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How a Biden-Backed Community Policing Bill Wound Up Militarizing Cops

Even before 9/11, police departments were using federal funds to buy SWAT gear

The Huntington Beach SWAT team advancing during a peaceful protest in California. Photo: Leonard Ortiz/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register/Getty Images

As the COPS program threw billions at police departments under the pretense of hiring whistling, baton-twirling Officer Friendlies to walk neighborhood beats, many police agencies were actually using the money to militarize.

Moreover, while Congress regularly makes federal funding contingent on states passing a particular law or policy—think speed limits or drunk driving laws tied to federal highway funding—it’s much more difficult to dictate how a police department puts a big federal grant to work in day-to-day operations. And so as the COPS program threw billions at police departments under the pretense of hiring whistling, baton-twirling Officer Friendlies to walk neighborhood beats, rescue kittens, and maybe guest-umpire the occasional Little League game, many police agencies were actually using the money to militarize.

Excerpted from Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces by Radley Balko. Copyright © 2014. Available from PublicAffairs, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Investigative journalist and reporter at the Washington Post. Author of Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.