America’s police are beginning to look like an army, and the author says there’s very little we can do about it
Radley Balko: “Once a town gets a SWAT team you want to use it”
BY ALEX HALPERIN
SATURDAY, JUL 13, 2013
Radley Balko’s new book, “Rise of the Warrior Cop,” details how America’s police forces have grown to look and behave more like soldiers than neighborly Officer Krupkes walking the beat. This new breed of police, frequently equipped with military weapons and decked out in enough armor to satisfy a storm trooper, are redefining law enforcement.
How did this happen? For decades, the war on drugs has empowered police to act aggressively. More recently, 9/11 and school shootings enforced the notion that there’s no such thing as too much security. Since 9/11, the newly formed Department of Homeland Security has distributed billions in grants, enabling even some small town police departments to buy armored personnel carriers and field their own SWAT teams.
Once you have a SWAT team the only thing to do is kick some ass. There are more than 100 SWAT team raids every day in this country. They’re not chasing murderers or terrorists. For the most part they go after nonviolent offenders like drug dealers and even small time gamblers. As you’d expect when there is too much adrenaline and too much weaponry, there have been some tragedies. Suddenly goofball comedies where an elite squad invades a house to find a pot-smoking kid don’t seem so funny. (Balko’s book describes such incidents at length in excerpts Salon published here and here.)