Yesterday, Salon published a fantastic interview with Radley Balko, author of a new book, Rise of the Warrior Cop. The interview focused on the fact that the number of SWAT team raids has soared from a few hundred annually in the 1970’s to more than 50,000 per year by 2005. To make matters worse, most of these raids are focused on non-violent crimes. Radley identifies three main forces behind this disturbing trend. The “war on drugs,” the national overreaction to 9/11, and the creation and massive funding behind the Department of Homeland Security. Moreover, once these SWAT teams are in place, the individual police departments feel pressured to use them in order to justify their existence. More from Salon:
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.
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.
Balko talked to Salon about the decline of community policing, the warrior cop mentality, why so many dogs get killed by police. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
There are several levels of militarization. The rise of SWAT teams nationwide, the number of annual SWAT deployments in the U.S., has gone from a few hundred in the ’70s, to 30,000 per year in the early ’80s, to 50,000 in 2005. That’s 100, 150 times a day in this country you have these heavily armed police teams breaking into homes, and the vast majority of times it’s to enforce laws against consensual crimes.
Before 9/11, what do you see as the main drivers of the equipment aspect of this phenomenon?
The drug war, unquestionably. The drug war is what got us to a crisis point and Sept. 11 just kind of blew it out of the water. A Pentagon program hit its record in 2011 by giving away about $500 million of equipment. [Department of Homeland Security] grants in the last 10 years have given away $35 billion. DHS has accelerated the trend.
When talking about police recruitment videos, Radley states:
A disturbingly high percentage of them are [police] kicking down doors and siccing dogs on people and coming out of helicopters to heavy metal music or some kind of high-intensity music and that’s the very first step in the process in staffing a police department. You’re appealing to young people who are attracted to jobs that allow them to basically kick ass and take names and there’s no appeal to the [other] aspects of policing. If that’s your recruitment message, you’re sending a pretty strong message from the very start about what you think the proper relationship between police and the community ought to be.
At the same time, though, police unions are some of the few unions in this country that are still powerful. That in part goes back to the fact that no politician really wants to look anti-police officer, and so the unions have negotiated in a lot of states the Police Officer Bill of Rights, which give rights to cops above and beyond what regular citizens get when they’re accused of a crime.
Sounds like they got the same deal as Wall Street.
You say in the book that it’s not an anti-cop book. Is there a way for good cops to fight this culture in an effective way?
It’s difficult. I tell a couple stories in the book of cops who try to turn in other cops for this conduct, and usually they end up being the ones disciplined.
What sort of solutions do you see? What can be done?
At the local level, I think people could pressure local officials to rein in SWAT teams, and have them only used in the emergency situations and stop sending them on drug raids.
You can do an open record collection of the police department to find out how many times the SWAT teams had been out, for what reasons, and what the result was. Most times you’re going to find it was sent out, let’s say 200 times in the last year, and you’re going to find that maybe 40 of those cases are over criminal charges. Those are good numbers to put out, and just to spark a debate on whether this is an appropriate use of this sort of force.
I think all these raids should be videotaped and should all be subject to open record requests.
Great insight and suggestions on a topic we all need to pay a lot more attention to.
Full article here.
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