Book Review On The Militarization Of American Forces
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The tactics employed by the American police have been changing over time. A trend, however, that observers see is the move from the traditional appearance of the police to the current appearance of a soldier. There is no debate that the security situation has changed from the one of the past and coupled with the current availability of military equipment, the policeman has been turned into a warrior cop armed like a soldier and ready to deal with law breakers harshly. This change has come with an increased disregard of the basic freedoms that the average American citizen has been used to enjoying. Balko in his book gives examples of police brutality, its origins, and trends.
The major point that Balko points at is the continued use of SWAT teams in normal police activity. Tracing the history of the SWAT teams brings us to its basic definition. When integrated into the police setup the teams refer to police units that use special weapons and tactics mostly adopted from the special forces of the military. The SWAT teams that operate with the police are trained to enter into buildings within the shortest time possible and apprehend suspected criminals. Balko notes that the idea to use SWAT teams in police activity came up during the 1960s due to the increased civil unrests that were being witnessed at that time. The Los Angeles Police Department was the first to implement this idea due to its growing inability to counter riots and increased criminal activity. He sought help from the Marines’ Special Forces and from that time the trend was adopted by other police divisions.
The 1970s witnessed a significant increase in the number of SWAT units in the country with more than 500 police departments making use of them. The 1980 saw an increase of their use with more than 13% of American towns reporting to have a SWAT team. This then gave way to the exponential period of growth of the SWAT teams such that about 80% of towns in America had SWAT teams in 2005. The increase in the number of these teams also coincided with increased number of raids done by these teams. They rose from the original number of hundreds of raids in the 70s to the figure of over 50000 raids annually.
The evolving nature of the security status of the nation has been seen as the factor that has driven the police to convert into the warrior cops. During the 70s, drug use and the rapid increase in activity of gangs in the American towns necessitated the use of these teams. The 80s saw the security situation change such that the SWAT teams were required to cool down the drug wave sweeping all over the country. Here, as Balko points out, extreme measures had to be taken to fight drug trafficking and use. Helicopters were used to scout for marijuana plantations and then send SWAT teams to arrest the criminals. The police justified the use of the teams arguing that the drug cartels and organizations had begun using better weapons than the police and countering them required the adoption of military like weaponry. Another aspect that has seemingly called for the increased use of SWAT teams is the increased playing of poker by Americans through the country. In order to curb the growth of this vice, many police departments have resolved into sending out SWAT teams into suspected places where illegal gambling was reported.
This evolution of the police into a more military outfit has not received support from many American citizens who fear the misuse of the improved equipment and power by the police. Many cases have been reported of the use of excessive force when handling suspected criminal activity. Many point out at the nature of the raids conducted by the SWAT teams to be in contradiction of the fundamental rights of the American citizens. Most notably is the fourth amendment which is often bypassed in this kind of searches. Here, the SWAT teams work in collaboration with other legal departments in specific states such that the usual warrants served before searches are not seen as necessary. These raids are tagged as “administrative searches” with specific objectives. This has seen the raids done in night clubs and even college rooms. In this case, it has become difficult for the true definition of reasonable searches being established. The police units operate with their reasons but that the same time violate a number of the rights given to the American citizens in the constitution.
Balko points out the trend in successive administrations when it comes to the security issues. He points out that right from the time of President George H. W. Bush, who inherited the SWAT ideas from Reagan; other presidents have followed suit. The Clinton administration toned down a bit in financing the acquiring of new military gauge equipment. Barack Obama in his security programs has seemingly increased the budgetary allocations to programs that support this change in the police force.
The use of SWAT teams in police activity cannot be just criticized without considering a number of factors. The security situation keeps changing in the country and to some quarters, allowing the progression of the police into warrior cops is the way to go. Balko, however, is of the view that the history and the trail that the SWAT teams have left in the recent past do harm to the positives gained from the programs. The recommendation is to try and deal with the great potential of abuse that is in the present system. The changes in the police force should be done in consideration of the basic rights that the American citizen is titled to enjoy.
Balko, R. (2013). Rise of the warrior cop: The militarization of America's police forces. Public Affairs.
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