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Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces    by Radley Balko order for
Rise of the Warrior Cop
by Radley Balko
Order:  USA  Can
PublicAffairs, 2013 (2013)
Hardcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

There was a perceived need to create SWAT teams after the armed riots of the late 1960s and the increase in violence associated with drug cartels, but investigative journalist Radley Balko now maintains that the special units have become so aggressive that they should be reined in.

In Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces, Balko traces how U.S. law enforcement has gone from the constables and private justice of colonial times to today's SWAT teams and special riot police units. Balko conternds that because of the relentless war on terror and the war on drugs, as well as the response to more violent crime where there are multiple victims, battle-clad police forces with armored vehicles and machine guns have become the norm.

This militaristic development has blurred the distinction between police officer and soldier and put law enforcement on a collision course with the values of a free society.

'Today in America SWAT teams violently smash into private homes more than one hundred times per day,' writes Balko. 'Police departments across the country now sport armored personnel carriers designed for use on a battlefield. Some have helicopters, tanks and Humvees. They carry military-grade weapons. Most of this equipment comes from the military itself. Many SWAT teams today are trained by current and former personnel from special forces units like the Navy Seals or Army Rangers.'

While in some instances there is certainly a legitimate threat of armed resistance that would make such an approach necessary, in too many cases today the extreme use of force does not appear to be justified.

Balko points to situations where SWAT force was used for raids on poker games, businesses suspected of hiring illegal immigrants, and barbershops employing unlicensed hair stylists. Of course, there is also the problem of totally targeting the wrong home or building and terrifying the residents.

The interviews of current and former police officials will also make some readers quite uneasy. Balko stresses that he is not anti-cop but he includes plenty of anecdotes about the behaviors of those officers who seem a little too eager to kick down doors and approach their SWAT duties with the 'wrong mindset'.

As one former SWAT team trainer confided in Balko, 'They think this stuff is cool. And they get hooked on that jolt of energy they get during a raid.'

Another former police official also added that in many instances the last person you would want serving on a SWAT team is the very one who volunteers and is accepted.

Rather than just point to what he sees as a serious problem and then not offer any ways of solving the situation, Balko devotes the book's final chapter to suggesting some reform and recommendations on how to roll back the militarization of policing while, at the same time, making sure that police lives are not placed in jeopardy.

A provocative volume, Rise of the Warrior Cop should generate discussion and force a reassessment of how we want law enforcement to be conducted in this country.

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