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November 19, 2013

Obama is Behind the Militarization of America's Police Forces; Radley Balko Intvw Transcript Part 2

By Rob Kall

Bill Maher did a short interview with Radley Balko last week. This is the transcript of my 75 minute interview with him.

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Radley 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 Maher show. 

Here's the link to audio recording of the interview: Rise of the Warrior Cop; Interview with Radley Balko  

Thanks to Eric Forat for 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 upon. 

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 crime. 

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 the neighborhood.

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 the argument.

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 places. 

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 a message.

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 that.

Rob Kall: Absolutely. Have you been threatened?

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 or anything.

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 Homeland Security.

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 put protesters. 

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 zone".

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 nearly enough. 

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 good time. 

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 place.

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 exposÃÆ' ©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 harassed.

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 Kelly?

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 about. 

Radley Balko: Yeah.

Rob Kall:  I mean it's just not the topic.

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 stuff. 

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 to grow.

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 continues. 

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. Obviously...

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 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. 

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.

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 family. Hah!*chuckles*

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.



Submitters Bio:

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

Rob Kall Wikipedia Page

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

Here is a one hour radio interview where Rob was a guest- on Envision This, and here is the transcript. 

To watch Rob having a lively conversation with John Conyers, then Chair of the House Judiciary committee, click hereWatch Rob speaking on Bottom up economics at the Occupy G8 Economic Summit, here.

Follow Rob on Twitter & Facebook. His quotes are here

My articles express my personal opinion, not the opinion of this website.

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