Author's 'warrior cop' message resonates with Utah crowd
The disgust from the crowd was audible as people watched a video of a Columbia, Mo., police raid that ended with a dead dog, a frightened 8-year-old and the discovery of trace amounts of marijuana.
The capacity crowd Thursday evening at the Salt Lake Main Library's Nancy Tessman Auditorium, some audience members fresh off a protest in Library Square, came to listen to author Radley Balko discuss his book "Rise of the Warrior Cop." Copies for sale at the library sold out before the speech began.
The Huffington Post reporter started his presentation with the SWAT raid video not because it was a representation of a rogue police force, but, he said, because it is the norm.
"This raid was very typical," Balko said. "It was not a botched raid."
Balko's book argues that police forces across the country have gradually been blurring the line between community service and domestic paramilitary engagement, a notion some in Utah agree with in the wake of recent police shootings across the state.
Melissa Kennedy, the mother of Danielle Willard, came from her home in Vancouver, Wash., just a few weeks after the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office found the shooting of her daughter by two West Valley City police officers in 2012 was unjustified.
"The ruling was absolutely, positively what we knew what was going to happen," Kennedy said.
But what she called a victory was also a bitter reminder of the cost of such shootings.
"What it showed me is that she really is gone and she is not coming back no matter how much justice we get."
But Utah's problems aren't unique Balko said. He presented data that showed SWAT-like raids in the United States, once reserved only for rare emergency situations, had risen from about 3,000 in 1980 to 50,000 in 2005. Police forces now use SWAT teams for miniscule drug offenses, he said, some of which have needlessly escalated into violence.
"You're actually using [SWAT teams] to create violence and confrontation where there was none before," Balko said.
Before the presentation, about 50 people dressed in red gathered at Library Square to protest police tactics that ended in deaths across the state. The protesters also remembered Matthew David Stewart, who killed himself in jail while awaiting trial for the killing of Ogden Police Officer Jared Francom. A drug raid on Stewart's residence in January 2012 led to the shootout that killed Francom.
Kennedy was just one of many family members at the presentation who had lost loved ones in police shootings. Family members of Corey Kanosh, who was shot by a Millard County sheriff's deputy after a high-speed chase in October, were also at the protest.
Greg O'Brien, of West Jordan, lost his niece, Kelly Simons, after officers from the U.S. Marshals Joint Criminal Apprehension Team shot her in Salt Lake City.
"We feel that the police have been militarized to the point that there's no accountability for their actions," he said.
The squad had been pursuing Simons and another suspect after a string of armed robberies and an earlier shootout with a Murray police officer.
Simons may have deserved to be arrested, O'Brien said, but not killed.
"We all have a right to our day in court," he said.