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Columns

May 11, 2014

CEPEDA: Dogs and the warrior cops

If Radley Balko is right, it may be the dog lovers of America who touched off a movement to rein in the strong-arm tactics that have accompanied the militarization of the country’s police forces.

Balko, who writes The Washington Post’s “The Watch” blog on criminal justice issues, says that police these days too frequently shoot people’s pets when making a raid, and people are becoming fed up.

I recently read Balko’s book, “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces,” after spending some time in a firearms class. In that class was a retired policeman who firmly subscribed to the “us vs. them” mentality Balko so vividly illustrates.

Starting with a history of law enforcement, Balko follows its tenuous flirtation with the norms and practices of the armed forces to today’s proliferation of S.W.A.T.-like local police departments. He provides a painful history of the progression from President Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs through the decades-long erosion of private citizens’ rights to have their homes treated as sanctuary from violence to the all-too-common “collateral damage” incidents that dot our news feeds.

No one, and no political party, is spared from a scathing critique of the wisdom of soldiering-up local police officers and making violent, highly militarized raids everyday occurrences. Notably, Balko’s sources are less often the innocent victims of botched raids, accidental shootings, wrong-address nighttime blitzes and flash-bomb takedowns — or their advocates — though their stories come through clearly.

Mostly, the voices of those speaking out about the dangers of invade-and-conquer law enforcement are of professionals in the field who either carried out militarization programs themselves or tried, in vain, to keep brute force — and its accompanying mindset — from encroaching on their beloved profession.

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