Federalist Society Lecture Focuses on the 'Rise of the Warrior Cop'

Washington University School of Law’s Federalist Society recently hosted a presentation on the "Militarization of Police Forces." The discussion elucidated the growing number of conflicts brought on by the increased militarization of America’s police, and how it has impacted society’s perception of the police force as a whole.

Matthew White, President of the Federalist Society, introduced  lead speaker Radley Balko, senior writer and journalist for The Huffington Post and author of the upcoming book, Rise of the Warrior Cop. Providing additional commentary was Adjunct Professor David Rosen, former Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri.

Balko discussed what he viewed as the blurring of the line between the military and the police force. Since the founding of the United States, the military and the police have had separate responsibilities. The military’s responsibility was waging war, and the police force’s responsibility was to keep order, he observed. However, he believes that over time, the line between the two has blurred to the point that even with a side-by-side visual comparison, it is difficult to tell the military and police apart. Factors like the creation of SWAT teams, the normalization of displays of excessive force, and a steady bleed of military-grade weapons and armor into police armories have all contributed to the degradation, he observed. Through visual aids and studies, Balko also demonstrated that over the years, police have used these new resources and equipment with increasing force across the country.

Balko also explained how SWAT teams, which were originally formed to combat threats that ordinary police weren’t equipped to handle, have expanded beyond their original purpose. During Ronald Reagan’s War on Drugs, for example, the government started offering incentives for drug busts, which in turn increased the number of raids using SWAT teams. Since their inception, the use of SWAT teams has increased more than 1,500 percent, he said. These numbers have been bolstered through the aid of reality TV shows and crime dramas normalizing the use of excessive force, he added.

Rosen closed the lecture by emphasizing that, although currently overused, SWAT teams are a necessary part of the police force. He believes most raids cited for excessive force could have been avoided through the use of proper training and procedures.

Balko’s new book, Rise of the Warrior Cop: the Militarization of America's Police Forces, is expected to be released on July 9, 2013.   

 - Brent Mueller