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

4.28  ·  Rating details ·  2,108 Ratings  ·  275 Reviews
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 consequence ...more
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published July 9th 2013 by PublicAffairs
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Photo: KSDK News

Michael Brown was an 18-year-old from Ferguson, Missouri.
He was had just finished high school.
He was shot six times by a policeman, Darren Wilson, for a crime which he did not commit.
Michael Brown is dead.
Darren Wilson will not be charged for shooting an unarmed person six times without probable cause.
There were protesters.
The protesters threw rocks.
The police shot tear gas back and now use armored vehicles to patrol the streets.
Now Ferguson is a war zone.

Radley Balko, in
Sep 07, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Andrea Augustinas
Oct 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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 authorit
Feb 11, 2014 rated it liked it
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.

Sep 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Daddio by: Cato Institute
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 scor
Sean O'Hara
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.
Gerald Churchill
Feb 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Sep 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: my-favs
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 i ...more
Charles Berteau
Feb 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Civil Libertarians, Concerned Citizens
Recommended to Charles by: Reason Magazine
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 ...more
Dec 02, 2014 rated it liked it
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 se ...more
Mar 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: balko


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 hop
May 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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 tha
Kevin Underhill
Sep 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Charles Phillips
Jul 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 equipm
Dec 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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 op
Joe Donatelli
Nov 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I began reading Radley Balko’s “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces” before the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and I finished it after tensions in that city peaked. Reading this book while Ferguson’s heavily-armed and clearly incompetent police aimed high-powered weapons at innocent citizens and journalists on a nightly basis added an additional layer of perspective to each heart-sinking news cycle. This was not a local probl ...more
Jan 18, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: general-history
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 th ...more
Chris Brimmer
Oct 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is an important public policy book and one which needs to be read by every member of government at every level. This book is not outrage porn and never descends to that convention. Rise of the Warrior Cop isn't really all that anti-police, but instead is an accounting of how dysfunctional policy can be put into place, alter an institutional culture and have devastating impact on society.
The narrative begins with the Nixon administration when craven men instituted "law and order" policies th
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
Aug 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Geoffrey Benn
Jul 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
The Battle for Seattle. Occupy Wall Street. Ferguson. These incidents over the last decade have come to epitomize heavy-handed overreach by American police forces. In “The Rise of the Warrior Cop,” journalist Radley Balko briefly discusses the history of law enforcement during the early days of the United States and then focuses on tracing the trend towards militarization (primarily manifested in the proliferation of SWAT teams) in American police forces during the last 50 years. His overall the ...more
David Susman
Jan 13, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The author desires the complete legalization of all controlled substances (drugs). He uses hyperbole and exaggeration to develop an emotive response from the readers. This is done while ignoring facts, editing cases and other journalistic tricks of the Human Interest story. He repeatedly demonstrates a lack of understanding of the law, the criminal justice system, police procedures, use of force models, budgets and union procedures, among other things. He appears completely unqualified to write ...more
Nov 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
An extremely important book. Pick up a copy, and let's be careful out there.
Jun 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Approachable/non-academic history of the rise of police militarization, with its emphasis on its relationship to the drug war as inaugurated by Nixon and pumped w/steroids by Reagan, Clinton, the Bushes, and unexpected liberal mascot Joe Biden. Read it after protest against Buffalo City Council approved BPD purchase of rifles right on the heels of their murder of several citizens. This book showed me how moldy the sophisms BPD and city council trotted out in supporting the arming of the departme ...more
Matt Pharr
Feb 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a truly rage-inducing examination of how our nation's police forces came to be. If you've ever suspected that there is something horribly amiss with the law-enforcement and judicial system of the United States of America but weren't exactly sure what it is, Rise of the Warrior Cop will fill in those blanks. I can't imagine anyone reading the book and still feeling like they live in a free country.
Bob H
Jun 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Post-Ferguson, commentators sought to explain the police culture, often in terms of its increasing uses of surveillance and military equipment. Here is a different take: on how police training and public conduct became more confrontational, more hair-trigger. The book traces the pattern over the last 40 years, and the increasing use of SWAT teams seems, in their telling, to be central to this. SWAT teams are, we're told, more and more for raids, rather than reactive situations, and more and more ...more
Feb 11, 2018 marked it as to-read
Really looking forward to reading this, especially in light of the PBS documentary Do Not Resist, which airs Monday night, about the rapid militarization of the police.
Doug Cornelius
It only takes a few minutes of watching the national news before you will see a crime story with police dressed in battle gear.  In Rise of the Warrior Cop , Radley Balko traces the history of US law enforcement to see how we got to this.

Mr. Balko thinks the founding fathers, distrustful of a standing army, would be appalled by today's approach to law enforcement. Of course, the United States has changed dramatically over the last 240 years. The City of Boston had 15,000 residents then and has
Good ideas, sometimes weak theory.

That's the precis of my review, especially if you add in some basic errors of fact that Balko never should have made (and that better copy editing should have caught).

I agree with the basic premise that police departments have become too militarized, not just in the amount of surplus military hardware they have, but somewhat, at least, the effects of a military-style organizational structure.

I also agree that these problems really took off with the rise of the
Jan 22, 2014 rated it did not like it
I really had to labor through this book and this is the lowest review I have ever given.

I believe the principle of the over-militarization of police departments has merit. That is what I wanted to read about. However, Balko’s narrative was a nonstop rambling of antidotes to justify an anti-police position. Balko thrives on the obscure. One family had search warrants served on them 50 times and it was the wrong address. Why do I think there is a little more to that story? No civil suits? No judge
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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 ...more
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“No one made a decision to militarize the police in America. The change has come slowly, the result of a generation of politicians and public officials fanning and exploiting public fears by declaring war on abstractions like crime, drug use, and terrorism. The resulting policies have made those war metaphors increasingly real.” 3 likes
“have my own army in the NYPD—the seventh largest army in the world. —NEW YORK CITY MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG” 2 likes
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