Civil liberties analyst, writer focuses on rise of SWAT teams

Radley Balko is a writer with a special interest in civil liberties issues who commands a resume that lends credibility to what he has to say about topics in that sphere. Balko was a former Cato Institute analyst and senior editor at Reason Magazine. He is currently a senior writer and investigative reporter for the Huffington Post.

Balko has just written a new book, with a title that makes its subject title self-evident: Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.

In a nutshell, Balko’s thesis is this: Since around the mid -1960s, and owing to a number of coalescing social factors (e.g., rising drug use, dissension over the Vietnam War, civic unrest in urban areas across the country), America’s police departments have grown progressively militaristic and isolated from the communities they serve.

There is ample evidence of that, he says, noting the mantras of The War on Drugs, The War on Crime and so forth.

Additionally, he notes, is the disturbing increase in the role played by SWAT teams across the country, which Balko now says are used just as often to serve warrants in minor drug crimes cases and to carry out regulatory inspections as they are to intervene in hostage or active shooting situations.

The change over the years is apparent and, Balko says, troublesome for the continued protection of fundamental personal liberties under the Fourth Amendment and other laws.

Balko notes, for example, that there were only about 3,000 SWAT interventions annually in the early 1980s, but that the number had ballooned to about 50,000 by 2005. Over that same period, the number of small and moderately sized towns with SWAT teams mushroomed from about 25 percent to 80 percent.

Balko is not a careless journalist, and is careful to note that there are many “great” police officers and departments across the country that work hard to foster open and healthy relationships with their communities.

Still, he notes, the numbers speak for themselves.

Source:, “Too many cops are told they’re soldiers fighting a war: How did we get here?” Radley Balko, July 9, 2013