And you really saw this during the end of the Occupy protest. These were pretty brutal crackdowns in some cases, and the right, because they disagreed with the Occupy protesters, not only didn't care, but in some places even defended the police tactics and in some ways even celebrated them.
And so I don't think there's going to be any real chance of reform until people are willing to criticize and decry and protest these tactics. Even when they're used against people that you consider your political opponents. And that takes a fair amount of principle to be able to do that. But I think the fact that it largely hasn't happened is one reason why we have gotten to the point where we are.
I will say that I think in the last few years there has been more, outside of politicians, the political class, there has been more bi-partisan unity on this issue. I think people are starting to finally realize what's going on and starting to object to it. But up until just a few years ago, there was this kind of bi-partisan split that I think kind of helped get us here.
Rob Kall: Okay, so let me ask you a couple questions along these lines. You said that it's hard to walk this back even with public support, so are there legislatures who are supporting SWAT and militarization, are there legislatures who are opposing it? I know at the end of the month there are a couple of legislatures that are going to be honored by a whistle blower organization for their support of whistleblowers, at a time when they're really under a lot of fire. Are there organizations supporting SWAT, are there organizations opposing SWAT and this whole militarization of the police? How about in the media, what's happening with the media? And what about the Supreme Court Justices, I believe that Supreme Court Justice Bryer cited your work. So...
Radley Balko: Yeah, he covered a lot of ground there.
Rob Kall: Yeah, yeah, well, I know.
Radley Balko: I mean politicians, no, I mean there's no, I've got a blurb from Ron Paul but outside of him, and maybe just a couple others, there's been very little interest in this issue. And they don't see it as supporting police militarization, they see it as making sure that our heroes in blue are well protected and safe and secure.
And that's kind of one of the points that I make in the book and that's one of the reasons that I wrote the book. I mean this was a very gradual process, I mean it happened over thirty five, forty years, and Congress never introduced a law, or a new bill that said we are now going to militarize the police forces in this country. I mean it's a culmination of a lot of different policies working together.
And so there's never been a debate on this issue. I mean it's never been discussed whether our cops are acting too much like soldiers, or they are armed too much like soldiers, or should they be trained this way? And there's never been a public discussion or a public debate on whether SWAT tactics are appropriate for people suspected of marijuana crimes. Or whether people who were playing poker with neighbors, which have been subjected to SWAT tactics, or whether bars that are suspected of allowing underage drinking, whether it is appropriate to raid them with SWAT teams, which has also happened.
So there's never been this kind of discussion, there's never been a vote on police militarization. It's a slow trend that has developed over a generation or two, and, again, it is a combination of several policies.
So that's one issue, or one sort of hurdle I guess, to mounting any sort of reform action on this issue. But the politicians largely just don't see it as police militarization, and even if they did, I don't think they would particularly care, and it would take a pretty bold politician to say, "I think our police officers should have less power, and use less aggressive tactics" , that is a difficult thing for a politician to do.
Rob Kall: Framing is now a 'Big Word', and an important idea in politics. Is there a way to frame demilitarizing police that could make it easier for politicians to get involved in this?
Radley Balko: Sure, I mean you can find sympathetic cases, there are plenty in the book, and point to where things have gone too far. You know what they'll always say when you point to these cases, that they are isolated incidents. And really that isn't indicative of how things are done, and that's usually not true, but what you can always point to, and what is hard for critics, or I guess my critics, to defend, is that even in these "isolated" incidents, where there is clearly egregious misconduct, the officers aren't held accountable. And so if you have a system that won't even hold officers accountable in the isolated incidents where there's egregious conduct, I mean that in itself suggests that there's a larger problem, right?
So that's one way of framing it I think. But in terms of organizations, you know a lot of activist groups are upset about this. The ACLU right now is doing a national campaign just to try to get a grip on how widespread this is. They've submitted open records requests in states across the country. I used to work for the Cato Institute, which has been very vocal on this issue. Read, the Reason Foundation who I also work for is also very vocal on this issue. The Rutherford Institute, the conservative group, has been, has written lots about police militarization. And groups like, the NAACP, and some of the traditional progressive groups are starting to speak out on this issue.
So you are seeing, in the kind of activist community and the advocate community, it hasn't really reached the stage of policy and politics yet. There have been a couple examples, Maryland passed a transparency bill that requires every SWAT team in the state to report how many times, sorry, every police agency who has a SWAT team in the state, to report how many times the SWAT team is deployed, and for what reason, and what they found, whether any shots were fired. And I mean the thing about that bill is, it's only a transparency bill, it puts no restrictions on the SWAT teams whatsoever. And still, it's opposed by every police organization in the state, and it was really only passed after a very high profile raid on the mayor of a town in Maryland, where the police had raided the wrong house and shot and killed his dog.
So that's, you know, it's sort of telling that it took a raid on a member of the political class in order for the political class to take notice, and do something about it. And that is, I guess that is sort of human, but it is also unfortunate.