Freedom Fest 2014: Radley Balko Explains 'The Rise of the Warrior Cop'

The “Rise of the Warrior Cop” is a phenomena with which the public is becoming all too familiar. Most recently, we saw an excessive display of militarized regulatory agencies when the Bureau of Land Management’s “armed officers, helicopters and four-wheel drive vehicles” descended upon the Bundy Ranch. It was news to many people that a government agency had those kinds of resources under their auspices to pursue a citizen…for a tax-based dispute.

When and how did our police and federal agencies begin to operate with force traditionally reserved for the military? Radley Balko, author of the The Rise of Warrior Cop and journalist at the Washington Post (!!), spoke to Freedom Fest attendees about the gradual evolution of the police into a military-esque force.

The police have traditionally served a peace-keeping role while the military’s job is killing the enemy, said Balko. But the convergence of several factors have blended the two groups: the war on drugs, federal financial incentives to carry out drug raids coupled with the Pentagon selling surplus military equipment to police department. (Does your police department have a tank? Some do!)

To drive this home, Balko showed to audience a series of pictures and asked them to identify if it was a picture of a police force or the military. We failed the test.

Executing a search warrant with a no knock raid late at night sets up a perfect situation for citizens to have their private property invaded under circumstances that mimic a break-in or robbery. In addition to a potential drug charge, a target is set up for possible attempted murder or an actual murder charge if they should defend themselves under the belief they are being robbed. Additionally, the object of the “visit” might executed by the police during a highly stressful situation. This scenario is dangerous all-around. (Balko showed a video of a “visit” to a house involving at least five stormtrooper-esque cops who kicked in the door, shot the dog, and escorted out a ten year old boy who was present unbeknownst to them. The purpose? A tip there might be drugs in the house.)

But the police have traditionally had a role where they arrive on the scene in the middle of a violent situation, whereas now we are seeing more instances where the police themselves are introducing violence into an otherwise peaceful situation.  Why the need for a “surprise” visit? Advocates say the possibility of destroying evidence requires the element of surprise. But is it really worth the risk of such raids when the degree of “evidence” is of such a size it can be flushed down the toilet?

I’ll close with a quote that Balko opened his presentation with: “Democracy means that when there’s a knock in the door at 3 am, it’s probably the milkman.”