Rob Kall: It's actually Chaye Calves' Maryland Bill right?
Radley Balko: Chaye Calves', yeah.
Rob Kall: Now what is interesting there is the dog. You mentioned the dogs before, it could be that it will take an outcry because police are killing dogs, that could be the tipping point that changes things here. You never know!
Radley Balko: That does seem to be an issue that gets people really angry, when they shoot the dogs. I've heard people criticize that as saying they don't care when they shoot the people, they only care about the dogs. But you know, when they shoot the dogs its done in such a callous way and all the officer has to say is that he felt threatened, and it's a subjective thing. If he says he felt threatened then the shooting was justified, and there's no, I've called police departments and asked them about this, there's very little training for cops on how to deal with dogs. And so I think the dog shooting thing resonates with people, one because they love dogs, but also because it's indicative of a deterioration of the mindset of these police officers and police departments. I mean dogs are just sort of considered collateral damage, and the justification is, if the dog is even going to break the officers skin he's justified in going in and killing it with bullets. And more than anything I think it illustrates just how protected the profession of police officer has become, or being a police officer has become. And I think that's why it resonates with a lot of people.
If you and I were visiting someone's home, or came to somebody's home to, I don't know, sell them something, or take a survey, and their dog growled at us and we pulled out a gun that we were legally carrying, and shot it, we'd be arrested, and we would probably be doing some jail time. But there are countless stories that I've read about, or reported on, or heard about, where this happens. Where a police officer comes to a house to ask questions about a burglary in the neighborhood, or respond to a home alarm that went off accidentally, and ends up killing the homeowners dog. And there are no consequences at all for it.
And on top of that, the department doesn't give them any training on how to recognize an angry dog versus just a protective one, and so it's just indicative of the larger problem which is that there's really been no effort to sort of put officers on the same grounding as the people that they're supposed to be protecting. And it's not, I don't think that every cop is a dog killer, and I don't think even most of them are, or even a high percentage of them are...
Rob Kall: Let me jump in here because you've said that there is a developing dominant, or it's become a dominant military culture in police agencies, and you've talked about how Larry Flint, the publisher and founder of, what's his magazine again? I can't remember.
Radley Balko: SWAT Magazine, although I've since learned that..
Rob Kall: Yeah, but what's his sex magazine, Hustler? Flint has a porn magazine that's just porn. And now that he has a SWAT magazine, it sounds like SWAT porn to me. And then you go on to say that the people who serve on SWAT teams are the ones you'd least want on a SWAT team, and you've already said how the recruiting approaches they have brings in this worst kind of people. So what's basically happening is, the police across the country are developing a culture that is really bad for taking care of the American people, and the use of the verb policing has become something that is pretty dangerous. And fallacious even, in terms of the way that they recruit and the attitude of these guys who get their jollies on these SWAT team attacks. They are attacks, almost.
Radley Balko: Yes, it's interesting, and I interviewed a lot of retired police officers for the book, who could talk a little bit more openly about things. And , a lot of them had been on SWAT raids, and what I found fascinating was this, that the adjectives that they used to describe SWAT raids are the same adjectives that we use to describe the intoxicating effects of illegal drugs. So they say: raids are exhilarating, and they get your adrenaline pumping, and it is, well, intoxicating is a word they often use.
So it's sort of ironic that that high the officers get while conducting SWAT raids, comes from trying to prevent people from getting high.
Rob Kall: Yeah, really. So, way back in this interview I wanted to get a little bit of history from you. You talk in the beginning of your book about how the founders, and perhaps even in the Constitution, would not even consider the idea of police to be legal, or constitutional. It would be anathema to them.
Radley Balko: Yes, I can get into this a little bit. But I really don't have a whole lot more time for you.
Rob Kall: Yes, this one is my next to last question...
Radley Balko: Well policing didn't really exist at the time as it does today. It was mostly a community issue, and a private issue. There were constables and sheriffs and marshals, but most of their duties were administrative. They weren't active enforcers of the law. So yes, and they were very wary of standing armies, and of the influence of militarization on free society. They were students of Rome and of Classical Europe, and they saw what happened to societies that got overly militarized.
So yes, I argue in the book, that we can see even the early police departments, and places like New York and Boston and Philadelphia, as something to be concerned about, as kind of the standing army that they feared so much. And certainly today, I can't imagine what they would think of these heavily armed, battle clad police officers breaking into people's homes over a plant, and I think they would be pretty appalled by it.