I picked up Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces because the book looked interesting and I was shocked at what happened in Boston during the search for the two bombers. The sight of police officers kitted up like my platoon and I was in Iraq on TV pulling people out of their homes at gunpoint and then searching those homes without a warrant shocked and dismayed me. Therefor the title of the book was at a minimum intriguing and I decided to read it.
The book itself is separated into 9 chapters in what is essentially chronological order. There are 31 pages of endnotes by chapter and an index. The book is a history of policing in America with particular emphasis on the rise of SWAT teams since their inception in the late 60′s in Los Angeles. While the book is obviously biased, that is to be expected from the title. This is an advocacy book after all. What concerned me was how well the author made and presented his case that American police departments are becoming less about fighting crime and more about becoming a quasi paramilitary force that ignores constitutional protections when convenient.
I thought that the book does make a pretty good case that police do look at citizens as the enemy. If you have had any run ins with law enforcement recently from a traffic stop to airport security, much less had your house invaded by a SWAT team it is evident that police take an us and them mentality. Personally, I find it amazing that SWAT teams have become so prevalent and as the book makes very clear, there is no basis for them as the vast majority of the time SWAT raids turn up no weapons, and often nothing else.
There are many examples in the book of SWAT raids gone wrong but SWAT is not the biggest of the problems detailed in the book. The biggest problem the book points out is two faceted and that is the way in which law enforcement has been politicized and how compliant courts have stood by and even encouraged law enforcement to ignore the 4th Amendment against unlawful search and seizure. Law enforcement has always been at least somewhat political but the author in m opinion, rightly highlights how the “war on drugs” has been used to criminalize a large segment of society for victimless crimes. Even more disturbing is the way in which judges apparently rubberstamp requests for no-knock warrants and then if something goes wrong or even the wrong house is raided neither officers nor departments are held to account.
There are situations where the use of a SWAT team and paramilitary tactics and methods are appropriate. What this book says is not that SWAT teams need to be eliminated but that using one should be the exception and not the rule. Mr. Balko makes a very compelling case for the overuse and abuse of both SWAT teams and no-knock warrants. I highly recommend this book for its in-depth look at the way in which the Constitution is essentially being ignored in the pursuit of at best ill-defined law enforcement goals.