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Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces

Chat with Radley Balko about his new book. Hosted by Mike German.

An award-winning journalist tells the story of how politicians transformed America’s police forces into a standing army

The American approach to law enforcement was forged by the experience of revolution. Emerging as they did from the shadow of British rule, the country’s founders would likely have viewed police, as they exist today, as a standing army, and therefore a threat to liberty. Even so, excessive force and disregard for the Bill of Rights have become epidemic in today’s world. According to civil liberties reporter Radley Balko, these are all symptoms of a generation-long shift to increasingly aggressive, militaristic, and arguably unconstitutional policing—one that would have shocked the conscience of America’s founders.

Rise of the Warrior Cop traces the arc of U.S. law enforcement from the constables and private justice of colonial times to present-day SWAT teams and riot cops. Today, relentless “war on drugs” and “war on terror” pronouncements from politicians, along with battle-clad police forces with tanks and machine guns have dangerously blurred the distinction between cop and soldier. Balko’s fascinating, frightening narrative shows how martial rhetoric and reactionary policies have put modern law enforcement on a collision course with the values of a free society.

Radley Balko is an award-winning investigative journalist who writes about civil liberties, police and prosecutors, and the broader criminal justice system. He is a senior writer and investigative reporter for the Huffington Post. Previously, he was a senior editor for Reason magazine and a policy analyst for the Cato Institute. Balko’s 2006 Cato report Overkill is considered the seminal work on the rise of SWAT teams and paramilitary police tactics in America. Follow him on Twitter: @RadleyBalko  (Public Affairs Books)