Today’s armored-up policemen are a far cry from the constables of early America. The unrest of the 1960s brought about the invention of the SWAT unit—which in turn led to the debut of military tactics in the ranks of police officers. According to investigative journalist Radley Balko, Nixon’s War on Drugs, Reagan’s War on Poverty, Clinton’s COPS program, the post–9/11 security state under Bush and Obama: by degrees, each of these innovations expanded and empowered police forces, always at the expense of civil liberties.
In “The Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces,” Balko says that politicians’ ill-considered policies and relentless declarations of war against vague enemies like crime, drugs, and terror have blurred the distinction between cop and soldier. He says that, over a generation, a creeping battlefield mentality has isolated and alienated American police officers and put them on a collision course with the values of a free society. Radley Balko will appear at a public event at the Salt Lake City Main Library, Thursday evening at 7:00.