1. SmokeTwibz

    This post is the first in series on the militarization of policing. Check back this week from more from Radley Balko.

    I want to thank the ACLU for asking me to guest blog this week to coincide the release of my new book, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces.

    I suppose I should start by telling you what the book is all about. Between about the early 1980s and today, American police forces have undergone some substantial changes. Most notable among these is the ascent of the SWAT team. Once limited to large cities and reserved for emergency situations like hostage takings, active shooters, or escaped fugitives, SWAT teams today are primarily used to serve warrants on people suspected of nonviolent, consensual drug crimes.

    The numbers are staggering. In the early 1980s, there were about 3,000 SWAT "call-outs" per year across the entire country. By 2005, there were an estimated 50,000. In New York City alone, there were 1,447 drug raids 1994. By 2002, eight years later, there were 5,117 -- a 350 percent increase. In 1984, about a fourth of towns between 25,000-50,000 people had a SWAT team. By 2005, it was 80 percent.

    Today, the use of this sort of force is in too many jurisdictions the first option for serving search warrants instead of the last. SWAT teams today are used to break up poker games and massage parlors, for immigration enforcement, even to perform regulatory inspections.

    Troubling as all of this is, the problem goes beyond SWAT teams. Too many police departments today are infused with a more general militaristic culture. Cops today are too often told that they're soldiers fighting a war, be it a war on crime, on drugs, on terrorism, or whatever other recent gremlin politicians have chosen as the enemy. Cops today tend to be isolated from the communities they serve, both physically (by their patrol cars) and psychologically, by an us and them mentality that sees the public not as citizens police officers are to serve and protect, but as a collection of potential threats.

    These are all generalizations, of course. Certainly there are great cops, great police chiefs and sheriffs, and there are plenty of police agencies that have healthy relationships with the public. But whether it's with the ubiquity of these SWAT raids, stop-and-frisk, or the default geared-up, Robocop response to political protest, the relationship between police and the public on the whole is growing increasingly antagonistic -- and oddly, this comes during a period when both crime and on-duty police deaths are at historic lows.

    So my book looks at how we got here. It begins with a look at some of the fundamental concepts of liberty that I believe are threatened by these developments, including the Fourth Amendment, the Castle Doctrine (that the home should be a place of peace and sanctuary), and the Third Amendment, which is really a statement of the Founders' broader aversion to militarism and standing armies. But the book's real narrative begins in the mid-1960s, when police departments across the country were struggling to find ways to respond to protest, civic unrest, and outright rioting. It covers the birth of the SWAT team and the war on drugs, then explores the policies, events, and personalities that got us where we are today.

    I'll have more on the book in later posts. But in my first post, I also wanted to give some due praise to my hosts, the ACLU, for the organization's campaign to unveil the real extent of police militarization in America. (I wrote about the campaign last March for Huffington Post.)

    Back in the late 1990s, the criminologist Peter Kraska sent surveys to police departments across the country, then published several studies documenting the proliferation of SWAT teams. But since then, there's been no real, comprehensive effort to quantify just how militarized America has become. One of my frustrations in covering this issue as a journalist has been the lack of data. Some states have decent enough open records laws to request this sort of information, but many police departments simply don't want to say how often they use their SWAT team, and for what purposes. One ongoing scandal in the criminal justice world, for example, is the fact that there's no reliable data on how often police officers fire their weapons at citizens. The federal government is supposed to collect these figures, but for whatever reason, it simply hasn't done so.

    So I applaud the ACLU's efforts, here. Once we have some reliable figures, then we can begin to have a more informed debate about costs, benefits, and appropriate uses of this sort of force.

    July 09, 2013
    Radley Balko | ACLU | Huffington Post

    Author Bio

    My name is Jason Jones. I'm from Rochester, MN and I'm 35 years old. I scrap metal and work as grounds keeper at a local trailer park. In the winter, I shovel a bunch of driveways and sidewalks to make some extra money and to stay busy. In my free time, I try to find interesting articles about the war on drugs that I can post on Drugs-Forum, so that the information can reach a wider audience.


  1. SmokeTwibz
    Senator Ervin, “No-Knock” Warrants, and the Fight to Stop Cops from Smashing into Homes the Way Burglars Do

    This post is the second in series on the militarization of policing. Check back this week from more from Radley Balko.

    One of the heroes of my book is the late Sen. Sam Ervin, the Democrat from North Carolina who served from 1954 to 1974. Ervin was an old school conservative Democrat, but could be something of an enigma. He was a devoutly religious man who, while in the North Carolina legislature in the 1940s, single-handedly defeated a proposed law that would have banned teaching evolution in the state's public schools. Ervin was a brilliant man, who often slyly hid his intellect behind a veil of aw shucks country charm. But once he'd disarmed his opponents, he'd pounce with a devastating argument or flourish of rhetoric that would ultimately win the day.

    Ervin was a staunch Cold Warrior and anti-communist, but he was also on the special Senate committee to investigate Sen. Joe McCarthy and his red-baiting, which Ervin found deplorable. Once his committee had concluded its work, Ervin fought for an official censure of McCarthy. He gave a brilliant speech on the floor of the Senate that disarmed the tense chamber with humor, invoked Shakespeare ("adversity, like the toad, wears yet a precious jewel in his head"), was self-effacing (he told a lawyer joke), and included two parables from the hills of North Carolina. The typically Ervinesque soliloquy swayed votes and won Ervin a lot of early respect from his colleagues. The Senate voted 67-22 to censure McCarthy.

    For much of his career, Ervin was pro-segregation, or at least opposed to federal efforts to desegregate the south. He even signed the Southern Manifesto, a document decrying what its signatories called federal infringement on the sovereignty of southern states.

    Ervin eventually changed his mind on those issues. And toward the tail end of his career, he became the Nixon administration's most persistent and potent adversary on Capitol Hill. Ervin was particularly angry at Nixon's early efforts to push through Congress a series of anti-crime packages that Ervin considered to be unacceptable violations of the Constitution. In particular, he was angry about a proposal that would have eliminated bail for criminal defendants in Washington, D.C., and two proposals that would have allowed narcotics cops to conduct "no-knock raids," one that would apply to cops in D.C., and another that would give the power to federal agents conducting federal anti-drug investigations.

    Ervin railed against these bills – to the media, from his position as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and from the floor of the U.S. Senate. There's one particularly poignant moment in my book where Ervin rants for hours on the floor of the Senate against the 1970 bill that gave D.C. police the no-knock raid power. Two influential liberals and committee chairs from Ervin's party – Sen. Joe Tydings of Maryland and Sen. Thomas Dodd of Connecticut – had already pledged support for the bill. The country was in the midst of anti-crime fervor, and both were facing reelection. So Ervin stood alone. From Paul Clancy's biography of Ervin:

    Washington, D.C. was of course mostly Black. And it would likely be mostly Black people who would feel the brunt of the new policy. And so here was the aging, towering figure of a senator, nearing the end of his career, standing as the only member of the U.S. Senate who was outraged at this bill that would allow narcotics cops to smash into their homes without first knocking and announcing themselves.

    The bill passed easily. But then a curious thing happened. A few years later, stories began to emerge about out-of-control federal drug cops ripping down doors and terrorizing people, often without a warrant, and frequently finding no drugs or contraband at all. Ervin called hearings, and exposed the outrages to the country. He then led the charge to repeal the no-knock laws. President Ford signed that bill into law in 1975, a year after Ervin's retirement.

    Ervin was a champion on other civil liberties issues as well. These other fights aren't covered in my book, but I think they're worth discussing here, particularly given the discussions we've been having over government surveillance over the last few months.

    In 1971 President Nixon issued an executive order that vastly expanded the power of a creepy federal agency called the Subversive Activities Control Board (SACB). Nixon authorized the SACB to investigate essentially anyone Nixon deemed to be an enemy. When Ervin heard about this, he went ballistic, and set about to override the order. With a number of parliamentary maneuvers and some impassioned speeches in defense of the First Amendment, he succeeded in effectively cutting off funding to the board, causing its demise.

    Also in 1971, the White House waged an aggressive campaign against the press. Nixon officials called journalists before grand juries, demanding they reveal their sources. They attempted to tie FCC licenses to vague requirements that TV and radio stations uphold "community interests," the implication being that undermining the Vietnam War effort or exposing federal wiretapping or warrantless spying fell short of upholding such standards. Ervin came to the aid of the press with a federal shield law allowing journalists to protect their sources without federal harassment.

    When it was revealed the Defense Department had been carrying out a massive surveillance program that included databanks on just about anyone who had ever signed an anti-war petition, put a peace sticker on his bumper, or bought an anti-government book, Ervin – a career-long supporter of the Vietnam War and defense hawk – thought it was the most violent attack on the First Amendment he had seen in his career. (This was the program challenged in the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court case Laird v. Tatum.) As Ervin biographer Paul Clancy writes, "He was determined not just to kill it, but to find out who was responsible. He wanted to make sure it never happened again."

    Over the span of the Nixon administration, Ervin had morphed from a fairly traditional conservative southern Democrat to civil libertarians' best hope in Congress, and arguably Nixon's most feared foe. He had also achieved more power and prestige among his colleagues – which is why Majority Leader Mike Mansfeld picked him to chair the Watergate hearings.

    Now the civil liberties hero was in charge of holding accountable one of the more autocratic administration in U.S. history. Ervin was at first reluctant about the task. But as he began to see the extent of the Nixon administration's crimes, he grew angry at the lack of transparency and came to embrace the hearings as the most important undertaking of his political career. It was an opportunity not just to hold Nixon accountable, but to teach the country about constitutional government.

    Even Ervin's critics came around. Clancy notes that even the liberal historian Arthur Schlesinger – a believer in the "great man" view of history who disliked Ervin for dis-empowering the presidency – praised the senator for doing "so much to educate the American people in the meaning and majesty of the Constitution."

    One final personal anecdote. I grew fond of Ervin while researching my book. (This is a difficult thing for a libertarian to say about a politician!) At some point during my research, I inadvertently left my copy of Ervin's biography on a plane. So I ordered another used copy from Amazon. When it arrived, I got a nice surprise. There was an inscription inside that Ervin himself had written to Maston O'Neal, a congressman from Georgia in the late 1960s. I also found a letter from Ervin to O'Neal inside the book, written on Ervin's official U.S. Senate stationery. I apparently own the copy of the book that Ervin gave to O'Neal as a gift.

    No-knock raids would of course return in the 1980s, as would the botched raids and raids on the wrong homes. These raids on people suspected of nonviolent, consensual crimes have victimized hundreds of innocent people, and needlessly taken the lives of nonviolent offenders, police officers, innocents, and children caught in the crossfire. Few politicians at any level of government have paid much attention. We could use few dozen Sam Ervins right now.

    July 10, 2013
    Radley Balko | ACLU | Senior Writer, Investigative Reporter, Huffington Post
    Image Source: BigBrassBlog.com

  2. I_MISS_160s
    I could not 'quote' the quote, so I copy the fallowing that sums up everything in my book. Something that should be taken to heart but has been trampled on like dog shit...

    "Mr. President, the supreme value of civilization is the freedom of the individual, which is simply the right of the individual to be free from government tyranny."

    Ervin is a true American hero. An example of these horrors, I think you posted the story a bit ago, a no knock warrant on a new york man where they killed his dog. Turns out, Wrong house assholes..

    What can anyone do to stop shit like this. You know, you challenge your local police and they plant an ounce of cocaine in your wife or husbands car and take your kids.

    I love it smoke when you post these reads even though Im generally pissed off for the rest of the day after reading them.

    Just like my sig says about the war on drugs.. Shit man, It really is destroying families. They probably send more non violent people to jail then drugs could ever kill from an overdose factor.

    Shit. Mad all day now. Thanks a lot ;-)

    Cheers for the read.
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