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Rise of the Warrior Cop 
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Heinlein Nexus
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Post Rise of the Warrior Cop
I have ranted here before about the militarization of police in the USA, so you might be tempted to write this review off as a giant case of confirmation bias. If so, at least give the book a chance to speak for itself.

Rise of the Warrior Cop would be less unsettling if its author was some beatnik with a chip on his shoulder to match his axe to grind. However, Radley Balko is an investigative journalist with solid creds, and the meticulous research glitters on every page.

And that tips the scales in making this book so profoundly disturbing.

Balko documents how police forces have evolved into military organizations with the same armament as the army but disdained by real soldiers as lacking the same discipline, training, and oversight. He traces it from the foundation of the first SWAT team in the LAPD to where every podunk hamlet now has one, armed with weapons that forty years ago were considered unthinkable for a police force to possess.

Popular wisdom would have it that this is necessary because the Bad Guys [TM] started the arms race first and the Thin Blue Line is just playing catch-up. But this isn't true: instead a few incidents such as the North Hollywood Shootout of '97 have been inflated into bugaboos to make us think so.

In fact, even in situations that looked like the raison d'être of SWAT teams, a discordant story emerges. Take Columbine: multiple SWAT teams converged on the school - yet none of them entered the building for a considerable time, during which time they could have saved lives by doing so. The reason they gave? "It's too dangerous."

So if Columbine wasn't what SWAT was intended for, what was it? The answer: no-knock raids. The targets: drug offenders. Here again, popular wisdom (and numerous shows) would have us believe that they were raiding urban fortresses manned by mercenaries guarding meth labs to their last breaths.

Not so.

The principal targets have been the casual offenders, named by informants of dubious pedigree. Commonly turning up less than an ounce of marijuana, where they found anything at all. If they even went to the right address, that is. I know: nobody's perfect, there's bound to be the occasional regrettable accident despite all the safeguards, but that's no reason to impede the good work of the police, right?

Except that it turns out that what's wrong with that statement is... everything.

The number of raids on the wrong address was estimated at 10%... by a police official who was proud that it was so low. Wait, but they're supposed to have a warrant, right? Only it turns out that judges sign so many of the things that they don't actually read them... as admitted by a judge himself when warrant errors so egregious as to be obvious to the casual reader came to light. His description of this blind signing? "That's not wrong." And it is now so easy to justify a no-knock raid without a warrant that they don't bother getting them that much anyway.

The average Joe might still not care that much; after all, in today's polarized America, the only folks at risk of this misidentification must be in the underclass living on the wrong side of the tracks, no? Tell that to the Fortune 500 CEO who was raided and forced out of his bed at gunpoint. Tell that to the mayor who was mistakenly raided, his dog killed (a favorite intimidation tactic is to seek out the family dog and kill it, even if it's chained in the back yard), who not only received no apology, but the officer in charge said he saw nothing wrong with their actions.

This book contains page after nauseating page of accounts of such events. The psychology isn't hard to understand, but the book lays it bare anyway: when one town gets an armored assault vehicle, the next one has to too. Even when said town hasn't experienced a homicide in the last five years. And when you've got a toy, you want to play with it. Cops attending conferences in t-shirts sporting slogans boasting of their prowess in mowing down slum dwellers only ram the point home.

I know I railed on this topic here in the past, but I always thought I might have been cherry-picking incidents to serve my pet peeve. Now I find that that peeve wasn't even close to being as bad as I thought. If you have high blood pressure or are quick to anger, don't read this book; I wouldn't want your demise on my conscience. It documents and proves the systematic destruction of liberty in the United States. We should mourn, and we should fight.


Wed Mar 05, 2014 8:24 pm
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Post Re: Rise of the Warrior Cop
Radley Balko's blog is worth following, if you are interested in this sort of thing.


Thu Mar 06, 2014 8:41 am
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Heinlein Nexus
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Post Re: Rise of the Warrior Cop
Thanks. Now I'm even more depressed. The one about the government freezing a defendant's assets so they couldn't pay for a lawyer is just... argh.


Fri Mar 07, 2014 5:55 am
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Post Re: Rise of the Warrior Cop
Balko has an excellent reputation as a reporter on police issues; I'm quite familiar with it. I hadn't heard about his new book, though. Unfortunately it is available only in hardback and as an ebook right now, but I bit the bullet and ordered the hardback from Powells. I'll report back after I've got it and read it.

I don't know if I'm looking forward to reading it. :/ I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about the same topic as Peter does, but also some counterinfluences that he doesn't in the form of two Los Angeles-area police officer brothers-in-law, one of whom was on his PD SWAT team til he retired recently. (He's in his late 40s, getting a bit old to do the physical stuff.) *He* is also concerned about the direction policing and the law have been taking on many issues, this being one of them.

My feeling on the issue.... Having a SWAT team available in a big region for the rare hostage-taking or mass-shooting event is one thing, quite likely a good thing. Having a SWAT team in every city PD is another thing entirely, because then the powers that be have this ugly tendency to tell you to use it or lose it. In addition, for legal and insurance purposes a lot of police commanders and not a few of their managers don't want to take any chances with police lives, even if by using a SWAT team they put citizens at greater risk. The combination is lethal and ugly. :(

More after I've read the book.

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Fri Mar 07, 2014 3:09 pm
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Post Re: Rise of the Warrior Cop
One more mind-numbing account from the book: A woman called her police department distraught because her husband was suicidal. The request went to the SWAT team, whose leader told the squad, "Let's go get the bad guy." And they did, shooting him from a range of 43 feet upon finding him cowering unarmed underneath a tree.

When the only tool you have is a hammer...

I don't have the words to capture my outrage.


Wed Mar 12, 2014 8:25 pm
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Post Re: Rise of the Warrior Cop
A cop attempting to kill a backyard dog shot himself in the leg instead. video taken shortly after the incident showed the dog playing peacefully with children.


Fri Apr 18, 2014 7:52 pm
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Post Re: Rise of the Warrior Cop
PeterScott wrote:
A cop attempting to kill a backyard dog shot himself in the leg instead. video taken shortly after the incident showed the dog playing peacefully with children.


After looking at that dog's body language, I think the cop is simply not familiar with dogs except by breed labels. :/ That dog is *friendly*, obviously likes people, and was probably just running over to say "hi" and get patted. I don't see any behavior or body language that looks protective or as if he might attack anybody. In other words, he's a typical properly-raised pitbull who wasn't abused by sick fscks to turn him into a killer for dogfighting. A neighbor of mine had a similar dog (female) that lived a few houses from me when I was a young girl. She was a favorite of mine and all the other neighborhood kids.

At the same time, thanks to the aforementioned sick fscks who breed dogs for fighting and then abuse them to make them vicious, and who favor pit bulls for this activity, there *are* a fair number of dangerous dogs who happen to be pits out there. Pits are also strongly miscled and have *very* strong jaws, so if they attack, they do a lot more damage than most dogs, even most dogs their size or larger. Trust me, animal control took a good look at this dog. That they didn't take the dog in tells me that the dog was properly registered, was not running free, and showed no signs of aggression towards strangers.

The Riverside police department (and any other PD in a residential area with children and pets) needs to train its beat cops to recognize dog body language and distinguish between attacking behavior and friendly behavior. :(

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Sun Apr 20, 2014 11:35 am
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Post Re: Rise of the Warrior Cop
This one is just heartbreaking. Police raided a house looking for someone who wasn't there. But a family was, and SWAT tossed a flashbang into a 2 year-old's crib. While preventing the mother from going to her baby, they told her he was alright even though she could see the blood from the hole blown in his chest.

It looks like the child will live.

Some things cannot be fixed by winning a lawsuit.


Tue Jun 24, 2014 5:19 pm
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Post Re: Rise of the Warrior Cop
I wish we could post decent-sized images here. Failing that, here's a link to a great editorial cartoon on this topic.

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Thu Sep 04, 2014 1:01 pm
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Post Re: Rise of the Warrior Cop
Nice that it's finally penetrated the national conversation, even if only to the degree of first-order thinking. No one as yet is wondering where this militarization came from or why it started.


Fri Sep 05, 2014 5:50 pm
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