Today's book chat is about something we've discussed many times here at C&L: The militarization of our police forces.
Once we began to arm police officers like soldiers, it was inevitable that they start acting like soldiers, too. Fueled by federal funding aimed at fighting the endless (and pointless) War on Drugs, trained to see themselves as occupiers and civilians as potential insurgents in that war, the past several decades were marked by an escalation of police violence and abuses. Violent drug raids on the wrong houses, shooting civilians in encounters that could have easily been handled without guns, attacking non-violent protesters at peaceful demonstrations became the norm. And like soldiers, just about any offensive action (including killing people and animals) is rationalized in the name of "officer safety."
But we also saw a corresponding drop in police accountability. It became politically radioactive for a politician to demand even answers from the police, let alone consequences. Some municipalities and states dealt with public uproar by declaring police records exempt from public records laws.
No wonder this topic has consumed Radley Balko for a long time.
“Today in America SWAT teams violently smash into private homes more than one hundred times per day,” he notes. Far from the days of the public service-oriented "Officer Friendly” model, “police departments across the country now sport armored personnel carriers designed for use on a battlefield,” Balko writes. “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.”
Backed up by statistics, original reporting, and interviews with current and former police officials, his book explains how American policing has become a system of volatile, adrenaline-fueled tactics, where “shoot first, ask questions later” is all too often the norm. Balko warns of its threat to our society and our security, and describes how to reform the system to keep our communities safe from criminals and police alike.
I'm happy to welcome Radley Balko here to Crooks and Liars. I know you'll have some interesting questions for him.