It should be alarming that there's an ever-present attitude with our American law enforcement culture that views neighborhoods as American battlefields. That's one of the points author Radley Balko tries to make in a book on the militarization of police forces across the nation. Judging by early responses from law enforcement communities, he has a point. The increasingly militarized state of not just law enforcement, but outlook on protecting the streets is treating America like another war-zone.
The book, Rise of the Warrior Cop might be one of the more self-explanatory titles to hit shelves this year. In a Huffington Post piece, Balko wrote that, "… too many cops today have been conditioned to see the people they serve not as citizens with rights, but as an enemy." Balko attributes this to fighting rhetorical themes, such as drugs and terrorism. This of course relates to the campaigns of the war on drugs and war on terror.
Words aren't harmless. By labeling something as a war, one is suggesting an action that is not just grand in scale, but acute in harshness and perception of what constitutes a war. The word enemy is obviously associated with war. However, drugs aren't the enemy. Terror isn't the enemy. People who perpetuate these industries are. Hence, Balko argues that lawbreakers are treated as enemies, and not lawbreakers with rights.
While Balko offers ample evidence, responses to the book have practically argued his point for him. One response on the popular website PoliceOne by Sgt. Glenn French of Sterling Heights, Michigan not only acknowledged the phenomenon, but defended/encouraged it. French's essay stated that "We trainers have spent the past decade trying to ingrain in our students the concept that the American police officer works a battlefield every day he patrols his sector." French goes on to say, "Cops on the beat are facing the same dangers on the streets as our brave soldiers do in war." French goes on to endorse military capabilities and increased SWAT forces.
Perhaps Prince George's County, Maryland is French's ideal police sector. In 2009, SWAT teams were deployed an average of once a day. Were there that many hostage situations or drug lab raids? Nope. Most were to serve arrest or search warrants, often for misdemeanors.
French's sector must be dangerous then. Once again, nope. Sterling Heights is the second-safest city in Michigan. There were 10 murders in a population of 130,000 (2008).
There are bound to be other circumstances. There are certainly cities, like Detroit (Ever closer to the crimepocalypse of RoboCop) that certainly need SWAT units. There's no denying that more and more police are veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and would fit right in with police militarization. The problem is that all police don't have to strive to be the next Seal Team 6.
Balko gets it right. There is very much an attitude and subsequent policy of police militarization in the U.S. Neighborhoods are being treated as warzones, even when they're not. Due to this emphasis in training, there's a new generation of law enforcement that views this as the norm.
Now, who's going to rename Sterling Heights as Kandahar Heights?