"Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces." By Radley Balko. Public Affairs (Perseus Books Group), 400 pages. Hardcover, $27.99.CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Promoted by presidents from Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, the War on Drugs has done little or nothing to stop, or reduce, serious crimes in the United States.
Yet that "war" continues to cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars to pay police officers, to prosecute people and to imprison them, typically for nonviolent crimes.
Perhaps even more important, the War on Drugs continues to erode and destroy civil liberties.
Police are typically allowed to violate the freedom of Americans to maintain their homes as places of safety, privacy and sanctuary. The growing drug wars undermine the long-held "Castle Doctrine" embodied in the Fourth Amendment of our Constitution.
The War on Drugs has created SWAT (Specialized Weapons and Tactics) teams throughout the country. Those teams repeatedly target innocents -- breaking unfairly into private homes and violently assaulting, sometimes killing, people who have done nothing wrong.
The victims of questionable SWAT raids routinely include older people, women and children.
"The overwhelming majority of SWAT deployments today are to break into private residences to serve search warrants for nonviolent crimes," Radley Balko writes in his disturbing new book "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces."
For Americans who care about their core political liberties, Balko's book is a must-read. A wide range of groups share Balko's concerns, from the American Civil Liberties Union to the libertarian Cato Institute and the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Many victims of the ongoing War on Drugs are people who smoke or grow marijuana -- an activity clearly no worse than drinking beer or wine.
SWAT teams have often detained and assaulted cancer and AIDS patients who use medical marijuana to reduce their pain, even in states that have legalized its use.
Yet despite widespread violence by SWAT teams, the ongoing drug wars have done little, or nothing, to cut drug usage.
Yet many people, especially politicians, are afraid to challenge the growing paramilitary police system, fearing they will become victims of smear campaigns.
Many police leaders express themselves bluntly.
"Officers' safety comes first," said Philadelphia Police Department Spokesperson Fran Healy. "Not infringing on people's rights comes second."
The War on Drugs
Richard Nixon's law-and-order presidential campaign in 1968 naturally led to the blossoming War on Drugs.
Many Nixon administration leaders believed drug use was a "common denominator" shared by groups including low-income black Americans, the anti-Vietnam War movement and the hippie counterculture of the 1960s, Balko writes.
Sen. Sam Ervin, D-N.C., one of Nixon's major political opponents, played a major role pursuing the Watergate charges that forced him to resign.
Ervin also became "the angriest, loudest and most powerful critic of Nixon's crime policy," Balko writes.
The prominent Southern Democrat actually preserved the Castle Doctrine for another decade before the renewed War on Drugs in the 1980s undermined it. Ervin played a major role getting the Senate to repeal a federal "no-knock" law that permitted police to break into homes without even first knocking on their front doors.
But Ervin's victory was temporary. "Ervin's wins," Balko writes, "were important, but ultimately ephemeral."
Did Nixon's war on drugs and crime succeed?
"Under Nixon," Balko points out," violent crime in the country as a whole went up 40 percent and property crime rose 25 percent."
Disliking Nixon's drug wars, President Jimmy Carter cut back on militarized assaults on supposed drug users and others. But under Reagan, things quickly reversed.