Militarization of Police

When Cops Claimed the Right to Search Anyone Who "Causes Fear in a Community"

The history of militarized policing.


Radley Balko has published a series of stories at The Huffington Post that use the government's response to the marathon bombings as a newshook to write about Boston's recurring role in the history of militarized policing. The most interesting article in the sequence, I think, is the segment on the modern drug war. Here's the setup:

Also available: Beneath the Warrior Cop, Escape from the Warrior Cop, Conquest of the Warrior Cop, and Battle for the Warrior Cop.

In the early 1980s, Boston authorities introduced widespread stop-and-frisks, barricades, and other high-intensity policing tactics in high-crime neighborhoods like Roxbury and Matapan. Critics claimed police were implementing a "search on sight" policy of black men in some neighborhoods, doing away even with the low bar of needing reasonable suspicion before conducting stop-and-frisks. Police admitted a search-on-sight policy, but only for anyone known to be or suspected of being in a gang, along with anyone who associates with those people. They also claimed to be following a vague policy that allowed them to search anyone they felt "causes fear in a community."

According to a subsequent lawsuit, black men were stopped, patted down, and in some cases strip searched for no more than wearing the sports logo of a particular professional sports team. A Boston Globe investigation found 15 people who had been stripped searched on the street, but were never arrested.

State Sen. William Owens said the tactics were alienating an entire generation of black men, and that had effectively imposed martial law on some communities. Tensions boiled over in 1989 when a plainclothes officer shot 30-year-old Rolando Car during a stop-and-frisk after mistaking Carr's keys for a gun.

At another point, "Residents of Lawrence were issued passes that they had to show to get into and out of the neighborhood. Anyone entering Lawrence had their vehicle license plate documented by police manning a barricade. A letter was then sent to the registered owner of the vehicle to let him know the car had been spotted in Lawrence." The police chief, Balko notes, "described the tactics as a form of community policing."

Read the whole thing here, and read the rest of the series here, here, and here. And pre-order Balko's book Rise of the Warrior Cop here.

NEXT: Left Protests Against Hollande in France

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. But I thought racist cops were only in the South. Was this some kind of exchange program with Mississippi? How could such a thing have happened in an enlightened liberal city like Boston?

    1. The last time Balko published something about Mississippi doing this shit, the entire comment section was about the evil southerners and how no good person would ever live south of the Mason-Dixon line.

      Huffpo comments are like gazing into the mind of the deluded and the mad.

      1. Doesn’t Obama live south of the Mason-Dixon line?

        1. They moved the Maxon-Dixon line to the Potomac after Maryland got Saved by Progressivism.

      2. I had to stop reading the comments to his HuffPo articles, which is a shame, because I loved the commenting when he posted here and on his private blog.

        All this time I never knew that police militarism is only the fault of racist Republicans. Especially Dubya. This kind of thing never happened before Dubya.

        Then again, those commenters are only slightly less annoying than the ones who pop up talking about our brave police officers, and how dare anyone question them, etc., etc.

        1. I find HuffPo to be an even worse memory hog than H&R, so I rarely visit, which is a shame since I like what Balko has to say.

  2. These brave men (and sometimes women) are just keeping our streets safe from the gang bangers, drug dealers, hooligans, street urchins and terroristas that plague our otherwise peacful neighborhoods like a pestilence.

    Instead of nitpicking with their tactics we should be on our goddamn hands and knees thanking them for the amazing job they do. Without their sacrifice we would be overtaken by the lesser among us who allow their animal spirits to overtake them.

    The next time you see a cop, buy him a pastry and show your support for all that he bravely endures.

    1. I knew you had a first name Dunphy.

      Tim Dunphy….whoda thunk!

    2. *slow clap*


    3. Also, every time I see your handle, I naturally think (involuntarily, like breathing), “I can see you’re a busy man, Tim….”

  3. If I had only enough money to buy one book, should it be The United States of Paranoia or Rise of the Warrior Cop?

    1. United States of Paranoia is a really interesting subject and could be great if it’s done well. The other one is by Radley Balko, and will be great because it’s Radley Balko. That’s a tough call, but I think the Balko has to win.

      1. If I had only enough money to buy one book, should it be The United States of Paranoia or Rise of the Warrior Cop?

        You should go into debt to buy both. And then buy The Power of Glamour to complete the Reason trilogy.

        1. If you’re going Postrel, you need to buy The Future and Its Enemies too.

          1. Well, hell, if old books are in play, buy Rebels on the Air.

            1. Oh, sure, you would say that.

    2. I would recommend Million Dollar Habits.

  4. In the never-ending Boston/New York rivalry, BPD is attempting to out-asshole the NYPD. And it looks like they’re succeeding, unlike the Red Sox over the Yankees.

    1. Hey, they didn’t want that new reality show about Boston’s Finest to be boring.

  5. “…a plainclothes officer shot 30-year-old Rolando Car during a stop-and-frisk after mistaking Carr’s keys for a gun.”

    Based on the FACTS and totality of the circumstances, it was obviously a good shoot, IMO justified.

    1. You need to work some facts about Dunphy’s sex life, how no women can resist him, and his totally rad college experience into your comment for it to be a true parody of the Dunphmeister.

      Dunphy’s just a sexing, shooting, surfing machine, and ain’t no one gonna tell him what to do.

      1. You forgot “fact pattern” and a bunch of acronyms.

        It ain’t shit if it ain’t got them acronyms.

        1. You forgot IMO.


          1. Just got back from WA.

            Smoked weed legally for the first time; what a liberating experience. It is hard to get over the cultural fear of prosecution, though. Was in a house on a street with many passers-by and kept wanting to close the shades.

            Oh, and I totally used the gym bag that I keep my ammo in as a carry-on. I emptied it of over 2000 rounds before packing and the damn thing reeked like ammo, but no alarms went off. I’m thinking those e-sniffers aren’t all that great. They showed more interest in my hoodie and belt (I had to run them through the machine).

            1. Where in WA?

              The legality aspect is pretty awesome; just that knowledge that you can’t be fucked with for having a little bud on you is a great feeling.

              1. My GF lives in granite falls, which is a pretty sweet little town for being the “meth capital of the world”.

                We spent all the time hiking around the cascades and weren’t home much. Hiked on some vertical avalanches and saw a few alpine lakes (it’s a bitch to get to them this time of year with 10+ ft of snow in higher elevations). We went east and hung out in the desert at cowpiche canyon for a day.

                Also went to Bellingham to the SPARK museum (old-timey electrical stuff).

                We quit trying to go to urban areas to do stuff as we end up sitting in traffic for hours and get pissed off.

                1. Nice, that sounds fun. Plus you got to enjoy this amazing weather.

                  1. I had a blast.

                    We also saw those fall they have at the beginning of twin peaks (snoqualmie?).

                    1. Yup, Snoqualmie Falls. Quite nice. It’s been some time since I’ve been out there.

          2. IMO as usual, the REASON anti LEO bias comes out and you guys show how little you care about the fact pattern of the case.

            this is actually pretty similar to a case i worked back in college when I was lying on my back underneath one of the many cop groupies that i copulate with on occasion (perk of being a peace officer LOL) when a guy came running out of a nearby liquor store waving a LHG (large hand gun) around and threatening the local womenfolk.

            i jumped up and chased him down on foot. When I caught him, i disarmed him with a swift roundhouse kick.

            ‘Please officer,’ he said. ‘I’ll never do it again.’

            ‘SDGASC (Scum doesn’t get a second change)’ i replied, at which point I raised my gun and protected the populace right in his face.

            i’ll ignore the troll aspects of your posts, since i think we can all agree that none of you would say this to my face since I bench so much and like to keep myself in shape by surfing.

            there most definitely IS an “us vs. them” thing with the cops and with the anti-cop bigots. with MOST of society, there is no such thing

            1. First class trollin there Irish!

            2. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were Morgan Fairchild’s husband.

            3. NEEDZ MOAR BIGORATI!

            4. You sound like a pretty good powerlifter, bro.

            5. LHG (large hand gun)

              That was my favorite part.

            6. It’s not quite complete without either a




            7. *joins applause*

      2. Don’t forget weightlifting and fucking Morgan Fairchild (or was that Morgan Freeman?).

      3. You forgot the powerlifting.

    2. The hero of Reason,
      The man they call Vain.

    3. Procedures were followed…

  6. Don’t listen to the voices warning you about….

  7. At another point, “Residents of Lawrence were issued passes that they had to show to get into and out of the neighborhood. Anyone entering Lawrence had their vehicle license plate documented by police manning a barricade. A letter was then sent to the registered owner of the vehicle to let him know the car had been spotted in Lawrence.” The police chief, Balko notes, “described the tactics as a form of community policing.”

    The depressing part is that this was considered ‘shocking’ 25 years ago, now it is DHS standard operating procedure on a national scale.

    1. so, if you forgot your pass and left the perimeter could you get back in?

      “He may ride forever ‘neath the streets of Boston, he’s the man who never returned.”

    2. Here’s the thing, other than a single kick ass Korean restaurant I can’t image any reason why any sane individual would want to go to Lawrence. I mean even if it wa score some drugs or a hooker you’ll probably get better quality at the same price over in Lowell, and with less risk of getting your head blown off in the process.

  8. The only people who “cause fear” in my community are the police.

    1. To paraphrase Richard Daley I:

      The police are not here to allay fear, they are here to create fear.

    2. ^ this.

      When I saw those jackboots searching from house to house in Watertown, I thought of Liz Warren’s campaign.

      Remember the whole “you didnt build that” dustup? In defense of Big Govt, she claimed that thanks to Govt, we are not prey to “marauding bands”. Seems in fact that Govt is the marauder and wants its monopoly intact.

      I know what quote/footage I would run together if I were campaigning against her.

  9. Are you paying attention Reason editors? This is how you do alt-text!

    1. The Alt Text was way better when Virginia Postrel was here.

  10. Your rights end where my imagination’s unlimited capacity to fear begins. Yeah. That’ll work out well.

  11. What happened in Boston is the perfect distillation of what Balko writes about. Two skinny yabboes managed to shut down an entire city using nothing more than fireworks and kitchen utensils. They did it all by themselves with no major terrorist network funding their actions. In response, the Boston PD did house-to-house searches, forcibly ejecting people from their homes, and went through the streets in APVs and full military gear. And what happened? They didn’t even find the second brother until after the lockdown lifted and the boat owner went out for a smoke, after which they blatantly tried (and failed) to assassinate what we now know was an unarmed man.

    But some people think I’m supposed to be impressed that one of the tacticool douchebags brought a single mother milk for her kids.

    1. I haven’t been watching the newz of late, did they say what the bombs were composed of yet?

      1. They emptied the powder out of a few hundred dollars worth of fireworks.

        1. Good thing they were too stupid and ignorant to go to a hunting store and buy some Pyrodex.

    2. Right, because it’s “heroic” to tell someone not to leave their home to get milk, but then turn around and get them the milk you just told them they can’t get themselves.

      Sort of like how it’s “creative” to ban innovation in telecommunications, but then invent the internet. A century later.

  12. Anyone entering Lawrence had their vehicle license plate documented by police manning a barricade

    Some people believe this isn’t liberty-limiting.

    1. Some people believe the whole escapade is liberty expanding. Without the protection of a powerful state you will never be free to do anything.

  13. Balko – doing God’s work as always. I miss his reasoned analysis and reporting here.

  14. As I posted on Saturday, there was an incident on Friday involving the LAPD and a (mostly black) student party in the area around my college (USC). 80 cops showed up in riot gear, and numerous people were arrested or brutalized by the police for little to no reason. Supposedly, the police claim that when a couple cops first showed up, people started throwing beer bottles at them, so they sent out a distress call, prompting the massive response. I’ve talked to a lot of people who were at the party, and no one has mentioned seeing anybody throwing bottles. It’s possible they’re all lying, but I think you should take my word that these are people who would admit to me if they did see that. Perhaps it did happen and they all just didn’t see, but if that’s the case, I have a hard time believing it was on anywhere near a scale large enough to justify the outrageous number of cops and the riot gear. There was one cop for every two or three students at that party. And even if we assume the LAPD was justified in having that many cops and the riot gear, that doesn’t justify their brutality while shutting down the party and dispersing the crowd.

    1. I’ll add that I’ve been to a couple black parties while here, and a good number of Latino parties, and none of them have ever gotten any more wild than the mostly white parties I’ve been to (in fact, I’d say the Latino parties are actually more low-key, although I haven’t been to enough black parties to say the same about them), but the minority student parties do generally receive more police attention.

      *Reason staff: I sent you guys an email with some info and links on the story. I think you should follow up on it. I’ll repost some articles and facebook posts about the incident here.

    2. Here are some posts about the incident:

      “It is Friday night and my friends and I are at a party. 2 o’clock am rolls around and two cops come to the house party. They say that we need to keep it down, mind you there is another party directly across the street going on, consisting of mostly white people. The host of the party, Nate Howard, came to the mic and kindly asked everyone to move inside of the house. People began moving slowly, and the DJ turned the music back on. After the music played for about 4 minutes, the cops returned, quite agitated, and with much hostility called for the DJ to come to them. The DJ refused, to which the cops then left and came to the front of the house. My friends and I began filing out of the party and once we were outside we waited to get a headcount of our friends. As we waited, more cops began filing in, although people were leaving. Why are more cops coming? I said outloud. Before someone could answer I spotted Nate Howard across the street being man handled and arrested by three cops. Following them were a large group of Nate’s friends, enraged, emotional, and unhappy with his arrest(rightfully so) …

    3. … “From there, more cops began filling in, blocking off the street and thats when my friends and I decided to leave. We walked across the street to the corner where Pizza Hut is located, and waited for our campus cruiser to arrive to return to campus. About eight minutes pass by and a load of ten more cop cars arrived, while a helicopter hovered over the scene flashing lights on the people. I saw the cops take out their batons as they ran toward the scene, and I saw black people trying to leave. Havoc was apparent, black people were scared and unhappy with Nate’s arrest. Two more minutes pass by and a dozen cops arrive with tear gas masses on. They file down the road on hoover, and begin making columns of police to barricade and block off anyone else from entering the area.
      The entire time I am attempting to maintain an objective view, being that I don’t have all of the details as to why such unnecessary means were enforced. One could argue that the party was being too loud and needed to be shut down. This is understandable, and Nate along with the other party members began leaving. It was a registered party, with security provided which automatically should enforce some sort of diplomacy.”

    4. “Additionally, something I’m having difficulty understanding is the fact that there was a party directly across the street, hosted by majority white people, that was equally as loud (as I was able to hear it on the street) yet it was not being discontinued whatsoever.
      As I waited on the outskirts of the event for campus cruiser to pick up my friends and I, files of policies began lining up with tear gas masks on, pushing people away toward Hoover. They were using abusive remarks. One police officer yelled at us to “Get the fuck out of the way!” as my friends and I frantically climbed inside of a campus cruiser van. He yelled at the driver to “Move the car or I’ll toe it!” –his exact words, as if that wasn’t exactly what we were already clearly trying to do.” Two of my friends came running away from the hub of the scene with tears in their eyes stating that they saw someone get tazed right in front of them for no reason. They also saw two people get slammed to the ground and arrested. Absolutely traumatizing, unnecessary, and uncalled for. I do not know what the media can do about this, but as black educated scholars we do not deserve this treatment. No one does. Something must change. I encourage everyone to share their story, share their voice and share what they witnessed! That’s the only way they’ll take us seriously. This will not get blown over.”

    5. Here’s a link to an article and some youtube links…..ts-at-usc/…

    6. Couldn’t fit all the links into one post. Damn squirrels!……

    7. That same night, there was a mostly white party across the street that didn’t get a response from the cops aside from asking them to turn the music down. However, this is what happened later that night (or morning I should say). This is a FB post from a guy who lives in that house:

      “Hi everyone, I live at 1223 W. 23rd, (The Pink House) and we were the folks hosting the party across the street when Friday night’s events unfolded. In addition to the blatant racism that was exhibited at the party across the street, and as if we needed more reason to feel strongly against what happened, the blatant violation of rights did not stop after the majority of the officers went home.

      I woke up at about 4:30am to a loud pounding sound, which I assumed was one of my 6 housemates locked out of the house. I thought the sound was coming from the back door but, once I woke up, pulled on a pair of underwear, and checked our back entrance, I realized that the sound was coming from inside my house. I walked around through our living room to find two police officers IN my house, one of them lowering a shoulder into my housemate, Brynne’s door.

      When they noticed me standing there, they immediately froze and, when I asked them why they were in my house (thinking the police’s attention had shifted to our home to also enforce whatever “laws” our party may have broken), they simply said that they were “canvassing for witnesses” …

    8. “At that, they continued to violently BEAT on Brynne’s door, stopping only when I yelled at them, saying “She’s obviously asleep, quit doing that.”
      At this point, i was shirtless, barefoot, and terrified of the two large men with guns apparently trying to beat down my housemate’s door. The fact that they were police officers didn’t even bother me, they were just men with guns in my home without my permission and I knew that wasn’t okay. I asked them what they needed and they began aggressively questioning me. “How many people live here? Is there anyone else awake? What are the names of everyone who lives here?” When I told them that I was the only one awake, they ordered me to wake everyone in my house. So, with two police officers in tow, I walked upstairs and began knocking on my housemate’s doors. The first door, my housemate stephanie’s room, was open. The first officer pushed his way past me into the room, and stopped, probably waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dark room. I rushed in behind him, stepped between him and my friend (then noticing that my other friend Anya was also in the bed with Stephanie) and, to my horror, realized that both girls were shirtless and uncovered, asleep (or passed out) on the bed – and the officer was just standing there, staring at them” …

    9. “I told the officer that he needed to leave and that they were not dressed (and of course he acted like he had no idea they were shirtless) and he reluctantly exited the room. I am terrified to think how long he would have stood there (or what else he might have done) had I not woken up to go upstairs with them.

      I banged on my friend Tommy’s door, becoming increasingly scared of what was going on. While waiting from him to come down the stairs from his attic room, the same officer that entered Stephanie’s room entered my friend Jos?’s room. He began trying to talk to Jose, fiddling with Jose’s personal belongings on his desk, and when I asked him what he was doing (because Jose was clearly unresponsive and asleep) he stated that the was “checking out his posters”.

      Tommy and I confronted the officers, Tommy still sleepy and unaware of the things the officers had done in the other rooms (and still under the belief that they were here to prosecute US) and asked them why they were here. The officers then began asking us questions in their pursuit for “witnesses” and it soon became apparent that they were looking for us to give them some sort of information that would condemn the behavior of our fellow students across the street” …

    10. “The best way to summarize the attitude and feel of their questions is this: “Please tell us all the things you saw today to confirm the fact that we, your police officers and loyal protectors, saved you precious white folk from the violence and unlawful behavior of the atrocious black party across the street tonight”

      We asked them if giving them a statement would make them leave, and they said yes. Tommy and I gave our statements, giving them no information except for estimations on the number of people and officers we witnessed on Friday night, and times at which we noticed them, along with a great deal of personal opinion regarding the blatant racism and selective enforcement we witnessed, which they disregarded and did not take down.

      Tommy then went to bed, and, on their way out, the two officers said “Do you want us to shut the door behind us? It was unlocked when we got here” which CONFIRMS the fact that they OPENED our door and let themselves in without a warrant, without permission, and without any sort of probable cause. I ushered them out and locked the door behind them.

      Tommy and I have both filed reports and complaints regarding the officers and, because they took down our information, we will be able to find out which officers these were.”

    11. “This in no way amounts or compares to the hardship and injustice suffered by our neighbors across the street that night, but it goes to show that these officers have ZERO respect for the law they’re supposed to uphold. I will continue to call and file complaints on a daily basis until my calls are returned and I encourage all of you to do the same for anything you may have seen or experienced this Friday”

      This Tuesday we have an opportunity to make a difference in the way the police in Los Angeles handle student affairs. We have a chance to alter the way in which USC liasons with the LAPD. We need to show up in force, and show them that the force we represent is not to be reckoned with, and that we will no longer stand by and watch our fellow students be profiled and those who are supposed to protect and serve instead enforce laws selectively and differently based on different racial or social demographics. Things have to change! Let’s make it happen!”

  15. Isn’t the Huffington Post just a bunch of bloggers though?

  16. I see the trolls are out in full force on this thread. Apparently, some people’s lives are so empty that they find it bizarre and “braggy” that somebody could actually accomplish something besides sitting in the basement wanking on the computer.

    That aside, as I said, Balko is a treasure. Fair minded (not at all an anti-cop bigot), reasonable analysis, etc.

    As for all the trolls, etc. on the UOF, just remember – *mY* UOF analysis comes from 20+ yrs of law enforcement and training, training and experience AS a Use of Force instructor, experience in real shootouts (not just armchair wanking), and my analysis almost always agrees with the experts iow the actual investigation results – like Seth Adams where three independent investigations all ruled justified.

    Balko, to his credit, also uses proper legal analysis. Look at the Bart shooting. He (and I) were iirc the only ones who correctly analyzed the proper charge – 2nd degree manslaughter. That’s proof of his reason ™ ed insight and proper application of case and criminal law. All the anti-cop bigots were calling it “murder” etc. but the case facts clearly supported 2nd degree manslaughter. Balko was a lone voice in the wilderness espousing reason amidst the ignorati.

    I’d trust him to ride along in my cruiser. He’s a straight shooter.

    1. Wow, Dunphy. You really are predictable. I can’t tell a difference between this and the parody posts.

      1. Not really. the parody posts paint me as a cop apologist. I am far from it. I am as fierce a critic of ACTUAL police misconduct as anybody here. That’s why I have such respect for Balko et al.

        It’s just that most people here, Balko being a notable exception, don’t understand use of force.

        It’s how they can , with unanimity, look at a case like the seth adams case and not see how it’s obviously justified.

        I can’t help it if my analysis agrees with the experts. People here can wallow in ignorance or they can learn. It’s up to them. But I defer to people with knowledge and experience in areas I am unfamiliar with. Others here would benefit themselves by doing the same, having some humility, and doing so.

        When I go to a call with an officer who is more knowledgeable on the given situation than I am , I listen and learn. Most anti-cop bigots aren’t interested in that, so they will continue to be outraged for no reason , when cops shoot people in entirely justified scenarios.


          1. The experts agree with me, not the bigots here. That’s why good ofc’s, like Sgt. Custer who had to shoot Seth Adams are found to be justified in their actions.

            The adults will continue to make the UOF decisions in the field, and make the justification decisions after the fact.

            The bigots here will continue to wallow in ignorance and disagree with them.

            Little will change.

            1. The expertspowerful elite agree with me,


    2. I suspect your 20 years of training and experience create a strong bias. I also suspect you’ve not had to interact with any LEO for the last 20 years without your badge, so you don’t get actually see for yourself how LEO’s treat civilians.

      I also suspect you enjoy your power over people, even if you don’t abuse it.

  17. Sounds like a solid plan to me dude.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.