A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

Radley Balko: Author speaks out against police militarization, explores the origins of the first SWAT teams

Erik Jorgensen / Oak Leaf
Radley Balko saying the police are becoming more like soldiers, and discussing the history of SWAT.

We have allowed and encouraged police to act increasingly like soldiers, according to Radley Balko, award-winning author and investigative reporter who gave a lecture on the militarization of the police force in the Bertolini Student Center on April 29.

Balko discussed many of the topics and trends that led to this outcome detailed in his new book “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.”

“The military’s job is to kill people and break things, it’s to annihilate a foreign enemy. A police officer’s job is to keep the peace and protect our constitutional rights,” Balko said. “These are two fundamentally different missions.” But over time the police have taken to using military tactics more and more.

“There are two trends that got us here and both trends start about the same time, the mid to late 1960s, the first is the rise of the SWAT team and the second is the rise of the drug war,” Balko said.

During the tumultuous times of the late ‘60s there were many riots throughout the country, and in incredibly dangerous and disruptive riots in Los Angeles, in particular. Due to the LAPD believing they lacked the appropriate resources to respond theses threats, eventually SWAT was born.

The first SWAT raid was on a Black Panther holdout in in Los Angeles in 1968. The raid was a disaster logistically, but from a public relations standpoint it was a huge success.

“This was not the phantom Black Panthers that Fox News is trying to scare you about; this was a group that actually committed inordinate acts of violence,” Balko said.

SWAT was originally used to diffuse situations that were already violent but were being used more and more indiscriminately for drug busts and all sorts of excessive sets of circumstances due to being incentivized by federal grants and “tough on crime” politicians, Balko said.

Starting in the 1980s with the Reagan Administratio those two trends started to converge with the escalation of the Drug War and enacting a greater focus on marijuana, leading to an explosion in the use of SWAT teams.

“In the late 1970s there were about 300 swat raids per year in the United States across the entire country; by the early ‘80s we are up to about 3,000 per year by 2005 they were up to 50,000,” Balko said. “The policies that have driven this trend are all still in place, in fact we have more policies that are further encouraging the trend.”

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About the Contributor
Taylor May, Staff Writer, Spring 2014

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