Radley Balko on why police like ‘no-knock’ raids: They’re fun

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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There’s a scene in First Blood (the surprisingly-solid Sylvester Stallone film before John Rambo became a muscle-bound superhero), where Rambo’s ex-commanding officer in Vietnam, Col. Trautman, advises the local police to just let the fugitive ex-green beret go.

“You’ll soon find him in Seattle, working in a car wash,” Trautman advises. “That way, no one gets hurt.”

The police, of course, don’t take this advice, and the audience is treated to more carnage.

I was reminded of this recently when talking with Radley Balko about his new book, Rise of the Warrior Cop. It’s all about the militarization of America’s police that has increased since the so-called “war on drugs” began. And, of course, it also coincides with an increased use of paramilitary “no-knock” raids.

These raids are dangerous for the police and for the homeowner (who assumes it’s a burglar — or worse) and for the dog (who is almost always shot.) What is more, sometimes the police get the wrong house. So why do they do it?

“It’s just easier to do it, this way,” Balko explained when I asked why the police didn’t just apprehend suspects when they go grocery shopping or … to a car wash. “You have to get to know somebody’s routine to catch them as they’re coming and going…and there’s just not enough manpower to do that. It’s much easier to just go busting in, in the middle of the night.”

But according to Balko, there’s another reason: “These raids are fun,” he says.

“When I interviewed police officers for the book who’ve been on these raids, Balko continued, “the words that they would use to describe how they felt during the raids are the same adjectives we use to describe the effects of the drugs that they’re conducting these raids for in the first place.”

“I mean, they’re described as intoxicating and you get this huge rush, and they talk about it…it’s just a thrill.”

Listen to streaming audio of my full conversation with Radley Balko here. And download the podcast on iTunes.

Matt K. Lewis