Bill Maher did a short interview with Radley Balko last week. This is the transcript of my 75 minute interview with him.
Balko's book by Radley Balko
This is the second half of the transcript of my interview with
Radley Balko, author of Warrior Cop: The Militarization of
America's Police Forces, just interviewed last week on the Bill
Thanks to Eric Forat
help with the transcription process.
Rob Kall: Cool. So I just want to be clear,
you say right at the very beginning of the book that it's the drug
war that has mostly funded and fueled police militarization. Can
you talk about that?
Radley Balko: Sure, I mean it's going back to
the Nixon administration, when he first declared war on drugs in
1972, to the policies that he pushed. The most notable that I talk
about in the book is the No Knock Raid. Which interestingly enough
is an idea that the police can break into your house without
knocking or announcing themselves first. And it's a really nasty,
and sort of authoritarian police tactic that runs contradictory to
pretty much everything that this country was founded
It bumps up against the Castle Doctrine, which is an
idea that the home should be a place of sanctuary, bumps up against
the fourth amendment which is the right to privacy. And Nixon
pushed this idea, and the interesting thing is that it wasn't
something that police departments were asking for, it wasn't
something that criminologists were saying was needed. This is
actually an idea that was brought to Nixon by a twenty nine year
old Senate staffer, as a campaign issue that Nixon could use to
exploit middle class, mostly white fear of inner city mostly black
This was a wedge issue, I mean look at how frequently
the No Knock Raid is used today, and you know the defenses of it,
and look at where it actually came from and what the origins are. I
think it's telling that this is a political issue, this is not a
crime issue or police tactic that people were begging for.
But you know, so Nixon passes the No Knock Raid, he
sends no knock narcotic officers out barging into homes. But it
actually got walked back a little bit after a series of high
profile botched raids that terrorized some people. Congress
actually repealed the No Knock Raid in 1974, and it was, it was
kind of a telling moment. It showed that Congress was still capable
of saying, and admitting they were wrong, and actually revoking a
drug war policy that they could be convinced had gone too far.
That all changed in the 80's, the Reagan
administration then really took the drug war metaphor and made it
quite literal. Reagan brought The National Guard in to start
enforcing the laws, Reagan and several members of Congress actually
wanted to bring in active duty military troops to start patrolling
streets and conducting raids and arresting people. Which had never
happened in the US save for the (inaudible 00:38:40)
Reconstruction Act right after the Civil War. But the idea of using
active duty military for domestic policing is something that we've
always guarded against in this country. And interestingly the one
institution that's been most opposed to that idea has been the
military. It was actually the military that pushed back on that
idea, and it was one of the two really bad ideas from the Reagan
administration that didn't make it into law.
But we really see then that Reagan sets up
these joint task forces where local police agencies start working
directly with military groups of various military forces on drug
interdiction efforts. We see the sharing of military equipment, the
sharing of military intelligence, we start seeing U2 spy planes
flying over California looking for fields of marijuana. We see
this, the Camp Campaign where national guard troops, and local
police agencies start sending helicopters to look for marijuana
fields, and then when they find them, sending troops down to chop
down the plants. But also to basically arrest and detain anyone in
I mean these areas in northern California, a lot of
these towns basically turned into war zones. People were harassed,
and brutalized and terrorized by some of these Camp teams. And so
this just continued throughout the Clinton administration. One
thing I talk about in the book, is that up until about the mid
1990s, was the police, the government, at least made the argument
that these tactics were necessary because drug dealers were heavily
armed, and career criminals and dangerous people. So we have to use
these tactics to protect police officers. You know there are lots
of counter arguments to those points, but at least they were making
In 1996 California passes its Medical Marijuana Bill,
the first in the country, a couple states follow suit, and the
Clinton administration responds by raiding these medical marijuana
dispensaries with federal SWAT teams. And this I think really
representative of a turning point on this issue, because you can't,
at this point, these are businesses that are operating openly. You
know, they have business licenses, they're operating in compliance
with the state law. But also they're openly flouting federal law.
And so the federal government is sending in these violent SWAT
teams with these violent tactics. And yet nobody thinks that the
hippie mom and pop couple that are operating the pot dispensary are
going to pull a gun out from under the counter and kill a bunch of
federal agents. I mean these aren't dangerous people.
So, you know, the only reason that the SWAT tactics,
the violent tactics, are being used on these dispensaries, and it's
still going on today, is to send a message. I mean this is the
federal government making an example of these people.
Rob Kall: So, wait wait wait, I just want to
get this, cause I wrote down as you were talking, how did the
Clinton administration make the militarization work, and what I'm
hearing is it was Clinton who started using SWAT teams for kind of
a political 'send a message' reason. And I think this ties back in
with the federalization and the centralization of government, and
with imposition of federal laws at state levels.
Radley Balko: Well yeah, that's certainly part
of it, the fact that they were enforcing federal law. But I think
it would be one thing that the Clinton administration, and I would
disagree, but the one thing they would say, federal law is supreme,
and we're going to send a couple of bureaucrats with clipboards in
to shut these places down. You're going to have to, within thirty
days, to shut, close down your business, or whatever. But that's
not how they responded. They responded by sending in these gun
toting, black clad SWAT teams dressed like troops, to raid these
And this, if you think about this it's kind of
terrifying. The idea of governments using violence to make a
political point, is not something you normally associate with free
societies. And this really started happening in 1990s and you know
it's been happening ever since.
I mean if you look at the FDA is conducting SWAT
raids on these co-ops and Amish farms selling raw milk,
unpasteurized milk. And they're selling it to people who want to
buy unpasteurized milk, right, these are voluntary transactions.
They're not tricking anyone or defrauding anyone. And yet because
they're violating FDA regulations, and doing so openly, the federal
governments bringing the boot down. So again this is about sending
And this is not, this is not something that
governments of free societies are supposed to do.
Rob Kall: So the federal government is
bringing the boot down, sending in violent, massively armed
militarized SWAT teams, to deal with Amish people riding horses and
buggies selling raw milk.
Radley Balko: Right, because they're openly
flouting FDA regulations, and we can't have that.
Rob Kall: This is, what you don't call, you
don't call that a free society, you call that a police state.
Radley Balko: Yeah, well I kind of shied away
from the word police state because we associate it with East
Germany for example, and I don't think we're anywhere near that
point. But I don't think we should wait until we get there to start
voicing our objections, when it's already too late. We don't yet
get stopped and asked our papers every few miles, we're free to
leave, you know move about the country, we have free speech; I can
write this book without being throw in jail.
So I would hesitate to call it a police state, I
would say maybe Police State "Lite". It's certainly something, I
think we have certainly passed the point where we need to be
concerned. But I think we sort of lessen the severity of
actual police state if we refer to what's going on now here as
Rob Kall: Absolutely. Have you been
Radley Balko: No! " Actually, I had one
incident, I used to live in Alexandria, Virginia, a suburb of D.C.,
and I moved to Nashville a few years ago and right before I left I
wrote a series of articles about how northern Virginia police
departments, sheriff's departments and the state were basically,
openly ignoring the state's open records laws. They were turning
down every single open records request, regardless of whether they
had the authority to do so. I mean in some cases, they were turning
down requests for information that they had put out themselves in a
press release a couple weeks earlier.
So it was just a blanket denial, and I wrote about
it, and it generated a little bit of local controversy. And I was
told after I moved, I got a email from a neighbor who said that a
uniformed member of the sheriff's department had visited my house,
where the new tenant was living, and came with a copy of the
magazine that I had written the article in, and asked if anybody
from Reason magazine lived in the house. Which is a little
disconcerting. But, you know, I had already moved at the time so it
was just kind of an interesting story at that point. But that's
really the only time anything like that has ever happened. I think
most of the time I've had, I mean I've had good and bad
interactions with police officers, but the bad ones weren't
tied to anything I'd written, or the fact that they recognized me
And when I write about this issue, you get some
negative feedback that gets kind of nasty some times. But I've
given talks to police organizations, and for the most part they've
been very respectful, even when they disagree.
Rob Kall: That's good to hear. all right let
me move on. You mentioned, I forget where, that there is a tie in,
that your awareness of this has developed partly with the
crack-downs of the Occupy Movement. And I want to start with that,
but then I want to go to the idea that New York police commissioner
Kelly is now being considered to replace Janet Napolitano as the
head of the Department of Homeland Security. So I'd like a little
bit of background on your observations about the Occupy
Movement, and the New York police, and then tie that to the police
commissioner and what effect that might have on the Department of
Radley Balko: Sure, well yeah, the crackdowns
on the Occupy protesters were an interesting development in this
issue in a few ways. One is this has become the standard city
reaction to protest, political protest now. I mean since the 1990
WPO Riot in Seattle, this is how we deal with protest now.
And it's a way of dealing with protest that is very hostile to the
First Amendment. Police come to these protests expecting
confrontation now. And I think there's a interesting lesson to be
got from Seattle in 1999, the police chief in Seattle was Norm
Stamper. And I interviewed Stamper for the book, and he says today
that he thinks the way he reacted to the protest was the biggest
mistake of his career. And the reason why is because he says he's
looked at how police departments have responded to protests since,
and he realizes now that the Seattle reaction has become a
template, and he thinks that's wrong, *chuckles*, to say the least.
And he's really, he's heartbroken by it.
And you know the first amendment is obviously the
first amendment for a reason. The founders thought it was
critically important to a functioning democracy. And the irony
about how we respond to protest today, is really that the more
important the meeting that's being protested, the more
influential the people in the meeting, the more consequential the
decisions those people are making at the meeting, the less likely
it is that the protesters are going to be heard. So the more
important the meeting, the more influential the people involved in
the meeting, the further away from the meeting police are going to
And I think that's kind of a sad commentary on the
state of protest and free speech in this country now. And it's not
just here, it's about how all countries respond to protest now for
the most part. And so that's troubling. And I generally don't agree
with, I don't share a World view with the Occupiers or the Anti
Free Trade protesters, but I do think they deserve to be heard,
and they deserve the chance to be heard without being moved,
beaten or cordoned off into the orwellian named "free speech
But the other sort of interesting thing that happened
with the crackdowns on the Occupy protesters has been that this was
one of the few times, one of the rare times I guess, that these
sorts of tactics were being used. And on people who had the means
and a platform to respond. And the Occupy protestors were mostly
upper middle class white kids, and they all had cell phones, smart
phones with video capabilities. They all knew how to instantly
stream video up to the internet. They were all very deft at
utilizing social media, and getting word out.
So we learned about these crackdowns almost as they
were happening. And so we saw, a kind of instant outrage, instant
public reaction, we all knew what was going on as it was happening.
And not coincidentally, we saw more accountability in these cases,
I mean the police officers who initiated these attacks were much
more likely to be held accountable and disciplined than in a
typical case of police brutality. It still probably doesn't happen
And I think police have a point that in some cases
Occupiers baited police officers, they would throw something at
them and then start the camera when the police officer responded.
But a lot of these crackdowns were brutal, and unnecessarily
brutal. And it was interesting to see how this new class of people
that these tactics were being used against were able to utilize
these advances in personal technology to hold the government
accountable. And I think it was encouraging, I think it was a
Rob Kall: So what about commissioner Kelly,
and if he were to be appointed to be the replacement for Janet
Napolitano as the head of Homeland Security?
Radley Balko: Yeah, well, it probably doesn't
surprise you but I think it's an awful idea. And I also think the
fact that, I mean it could be a political tactic, its entirely
possible that Obama's just throwing this out there so that when he
puts up his next, his actual nominee, they'll get less scrutiny.
Or, actually less scrutiny from the left, and maybe he'll earn some
points from the right for even considering Kelly in the first
But it does show just how disappointing Obama has
been on civil liberties, that's this could even be talked about. I
mean this is the guy who oversaw a program that has made every
black person in a black neighborhood in New York a target to be
stopped, patted down, possibly searched. I mean the New
York Times, the Village Voice have done
exposÃƒÆ' ©s about people being arrested for
doing basically nothing. They're released a day or two later,
but without being charged. But then now you have an arrest
record, and you've lost a day or two of your life, and you've been
And you know Kelly oversaw all of this. And..
Rob Kall: How would it change, how do you
think it would change the Department of Homeland Security? What
would ramp up, what would drop? How would it be different under
Radley Balko: Well it's hard to say how you
would, sort of apply a style of belief that Kelly used in the NYPD,
how he would apply that to anti-terrorism measures. I mean,
just the few examples we have from his tenure at NYPD that are
applicable are disturbing. And you know we have the spying on
Muslim groups in New York, the CIA agents infiltrating various
protest groups and Muslim groups. And so that you can see some very
clear warning signs about how he might run DHS.
You know, I don't know how you can be aggressive and
try to implement a nationwide stop and frisk policy. So I'm not
sure what record you can draw from that other than that he clearly
takes a pretty authoritarian approach to policing. And that's
something to worry about if he were to head up DHS. You could
certainly see much more aggressive DHS measures, and much less
respect for, even less respect I guess I should say, for the civil
liberties and privacy of travelers.
So yeah I think it's a, a pretty troubling
development , the fact that he has support from both law and order
conservatives and of center left politicians, like Schumer, just
makes me more weary of him.
Rob Kall: Okay, now your Wikipedia profile
says you're a libertarian. Is that correct?
Radley Balko: That's correct. Yep.
Rob Kall: So, I'm a lefty, but it seems
like we agree on everything we're discussing here so far. Just
Radley Balko: Yeah.
Rob Kall: I mean it's just not the
Radley Balko: If we talked about policy and
regulation we could probably find something to disagree on, but I
guess on this we, we align.
Rob Kall: So, and do you think that your take
on this is pretty typical for libertarians?
Radley Balko: Absolutely. Yeah, I mean there
are, there are libertarians, prominent libertarians who I disagree
with about foreign policy and on some of the war on terror stuff.
There, there are some, I think, craters in the libertarian
movement, but on police issues I think we're pretty unanimous on
that. I haven't read or talked to any libertarian that I can think
of who thinks I'm wrong about this, or has objections to the way
I've argued the book.
Rob Kall: How about Tea Partiers?
Radley Balko: No, no, to be honest again. I
disagree with Tea Partiers on immigration, and some of them tend to
be pretty hawkish on foreign policy. But again, no, on this issue,
I've gotten nothing but support from Tea Party groups and prominent
people who support, who are sort of aligned with the Tea Party. Now
I will say that politicians who are aligned with the Tea Party,
somebody like Jim DeMint or Tom Coburn, or some of these elected
officials, they disagree with me I'm sure. And I think Rand Paul
probably agrees with me on these issues, but he's not going to, I
mean it's not an issue he's going to make a big fuss about. These
aren't their priorities.
But politicians of all stripes have been
terrible on this stuff. I mean no politician wants to look like
he's anti-police, so both parties have been terrible about
this. I make the point in the book that, as bad as Reagan was, and
he was pretty bad, on the drug war, and on this, just policing
issues, he was regularly being criticized by Democrats in Congress
for not being tough enough. And not going far enough.
In fact one of the loudest critics in that ring was
Charlie Rangel, who you would think would kind of be more sensitive
to how these issues would affect communities of color. But
throughout the 1980's he was regularly on Reagan's case for not
going far enough.
Rob Kall: So I gotta call the show for the
radio version, but I'd love to have you on for a bit longer for the
podcast. Think you could stick around?
Radley Balko: Yeah, I could do fifteen or
twenty minutes more.
Rob Kall: all right, great, great. So this is
Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show WNJC1360 AM, you've been listening to
me interviewing Radley Balko, the author of Rise of the Warrior
Cop: The Militarization of Americans Police Forces. He's got
endorsements from the executive director of the American Civil
Liberties Union and Ron Paul and Glenn Greenwald . It's an amazing
mix of this. So we're going to continue now with the interview and
it's going to go on the podcast, and you can listen to it either on
iTunes, look for my name Rob Kall, K A L L or go to
Opednews.com/podcasts and you'll find it there.
So, I want to hear a little bit more about this
political aspect of this, because we started earlier in the
interview saying that the real problem is the politicians and what
I'm hearing you just say, is that this is a bi-partisan failure on
the part of the politicians. Now I write a lot about duopoly,
about how they're all corporate, but this isn't even about
corporate, or is it? There are people who refer to the
prison-police-industrial-medical complex, and they throw them all
together now. Could you talk a little more about that?
Radley Balko: Yeah. I think that police, I'd
used the word police-industrial complex, and I think it's a
relatively recent phenomenon. But I think it's definitely something
to worry about. It's this idea that since these DHS grants started
coming in, to police departments across the country, and I think
they've given away, DHS has given away about thirty five billion
dollars since 2001, and you know this is going on again, these
departments are using it to buy armored personnel carriers, and
M16's and bayonets, and helicopters and all this kind of
Up until the September eleventh attacks, the Pentagon
was giving away all this military equipment as well, but it was
surplus equipment. It was equipment that had already been built
depending on what the Pentagon was using. The DHS grants created a
market for new equipment. So now you have companies springing up to
build this equipment so police departments can buy it with DHS
grants. So now you have companies, that their bottom line rests on
these grants continuing to flow to police agencies. So they have an
interest now in setting up lobbying shops in DC to make sure these
programs continue and expand and that their bottom line continues
So I think we have entered the age of the
industrial-police complex, and it is going to make it that much
difficult to walk any of this back, because now you're going to
have all this money lobbying Washington to make sure it
Of course that money itself originally came from tax
payers, is the really perverse part. But getting back to the
politics a little bit, now there is this interesting phenomenon
that's gone on where, and I argued this in the book, because I
think that one reason why these police tactics have gotten to the
point where they are, and militarization has been allowed to
flourish is because, on either side of the political spectrum there
has been outrage when these tactics are used against people who are
vaguely kind of considered on our side, right? And somewhere
between indifference and glee when you see these tactics being used
on people, you know, we disagree with. So in the 1990s it was
largely the right, the conservative right, that was up in arms
about police militarization. They were upset about Ruby Ridge and
Waco and the Eli-n Gonzales Raid and more, and I don't think
any conservatives would say they identify with David Koresh or the
Weawers, and the ATF were conducting a lot of raids in the 1990s on
people suspected of gun crimes, and they were just like the
BDA raids at the time. They were brutal, they were breaking into
people's houses' in the middle of the night, often on pretty scant
evidence. And so the right was outraged about this, then Bush gets
elected, and the outrage sort of dies down, and, I should add in
the 1990's the left were sort of quiet on this, well quiet too,
somewhere between quiet, and lethal. You saw a lot of
pooh-pooing of the right's criticism and to be fair some of the,
Gordon Liddy with a famous radio show where they talked about,
encouraged the listeners to take headshots at ATF agents, because
they had, they were always wearing protective gear on their chests.
Rob Kall: Who was that? Who said that?
Radley Balko: G. Gordon Liddy.
Rob Kall: G. Gordon Liddy, ok.
Radley Balko: Which is particularly ironic
because G. Gordon Liddy was the one who orchestrated the narcotics
raids in the 1970's when he was working with Nixon. But it was the
left who sort of, the right went overboard a few times, but also
they had a legitimate point, I mean these were brutal tactics. I
mean the ATF was out of control, the left was sort of
downplaying this idea, and in some cases openly mocking
conservatives who were upset.
And then you get to, you know, the Bush
administration takes over, and now we're doing, he steps up the
raid on the medical marijuana clinics, he starts using SWAT
teams from border patrol, and later from ICE to raid places where
there is suspected illegal immigrants. Now the left is starting to
become concerned about these tactics, and the right is sort of
turning the other way.
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
Radley Balko: Yeah, he covered a lot of ground
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
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
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
Rob Kall: It's actually Chaye Calves' Maryland
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
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
Radley Balko: Yes, I can get into this a
little bit. But I really don't have a whole lot more time for
Rob Kall: Yes, this one is my next to last
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
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.
Rob Kall: All right, so just to wrap it up,
and I really appreciate you giving me the extra time, you've got an
extraordinary book that puts out the problem, and a couple pages at
the end for the solutions and reform. What can you tell my
listeners and readers they can do to change things?
Radley Balko: I think awareness is the main
thing, and what I found is the more people learn about what's going
on, and how these tactics are being used, the more angry and
outraged they are about it. And I think that really the first step
is letting people know, so conveniently that leads me to say
they should buy my book, for them, and all their friends and
But beyond that just make sure that your local
newspaper covers these raids skeptically. That they ask the right
questions, that they don't just take the police word for it. Write
letters to the editor, or you can make open records requests to
your local police department and find out how often they use the
SWAT team and for what. What they found. And then you have numbers
to work with. You can say, hey the Mayberry SWAT team was deployed
forty times last year and only three of those resulted in criminal
charges, maybe there's something wrong here.
So I think, just awareness, getting the word
out, educating yourself on the issue. Because what I found is that
a lot of people just don't realize what's going on, but once they
do, they get pretty outraged about it. And then we can start
talking about how to move for reform.
Rob Kall: All right, great interview. Thank
you so much.
Rob Kall is editor-in-chief, publisher and site architect of OpEdNews.com, President of Futurehealth, Inc, and an inventor. He hosts the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show, aired in the Metro Philly area on AM 1360, WNJC. Over 200 podcasts are archived for downloading here, or can be accessed from iTunes. Rob is also published regularly on the Huffingtonpost.com
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Rob is, with Opednews.com the first media winner of the Pillar Award for supporting Whistleblowers and the first amendment.
See more Rob Kall articles here and, older ones, here. To learn more about Rob and OpEdNews.com, check out A Voice For Truth - ROB KALL | OM Times Magazine and this article. For Rob's work in non-political realms mostly before 2000, see his C.V.. and here's an article on the Storycon Summit Meeting he founded and organized for eight years. Press coverage in the Wall Street Journal: Party's Left Pushes for a Seat at the Table
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