Rise of the Warrior Cop and Militarization of America’s Police Forces

Last updated on January 15th, 2014


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.

In a recent article from the ACLU.org, Radley Balko writes,

The numbers are staggering. In the early 1980s, there were about 3,000 SWAT “call-outs” per year across the entire country.

By 2005, there were an estimated 50,000.

Troubling as all of this is, the problem goes beyond SWAT teams. Too many police departments today are infused with a more general militaristic culture.

Cops today are too often told that they’re soldiers fighting a war,

Cops today tend to be isolated from the communities they serve, both physically (by their patrol cars) and psychologically, by an us and them mentality that sees the public not as citizens police officers are to serve and protect, but as a collection of potential threats.

These are all generalizations, of course.
Certainly there are great cops, great police chiefs and sheriffs, and there are plenty of police agencies that have healthy relationships with the public. But whether it’s with the ubiquity of these SWAT raids, stop-and-frisk, or the default geared-up, Robocop response to political protest, the relationship between police and the public on the whole is growing increasingly antagonistic — and oddly, this comes during a period when both crime and on-duty police deaths are at historic lows.

Given what we saw in Boston not long ago (complete lock-down, 9,000 cops ready for war, house to house searches without warrants, etc.) and what we plainly see in general with military style vehicles in the streets, battle dress, armed to the teeth with AR15’s, etc., it does seem quite evident that the police (in general) have become a much more militant organization – ready for war…

Balko’s book, Rise of the Warrior Cop, addresses this subject of the militarization of America’s police forces.

Some of the fundamental concepts of liberty are being threatened by these developments, including the Fourth Amendment, the Castle Doctrine (that the home should be a place of peace and sanctuary), and the Third Amendment, which is really a statement of the Founders’ broader aversion to militarism and standing armies.

What is your opinion? Do you agree that America’s police forces are becoming more militarized? Do you believe that it’s necessary or a good thing? Or are you a cop who agrees or disagrees with this opinion?


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