes to Small Town, America to anticipate the next columbine, yet it ends up being used on those suspected of nonviolent crimes, mainly drugs.

The police unions are basically untouchable, since the left will rarely go after a public sector union of any kind, and the right will rarely say anything bad about law enforcement. Regular people tend not to identify with criminals, so this problem strikes most as foreign, and probably justified since you must be doing something wrong for the police to be interested in raiding your house or business. But as the author makes clear, so often those who experience raids not only are innocent, they simply have the misfortune of living in a house that perhaps looks like the house of a suspect, or a CI gave bad information, or a police analyst put the wrong address in the system. And in any event, our free society is supposed to uphold the standard that the State cannot use force against its citizens without proving that they are guilty of some crime. So this problem of police brutality against those who possibly committed a crime but still need their day in court has gradually morphed into the reality that anyone could potentially be assaulted in their own home in the middle of the night, suffering property damage or much worse, and have no recourse except a citizens complaint board that has no oversight or transparency.

In the conclusion of the book, the author points out that many military service members take issue with the term “police militarization,” not because they disagree with the substance of the argument, but because even the military has more oversight, accountability, and professionalism when they carry out investigations against suspected terrorists and insurgents abroad. If anything, the police have become more militarized than the military, which is not a pleasant thought.

As Balko reiterates multiple times, this book is not intended to be anti-cop. It is ultimately anti-politician. For every rogue cop on a power trip, there are likely dozens of good people trying to do their job. However, the system is such that bad cops are able to operate with impunity, while good cops are incentivized toward bad behavior. The only way to change policing is to change policy, and that starts with the drug war.
Profile Image for Donna.
3,875 reviews7 followers
May 18, 2015
I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked this up. It was a little dry, but I actually liked this. It poses the question, "Who watches the watchers?"

Local law enforcement has evolved over the decades. This book covers the current militarization of the police force. In this book there are many different stories where the local law enforcement agencies behave badly, even when it falls under the the long arm of being 'acceptable' under the current laws and guidelines. It isn't a positive light that is centered on the police and I gather that is the reason behind this book. It uses each story to then say what changes, if any, occurred after being caught in questionable and often moral-questioning circumstances. Often times, in these gray areas, questions are asked and often lies are told to protect the status quo.

This was probably 3 stars for me. But I LOVED how the author chose to direct his wrap up at the end. He posed some great questions and also stated that this evolving police power is still ongoing. So 4 stars it is.

Profile Image for Siria.
1,749 reviews1,265 followers
January 3, 2015
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.
Profile Image for James.
Author 8 books87 followers
June 18, 2016
Grim and gripping. Balko (who has some excellent presentations on this topic on YouTube and appeared as a guest expert on John Oliver's show Last Week Tonight when Oliver presented a lengthy piece on militarized law enforcement) did impeccable, in-depth research and writes clearly and forcefully. As he goes to some lengths to make clear, this is NOT an anti-police book - he admires good cops and good police departments, but is not willing to let those guilty of incompetence or abuse off the hook.
More importantly, he points up the systemic problems that have gotten us where we are - the federal government's giveaways of military equipment to civilian law enforcement agencies, its giving agencies financial incentives to prioritize counter-drug raids even on peaceful medical marijuana dispensaries operating in accordance with state laws over investigation and action on violent crimes, and the ways police departments are encouraged to use SWAT teams and violent tactics like no-knock raids for more and more purposes far beyond the life-and-death situations for which they were originally created and for which they are still the best and sometimes only suitable response (with the proviso that when practical, a SWAT team's best strategy is to negotiate and try to end standoffs nonviolently.)
As a former supervisor of mine said many times, every system is perfectly designed to produce exactly the outcomes that it's producing, and if we want different outcomes the solution isn't to ID the culprits and punish them (although that may be necessary too); it's to correct the system. Balko offers clear and sensible suggestions as to how we could do that, too, if the political will were there. This trend is a juggernaut and will be hard to turn around, but we have to try.
Profile Image for Ryan.
975 reviews
August 4, 2020
Published in 2014, Radley Balko's Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces provides a history of police in the United States. Balko is, from what I can tell, a libertarian journalist who has written for many outlets, including Reason, Fox News, and The Washington Post. I read it in 2020 for obvious reasons.

Balko's history roughly starts with the Revolutionary Generation and the Fourth Amendment. Balko explains Castle Doctrine, which I understand as valuing private property so much that the government should not invade it arbitrarily. The Founding Fathers also were very skeptical of using the military against the country's citizens, which Balko calls "direct militarization." Police in America can be tied to groups empowered to kidnap black people in the North, which is disturbing. Over time, the police were made more like soldiers through "indirect militarization," which, as Balko explains, "happens when police agencies and police officers take on more and more characteristics of the army" (34) and Castle Doctrine has been weakened to the point that it's all but non-existent.

Indirection militarization is founded on Nixon's War on Drugs and the creation of the SWAT teams. SWAT, interestingly, stands for Special Weapons and Tactics, though the original title was Special Weapons Attack Team. (I also note without further comment that there is a magazine called SWAT, which is run by Larry Flynt Publications.) Over time, SWAT teams began to push for no-knock warrants and raids. These raids sound awful and dangerous. It's amazing how often they arrive at the wrong address, knock down the door, shoot people's pets, and then murder civilians. At one point, a police officer refuses the SWAT strategy and just knocks on the door of a group of Hell's Angels. They come out and are arrested; no violence. I note with concern that Balko includes accounts from police who find raids thrilling. (Oddly, celebrity observers including Shaquille O'Neal, Matt Damon, and professional athletes also appear to find these raids thrilling.)

In the 21st century, the War on Drugs was combined with the War on Terror, though not for any logical reason, and now police use flash-bang grenades, tasers, and military vehicles passed on to them by the Pentagon. Today, multiple agencies are involved in these War on Drugs operations and they actually vie against each other to make money from these raids due to a corrupt practice known as "forfeiture." In the 2020 protests, I was alarmed to see a lot of military. equipment, including predator drones, used by police against the civilian population.

Sorry, but the history of American policing is often disgusting, perhaps because, unlike other institutions which obviously don't bat 1000, police mistakes often involve bullets and brutality. Citizens who value and who distrust police should read Rise of the Warrior Cop. Balko calls for the following reforms: halt mission creep; transparency; community policing; changing police culture; and accountability. Today, many are calling for governments to defund the police. It seems clear to me that the police are an important institution and can to some extent be tied to reducing crime. Having said that, Balko documents that when the Clinton administration tried to give police agencies funding to increase community policing, the cops instead funnelled those funds into more SWAT teams. Speaking personally, I'd like to see the default police kit not include a firearm, and I think police cars should be replaced with EVs and electric bicycles. I certainly do not understand why suburban police officers need to drive a Dodge Charger—a common sight when I lived in suburban New Jersey.

I don't normally include further reading in these reviews, but:

-In What It Is Like to Go To War, Vietnam War veteran Karl Marlantes discusses how easily an obsession with numbers and power can corrupt. He discusses how thrilling it is to be heavily armed. I noted when I read that memoir that it seems ridiculous for soldiers to think of themselves as warriors, and I often felt the same way when reading Rise of the Warrior Cop. The police often seem to yearn to become soldiers and want to learn their tactics for quelling opposition, but perhaps they should learn about how armies work to quell soldiers' lust for violence. (See also: Junger's War).
-"How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change," by Barack Obama. Pragmatic.
-“What the Police Really Believe," by Zach Beauchamp. The seatbelt section has stayed with me for a long time.
-The subreddit /r/policebrutality2020. Often disturbing.
-John Oliver's Last Week Tonight has many comical but earnest video explainers on American policing if you prefer watching videos (though I hope you prefer reading).
-Libertarian economist Alex Tabarrok calls for "unbundling the police."


Additional Notes:
Profile Image for Angie.
91 reviews22 followers
January 25, 2023
3.5 Stars, rounded up!

Wow, this book was something else. It's always interesting to read a perspective on an issue from an author on the other side of the aisle. Though he intends ot be objective, there are many times his stats and wording shows his own bias. Overall, however - this was an excellent, informative non-fiction book that highlights the changes in American policing from the 1960s to the 2000s.

It is often horrific. I had to limit how much I read of this a day in order to keep from getting too angry, too sad, etc. Yet I now know WAY more than I ever did before about the creation, use and changes in SWAT teams, which policies and grants incentivize the worst atrocities, which politicians and police chiefs lied and which pushed these policies for their own gain.

Unlike reading a history book, this is an ongoing problem. I pray that people's eyes are opened and more people do the research and take the time to fully understand the many layers to why these problems exist. Maybe then we can try to actually change it.
Profile Image for Clif.
436 reviews116 followers
May 15, 2017
It all started with Nixon.

Those were the days of the supposed need for "law and order" and the White House crew that had no respect whatsoever for the law decided that the path for federal action which would impress the American electorate was going after drug use. This was a wonderful thing to Richard Nixon because it allowed him to go after hippies, the counter-culture, youth, and the left in general.

In addition, chasing drugs got around the fact that the federal government has no scope for operation when it comes to local and state laws, but drugs are a different matter. It is the Justice Department, not the Food and Drug Administration, that decides what is legal or not.

What would become the War on Drugs got underway and with it came the militarization of the police, the formation of SWAT teams, and worst of all, the loss of the protection of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution which says:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Even with warrants, just because a judge is supposed to look over a request to raid a home can be ineffective; judges, like all of us, fall victim to routine and the issuance of warrants (when they are used at all) can become rubber stamping, as is documented.

So don't believe your home is your refuge. The rise of no-knock, warrant-less entry his gone hand in hand with the rise of police militarization supposedly justified by the ferocity and heavy armament of drug dealers, which Radley Balko thoroughly refutes. Police rarely meet resistance, but not infrequently injure and sometimes kill because of their aggressive technique.

The use of violent entry has skyrocketed even when it would be far easier to stake out a place and simply stop a suspect outside. The idea that someone with drugs will rush to flush them down the drain upon hearing a knock on the door has even persuaded the Supreme Court to allow violent entry without notice. Such is the cost of the pointless drug war.

Mission creep and the need to prove that special equipment and personnel are necessary has broadened the use of SWAT teams over the years and because of federal funding based on drug busts, has made it financially worthwhile for even small communities to bulk up with equipment and vehicles that would be appropriate on a battlefield.

One of the strangest things revealed in this book is the participation of celebrities in SWAT operations, including Shaquille O'Neal, Matt Damon and Steven Segal (driving a tank, no less).

How about local police acting as a barrier to violent raids? Often, special teams don't even bother to let the locals know about a raid. In one notable case the home of a city mayor was raided and his chief of police had to convince the feds that the man was the mayor and not their target. It isn't uncommon for wrong addresses to result in terror for innocent people as a group of armed men suddenly began an assault in the middle of the night.

Dog killing is shown to be routine as is throwing people on the floor and putting a gun to the head. Yet, as we have seen in the news lately, the officers who conduct the raids are not called to account. The police, not the public, are being protected.

No, I have never had my door broken down, but we all have to stand together against unwarranted use of power. You would think Vietnam would have taught an unforgettable lesson. Current wars prove that not to be the case. You would think Prohibition would have taught a lesson. The drug war shows this, too, is not the case. Note that in both cases, there is money to be made from war.

Balko rightly ends the book with a series of suggestions for holding the tide, if not for returning to the full protection that we once had. What drives the assault on our rights is the amount of federal money that can be grabbed by assaulting the citizenry in their homes. The specific names of grants that make this possible are identified. I'm composing a letter to my representative and senators using Balko's information.

This is a book for our times.
Profile Image for Charles Phillips.
Author 1 book2 followers
July 21, 2013
A review of Radley Balko’s The Rise of the Warrior Cop, Public Affair Press, 2013.

Radley Balko, a journalist with an enduring interest in American policing, has produced a book filled with important information and infused with a frightening message. The author explains how the adoption of political agendas that included clarion calls for the War on Crime, the War on Drugs, and the War on Terror— in conjunction with an enormous increase in the acquisition by local police of military-style equipment from the Federal government—have "militarized" police forces across the entire nation. The author provides a wealth of information on this transformation, as well as well-reasoned and convincing arguments about the genesis and effects of this major change.

Reflective and symbolic of this militarization, the author notes that the iconic image of American policing as a man in a blue uniform who walks his beat with the tools of the trade safely holstered has morphed from the image of a masked SWAT team member in full body armor, clutching an assault rifle to his or her chest.

Balko demonstrates that SWAT team members are our nation’s own “ New Men in Black." Unlike their cinematic counterparts, they are not responsible for controlling the behavior of extraterrestrials. The New Men in Black are militarized police (soldiers) clothed in black battle gear from head-to-toe, who use military hardware to fight their fellow citizens in internal "wars" trumpeted and funded by politicians.

Balko also takes note of the less directly political, but no less important, factors in this process of change. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have generated an enormous stockpile of used military equipment. At the same time, the Department of Homeland Security with its bags of money has no real idea of what to do with that surfeit of funds, except to give law enforcement agencies whatever they request.

These two factors have combined to foster the perspective among current police administrators that "my armored personnel carrier should be bigger than yours," and this competition continually raises the ante in the acquisition of military-style equipment by law enforcement agencies. When and M-16 with an extended magazine and a grenade launcher are just not enough, then an armored assault vehicle with a belt-fed .50 caliber machine gun nestled in a rotating turret might just sate a local police chief’s need to be one step ahead of his neighbors, at least for a while.

On a more individual level, Balko argues that the increased presence of combat veterans in police ranks, resulting from the winding down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, now provides exceedingly fertile soil for the transformation of American police culture into a military culture. The author understands that we should also factor into this discussion the "boys have got to have more guns to have more fun" mentality of some younger officers. As a number of police officers told Balko, SWAT is “fun” duty. After all, what young police officer worth his salt wouldn't trade time writing burglary reports for time carrying an assault rifle and grenades, wearing full battle armor, and busting through doors?

As we know, almost all addicts have enablers. For those addicted to seeing the streets as a war zone, the “Old Folks in Black,” the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) have, like all good enablers, provided the means and the opportunity for The New Men in Black to wage their war. Since the birth of the Rehnquist Court, the SCOTUS has chipped, and sometimes furiously hacked, away at Fourth Amendment protections of citizens from unreasonable search and seizure.

As Balko documents, SCOTUS has turned the Fourth Amendment into a pale shadow of its former self. If Justice Scalia and his cronies have their way, it will soon need to apply for entry into a hospice. The SCOTUS has consistently loosened warrant requirement and defined less and less evidence gathered in questionable circumstances as “fruit of the poisonous tree” and thus inadmissible in court.

The SCOTUS has also supported the legislative branch in its efforts to substitute No-Knock entries for procedures that showed at least some semblance of respect for the Castle Doctrine, which has long given special status to citizens in their own homes vis-á-vis government agents. Ironically, at the same time Congress was trying to erode the Castle Doctrine, state legislatures were using the Castle Doctrine and its variants to support citizens’ ability to make more lethal responses when strangers intruded into their home or personal space.

After the attack on 9/11, the Boston Marathon tragedy, and numerous hostage situations, how can one question the usefulness, nay the necessity, of Special Weapons and Tactics teams? Balko has no interest in doing so. He readily agrees that SWAT units play an important role in today’s too-often violent world. For him, the use of SWAT teams against terroristic threats and heavily armed criminals is beyond argument. What is not beyond argument for Balko are the current dynamics of SWAT operations and thier effects.

The picture we have of SWAT operations is one where team members continually face horrifically dangerous situations. In reality, the vast majority of SWAT operations involve serving warrants related to drug crimes. Nonetheless, these raids involve all the drama of our idealized picture of SWAT procedures. The team gathers in the earliest hours of the morning; they check their weapons; they review the operational plans. They don their black gear and body armor; they settle their helmets on their head, pull up their masks, and check their communication links to the rest of the team.

After the journey to the raid site is completed, a gaggle of team members gather on the porch of a private residence. A member of the team knocks on the door and announces their presence. They wait as long as they consider prudent (maybe 12 seconds), and they then execute a “dynamic entry.” The door buster uses a heavy ram to splinter the door. Team members have their assault rifles aimed forward, and the flashlights on their gun rails sweep the walls and doorways like spotlights at some old TV awards show.

Team members fans out and move through the house. At traumatized residents, various members of the team scream phrases like “POLICE DEPARTMENT! POLICE DEPARTMENT! DON’T MOVE! POLICE DEPARTMENT! PUT YOUR HANDS BEHIND YOUR BACK! DRUG SEARCH WARRANT! ON YOUR KNEES!

The family dog tries to do its job. The intruders have agitated and frightened it, surrounding it with the scents of anger, excitement, and fear. Best for it to hide in the closet, but this family is the dog’s pack—the only important elements of its world are under attack. It barks; it growls; it menaces. Using an assault weapon, probably purchased with funds from a Department of Homeland Security grant, a SWAT team member fires three or four 5.66 mm rounds. The slugs enter and exit the dog’s body at roughly 3,000 feet per second, killing it. The family dog, a pit bull, bleeds out on the floor, and during the course of the raid SWAT team members track its blood on floors throughout the entire house.

I have not just described a SWAT raid on terrorists, gun runners, or hostage takers. This was not SEAL TEAM SIX entering Bin Laden’s hideaway in Islamabad. Instead, I have just described only one (and far from the most egregious) of Balko’s many examples of the ill and unintended consequences of the militarization of police. This was a raid in Columbia, Missouri to serve a search warrant for drugs. The only armed individuals in the house were the SWAT team members. The only “violence” that occurred was the smashing of the door, the sudden intrusion of a group of armed men into a family home, the death of one dog, and the wounding of another.

The raid was initiated based on a tip from a confidential informant. The residents of the home included a man, his wife, their young daughter, and two dogs. No drugs were found in the house. When the police combed through the family’s garbage, they found marijuana residue in an amount considered legal in that city. The homeowner was eventually charged with possession of drug paraphernalia (a pipe). This drug kingpin, so dangerous that special weapons and tactics were required to serve a warrant in the early hours of the morning, was fined $300.

How did courageous SWAT teams risking life and limb while fighting heavily armed criminals or terrorists devolve into SWAT teams using dynamic entries, body armor, and assault weapons to terrorize families and execute family pets so that they can seize a dope pipe? Balko offers us a convincing explanation of just how this lunacy has become commonplace.

The first ingredient in this nasty brew is the incredible increase in funds available for law enforcement agencies to fund SWAT teams. The first element is the Federal government’s provision of billions of dollars in funds and equipment to local law enforcement agencies. In fiscal year 2011 alone, the Pentagon “re-utilized” $500 million worth of equipment to law enforcement.

The second ingredient is the forfeit of assets in drug arrests. Law enforcement agencies share in the forfeited assets of drug dealers. The Justice Department’s asset forfeiture fund is a gold mine that literally contains billions of dollars. These funds go to those law enforcement agencies involved in drug arrests. SWAT teams don’t just generate costs; they generate revenue without requiring police administrators to go groveling to politicians with hat in hand.

We live in a country that can easily lay claim to a pervasive, if unreasonable, fear of terrorism, hostage takers, or multiple homicides. This fear is fed by a few tragic events and the rhetoric of an array of politicians and interest groups. We live in a country where the military is dedicated to providing weaponry and supplies to law enforcement. That is why we live in a country where 80 percent of towns with populations between 25,000-50,000 have SWAT teams. In larger towns and cities, SWAT teams have been ubiquitous for decades.

But those events that truly call for special weapons and tactic are few and far between. SWAT teams across the nation are at risk of feeling like Meatloaf—All Revved Up With No Place To Go. Luckily, as least for SWAT teams, we also live in a country where SWAT teams make money for police departments. In 2005, SWAT teams carried out between 50,000 and 60,000 raids. Some estimates indicate that somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of those raids were to serve warrants in drug cases.

So, SWAT teams are “called out” on the slimmest of evidence, as in Columbia, Missouri, and far too often terrorize families with little or no connection to crime. Many of the he numerous “wrong address” raid in this country are discussed in detail by Balko. We have all seen the reports at one time or another. As Balko reports, to further fill their time, SWAT is also now being used to enforce administrative law (e.g., the arrest of individuals for barbering without a license). Some SWAT proponents even support this process. They believe that these raids allow teams to get practice for “the real thing.”

With all of this information, Balko gives us a glimpse of why law enforcement is awash with The New Men in Black and their presence offers us protection but at considerable unnecessary risk. This convincing and well-argued book tells a shocking tale about the direction taken by policing in modern America.

You should read this book. But, a few words of warning. What Balko has done is re-organize the material from his Cato Institute report and embellish it considerably. Unfortunately, some of that embellishment is distracting. His extended discussion of the history of policing and of constitutional law are far too detailed. His discussion of the Third Amendment (quartering of troops) is a case in point.

Balko is also hampered by the lack of data about SWAT and SWAT operations. Thus, we sit in the second decade of the twenty-first century and read about raids that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s. Sections in the book called THE NUMBERS provide interesting data, but they had little continuity as one moves through the book.

Balko has organized his chapters by decade, which has both advantages and disadvantages. Decades are huge spans in policy and political terms. So, one must follow topics (Federal largesse) from chapter to chapter in what seems to be no coherent fashion. A stronger internal organization of these chapters would have helped this reader.
Okay, enough bitching about the small stuff. I would buy the book again. I recommend it to my friends. I especially recommend it to my enemies. Radley Balko has done us all a great service by writing this book. Public Affair press has done us great service by publishing it. And, last but not least, John Oliver and The Daily Show have served us well by giving Balko and his work the attention it richly deserves.
On a final note, if you hear someone banging on your door at about three in the morning, yelling, POLICE, SEARCH WARRANT. It’s unlikely you will be able to get up, put on something decent and get to the door before it is splintered. Probably the best thing to do is grab your dog, duck and cover, and then continually scream—NO ONE IN THE HOUSE IS ARMED!!

Profile Image for Carl.
256 reviews7 followers
April 20, 2022
Well, this was a depressing book. It starts out by outlining all of the reasons the Founders put the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution in place, and then shows how (mostly because of the War on Drugs started by Nixon), we've basically abandoned the "castle doctrine" that was the basis for the 4th amendment in the first place. They would be appalled.

Basically, RIP 4th Amendment.

I'd be very curious to think what Mr. Balko thinks of the more recent developments in our culture with an anti-police brutality bent, such as the BLM protests and the like. The book ends in 2013, and I wanted it to go further. I'll probably go try to read some of his newspaper columns to see what his current thinking on some of these issues is.
Profile Image for Magen.
776 reviews31 followers
October 26, 2020
4.5 stars. This book has fundamentally changed how I see policing. It also changed my views on Obama and Biden. This definitely could be a 5 star read, but I had to knock off a half star for how the book was organized. I got lost a few times. But overall, this provides a in-depth look at how we ended up with warrior cops. No, not militarized cops as the military objects to this term as they feel they are more disciplined and better trained than today's warrior cops, especially those using military grade equipment. The reform section was nice and also depressing. But a must read for anyone interested in policing in America.
May 16, 2021
4.6-America’s obsession with policing and strengthening itself through force is gross. It’s the direct result of years of policy to demonize drug use & target urban communities.
Profile Image for Chris.
62 reviews21 followers
September 26, 2014
Let me state right off the bat: this book is biased. Having said that, I believe this is a book Americans should read. Why? Because learning both sides of debate gives you a more well-rounded base of knowledge in which to draw your own conclusions, and in my case, this book brought new perspectives and angles on issues I hadn't thought of prior. This book while focused on "the militarization of America's police forces" has two pervading themes: 1. the history of law enforcement in America and the laws and policies that have shaped it and 2. the drug war. The main bias in the book centers on the drug war. It's made abundantly clear throughout the book that the author believes drugs are merely a "consensual crime" that really need not be enforced at all. The author spends majority of the book covering SWAT raids on drug dealers and users. In the end, he even plainly writes that he feels drugs should be completely decriminalized, with the inference that drugs don't hurt anybody else except maybe the user. The other main bias is the author's coverage of the "us vs them" mentality in police forces (which I agree should be covered) with no notes about the fact the "us vs them" mentality is pervasive in EVERY human being. That mentality is in no way at all unique to the law enforcement profession. It affects many communities of ordinary citizens that have a stand of us vs police (which is mentioned briefly but glossed over that this is entirely the cops fault), men vs women, Republican vs Democrat, American vs foreigner, Yankees fan vs Red Sox fan, Texans vs Californians, whatever differences you can name it permeates throughout every human being. The ideal is to get past this cognitive trap and realize we're all in this life together as fellow human beings. And this topic should be discussed and researched into how the mentality effects things, but let's not being naive in thinking this is only prevalent in LEOs. Having mentioned some of the biases, I will state this book has a lot of interesting research and stories about what types of things are happening around the country and how these practices were established. I gleaned the most information from the sections dealing with the different laws and policies and how they came to be. I admit my own ignorance on many of these laws so that was truly eye-opening. In the end, I walk away from this book with some new perspectives and some opinions changed. That makes this book a worthwhile read.

I will mention my own prejudices to put my review in context: I am a paramedic that deals with law enforcement officers (from local PD to US Marshals to DEA to FBI agents) on a daily basis and have friends in that field. I am also a person that gets nervous around the blue lights when off-duty even though I'm not a criminal (although I've been known to go over the speed limit). I've never done drugs in my life, and I will never do drugs. I don't even smoke or drink alcohol. In my job I see the effects drugs have on people and I know without a doubt that drugs destroy lives, and not just the user themselves. I see the good and the bad of law enforcement constantly with my job. In my mind, I sit in the grey middle on issues of law enforcement powers, government control, Fourth Amendment rights, etc. I see both sides of the arguments, and in my opinion, as in everything in life, nothing is completely black and white on these issues in their totality.
Profile Image for Ronnie.
387 reviews3 followers
July 15, 2020

This book was hard to read. Page after page, it describes police abuses and the reactions to them (which, more often than not, is "oh well. C'est la vie.").

The book starts off asking one major question: "Is policing constitutional?" And then, over the next 300 or so pages, I think it does a fairly good job of demonstrating that, whatever the intentions of police were from the onset, what it is now is most definitely not constitutional.

Radley Balko makes an honest attempt at making this even handed and unbiased, and he does a good job of it, so long as you don't assume "unbiased and even-handed" means that an issue should be looked at at exactly 50/50 good/bad, even when what's being looked at is 95% bad. The truth of the matter is, policing, especially in America, has become almost irreparably militarized, and with the militarization comes the brutalities and abuses that come when you give anyone obscene amounts of fire power and carte blanche to do exactly what they want with it.

I don't think I was ever truly aware of just how violent and brutal police raids are. I, of course, have always had a general idea of it, but Balko paints it in such a vivid, visceral light that it's impossible to escape the realities of it.

At the end of the book, Balko even attempts to tackle reform and what needs to happen in order for meaningful reform to happen. He paints a bleak picture - that reform is very unlikely to happen in the 21st century unless something major happens. I hope that that major thing has happened and that we will see meaningful reform in the near future.

My one complaint about the book though is that it never really makes any real effort to tie all of this into race. He starts off the book explaining how police forces, especially in the south, were created namely as a way to suppress slave riots or capture escaped slaves. He then talks about how a lot of militarization started to combat the Black Panthers. Almost every victim of police brutality mentioned in this book was a person of colour (I did google, and almost every one who I could find a photo of was), but the book never mentions that and never really draws a connection between racism and police brutality. The book isn't about racism, but it still seemed like a bit of an oversight.

Overall, this book was highly informative and shed light onto a wealth of issues.
Profile Image for Michael.
70 reviews
February 1, 2021
Rise of the Warrior Cop is a tragic look at the erosion of Fourth Amendment and Castle Doctrine-based civil liberties in the United States, specifically in light of the gradual militarization of our country’s police agencies. What was once nearly sacrosanct has for several decades now been systematically dismantled by presidents and lawmakers in both parties playing toxic games of one-upsmanship and villainization, obviously looking to score political points; by the courts evidently okay with state expansion cloaked in anti-crime rulings (they know what they are doing); and by a populace increasingly unprincipled and adrift, increasingly frightened by crime (even as all sociologists and criminologists will point to its downward trend since the early ‘90s), and tacitly supportive of authoritarianism as long as it is being used against partisan enemies at a given time (for instance: some liberals are now favoring increased Capitol Police funding, new domestic terrorism laws that will inevitably also be used against the broader left, etc.). How did one of the freest countries arrive at this point? Why and how have we allowed police the latitude to invade private residences with barely the slightest evidence? Why and how have we allowed police to dress up and play “soldier” against their own fellow citizens engaged in Constitutionally-protected protests? Balko answers most of my questions in this focused—and perhaps more relevant than ever—history of police militarization in the U.S.

Before diving into this vast contemporary problem, the author spends a few chapters fleshing out the historical and philosophical underpinnings of the issue. If one simply wants to learn about modern policing, the first few chapters can be skipped; however, anyone wanting more ammo for their arguments with authoritarians would be remiss in skipping these chapters that swiftly cover Roman police, English common law and the Castle Doctrine, the origins of U.S. policing in slave patrols, and the eventual professionalization of U.S. police agencies.

Cutting to the chase, the phenomenon of indirect militarization (i.e. arming police heavily rather than deploying actual military units for law enforcement) has its roots in the 1960s, and this is where Balko’s writing and extensive research really start to get absorbing. The author highlights milestones such as Rockefeller’s no-knock raid legislation in New York and the LAPD’s creation of the first SWAT team after the deadly Watts riots of 1965, which may not have been widely relevant at the time but would prove to be enormously consequential in the years to come. In my view, the spark that lit the fire of police militarization was Richard Nixon’s efforts to kick off the war on drugs. Nixon was privately open about his cynical political intentions with this war on drugs, but it undoubtedly worked as it caught the public’s attention—and, critically, its support. He knew that drugs would be the lowest common denominator to at once undermine and villainize low-income black people, the counterculture movement (e.g. pot-smoking hippies), and antiwar activists. Rather than addressing the root causes of drug use like someone who really cares about the issue, Nixon of course wanted to criminalize it and boost his popularity with impressive arrest statistics. As Balko’s history moves into the 1970s we see an increase in federal narcotics task forces yet still some hesitation in Congress regarding the spread of no-knock tactics.

Things really start to get ugly in Balko’s account of the Reagan years, which were characterized by asset seizures as a funding mechanism (a deeply troubling self-perpetuating cycle of abuse) and an absurd crackdown on marijuana users and dealers. Also noteworthy here is the increased federal funding Reagan gave to police agencies and the fact that Congress enacted new measures to put the Department of Defense in touch with the U.S. Attorney General in order to notify and provide military surplus to law enforcement agencies across the country. As the book progresses, the author scatters numerous well-researched accounts of drug raids, many of them either at incorrect addresses or seizing very minimal amounts of drugs (and hardly ever any weapons—you will learn that policing is not nearly as dangerous as police claim and that most of the danger they do encounter is because of their own unbelievably poor tactics and incompetence). I was resistant to this narrative style at first, wanting to focus on Congressional crime bills, policing statistics, and pertinent case law, but these anecdotes earn their place in the text by illustrating just how harmful and terrorizing the policing tactics in this country have become. The stories remind the reader that at the end of all of these gargantuan policy decisions and political ploys are people.

Chapters 7 and 8, which cover the 1990s and 2000s respectively, are key chapters insofar as they illustrate the bipartisan nature of the futile and unjust war on drugs and show the biggest proliferation of SWAT teams (and their misuse) and militarization yet. Younger readers may be surprised by the open harshness of the Clinton administration (and later, Obama) and Congressional Democrats such as Joe Biden, but the party’s stance on crime hasn’t really improved at all and has merely been dressed up in a cloak of identity politics and superficial racial inclusivity, devoid of the substantive changes that reflect true justice. The Clinton years brought such pervasive warrant-signing neglect that it was basically a no-look rubber stamp process. Balko also highlights troubling policies such as the one strike rule for any drug offense by someone in public housing as well as a formalized tech sharing agreement between the Department of Defense and Department of Justice. The author also explains that SWAT proliferation has reached almost every agency in cities of over 50,000 residents and how it is increasingly used for drug warrants (by nonviolent offenders engaging in consensual and harmless “criminal” activities) rather than the hostage-taking, bank-robbing, shoot-em-up crimes police agencies use as justification for their militarization. Whole books can and have been written on post-9/11 police militarization in conjunction with the new, flush-with-cash Department of Homeland Security (the false justifications here being pretty intuitive and obvious to everyone with critical thinking skills), but it was a worthwhile inclusion by the author since the reader can fully see how we have arrived at this moment of police wearing camo in the streets, armed to the teeth with flash bangs, M16s, grenade launchers, personnel carriers, etc.

All things considered, this is a great book for what it is—a history of police militarization in the U.S. There is plenty it either does not cover or only tangentially references such as the racial disparities in outcomes of this policing system; the activist networks opposing the proliferation of militarization; the public opinion trends surrounding these issues, the role of police being fooled into protecting elite interests; the nearly complete lack of civilian oversight and accountability; or the entrenched, poisonous, and almost irreversible culture of insularity festering in police agencies across the country. Then again—and as with any social issue—police militarization is a very complex topic. That Balko synthesizes as much as he does in this exploration is an impressive feat and a testament to his years of researching case law, policing statistics, and media reports of police abuses. I felt I had a strong understanding of the topic before reading this book, but as I set it down there is certainly more depth to my understanding, however deeply troubling the issues at hand may be.
Profile Image for James.
594 reviews9 followers
July 7, 2020
Essential and painful reading about the increasing militarization of the police in America. This is not an anti-cop book; rather, Balko's encyclopedic and meticulous knowledge of the rise of police forces in our country and the increasing lack of accountability coupled with access to military hardware and mindsets through grant programs and the like posits that we are closer to a police state than we realize. A thorough examination of what community policing should look like compared to ordering more SWAT teams and guns, Rise of the Warrior Cop speaks to our time in 2020 as we see police outfitted in battle garb and hear with disturbing frequency the language of war (war against drugs, war against crime) that has a definite effect on an us vs. them mindset for officers. Balko's book is essential for anyone looking to put what is going on with our nation's police right now in a broader context; sadly, some of this dovetails with the knowledge I have recently gained from Ava DuVernay's 13th about the rise of the prison industrial complex and the use of the war on drugs to imprison Black and Brown people. Most shockingly, Balko shows a systemic lowering of the bar for police officers and SWAT team members as they fumble, bumble, and destroy lives in their raids, mostly to serve low-level drug warrants or suspicions. By drawing the roots of SWAT back to LA Police Chief Daryl Gates, Balko reveals how politicized questioning police funding has become, with politicians fearing to be seen as anti-police while allowing for a lack of transparency and lack of accountability. As a teacher, it is shocking to see the damage done by judges who don't read what they sign and rarely (if ever) reject a no-knock warrant. The damage done to the communities is powerful, essentially creating a fundamental fear and distrust of the police. We are living in an America riddled by the effects of these policies and this lack of oversight and this eagerness to conflate policing with militarism.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 464 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.