Pubdate: Sun, 11 May 2014
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2014 Albuquerque Journal
Author: Esther J. Cepeda, Washington Post Writers Group.
Page: B2


CHICAGO - 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 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.

Balko provides seemingly endless examples of state-sanctioned violence
and paramilitary-style policing even as he fairly portrays the danger
that law enforcement officials have to deal with in their demanding

It cannot be said enough that "Rise of the Warrior Cop" is in no way a
partisan, overly emotional or pacifist anti-police screed - but
learning how calloused we've all become to this type of enforcement
stopped me cold.

Balko cites anecdotal evidence among his network of law enforcement
researchers and educators showing that, too often, people calmly
accept that unwarranted violations of privacy and violent tactics are
appropriate for "bad guys," murderers and drug dealers, even their
wives and children.

But they get very angry when they hear about pets being harmed and
routinely killed.

"At first, that may seem to indicate that people callously value the
lives of pets more than the lives of people," Balko writes. "But the
fact that killing the dog during these raids has become nearly routine
in many police agencies demonstrates just how casually those agencies
have come to accept drug war collateral damage.

"When I started logging cop-shoots-dog incidents on my blog (under the
probably sensational term 'puppycide'), people began sending me new
stories as they happened.

"Cops are now shooting dogs at the slightest provocation. As of this
writing, I'm sent accounts of a few incidents each week."

The public outcry about pets as collateral damage has actually gotten
a handful of police departments to mandate training, Balko writes. He
quotes Russ Jones, a former narcotics officer with the San Jose
Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency:

"I don't understand it at all. I guess somewhere along the line a cop
shot a dog under questionable circumstances and got away with it. Word
got out, and now it seems like some cops are just looking for reasons
to take a shot at a dog. Maybe it just comes down to that - we can get
away with it, therefore we do it."

If Balko gets one point across, it's that the days of law enforcement
getting away with strong-arm and often deadly tactics in the name of
maintaining safety and order are coming to an end.

The proliferation of mobile phones with cameras, video that can be
remotely streamed directly to the Internet and the instantaneous
sharing of both through social media are making it so that evidence of
law enforcement overreach can be preserved as proof.

But first, we have to be aware that these instances of overly harsh
tactics affect innocent, law-abiding citizens - not just the canine
kind - and we can no longer afford to accept our civil rights getting
so blithely trampled.
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