Friday, January 10, 2014

Best of 2013: Rise of a police state

One of the many items enjoyed by Burbank Public Library staff during 2013, recommended for your consideration:

Investigative journalist Radley Balko has written perhaps the best book on the modern history and philosophy of law enforcement to date. Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces looks honestly at the effects America’s “War on Drugs” and the rampant growth of SWAT Teams have had on local police departments. The way of thinking about the neighborhood beat cop has changed drastically--he has gone from a friendly officer to a highly trained and weaponized individual. In 1983, 13 percent of towns (population size 25,000-50,000) had SWAT Teams; now that figure is at 80 percent and climbing. Much of this change came about during the 1980s with the use of military tactics to wage a war on domestic drug dealers, but the militarization has only increased with the “War on Terror” and the use of local police forces in the apprehension of domestic terrorists.

Balko argues that the replacement of "paddy wagons" and service weapons with tanks and M-16s not only endangers basic civil liberties but creates a psychological change within police officers that can lead to more aggressive behavior and even violence. The author feels strongly that police are important members of a community and can have a lasting effect on the quality of life of its citizens. He champions a return to community policing, in which officers interact with their neighbors on a daily basis rather than relying on brute force.

I found this book both fascinating and terrifying. The rise of a police state is the end of our cherished freedoms and civil liberties as well as the end of a community of citizens working together for the greater good. It creates a divide between the police and the people they serve, making us “civilians” the enemy. I think most people who dream of becoming police officers do so out of a deeply felt need to help make their city a better place for all. They want to protect and serve, not be made into some sort of quasi-soldier with a mandate to enforce laws by any means necessary. Handing an officer a grenade launcher and training him or her in military techniques will only lead to more violence. For the sake of police officers and those they serve, I hope this trend will be reversed--but I fear it may be too late.

Reviewed by Carey V., Central reference supervisor

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