The central concern of Radley Balko’s new book is what he calls “the militarization of America’s police forces.” The main symptoms of this disease are specialized SWAT teams that were formed to deal with violent emergencies but which now frequently turn “no knock” home invasions in pursuit of drug offenders and evidence into violent and frequently injurious confrontations. The blame for this overkill is shared in Balko’s account by (1) drug warriors creating legislative licenses for no-knock entry, (2) the SWAT team innovation of Daryl Gates in Los Angeles that is now a status symbol in police departments nationwide, (3) the permissive trust of constitutional courts in the motives and veracity of the cops, and (4) public willingness to tolerate excessive force as a law enforcement style against criminals. All of this is encouraged as well by federal programs to share military equipment and provide financial incentives for drug policing.
An article tucked away on the back page of my local newspaper caught my attention: the Library of Congress has become the latest federal agency to acquire a SWAT team. The Library of Congress? We know that only members of Congress and high level executive department officials have check-out privileges, so it is unlikely that SWAT teams will be used to recall overdue books. What then? Is there evidence of a planned terrorist plot to destroy the Madison papers and thereby our memory of constitutional government? Perhaps an assault by Taliban negotiators on some of the still-secret Kissinger papers to learn how Le Duc Tho outwitted the U.S. in the Paris Peace accords?