Rise of the Warrior Cop

The paramilitarization of American law enforcement has had deadly consequences.


The paramilitarization of American law enforcement has had deadly consequences.

Salon (“Why did you shoot me? I was reading a book”: The new warrior cop is out of control):

Sal Culosi is dead because he bet on a football game — but it wasn’t a bookie or a loan shark who killed him. His local government killed him, ostensibly to protect him from his gambling habit.

Several months earlier at a local bar, Fairfax County, Virginia, detective David Baucum overheard the thirty-eight-year-old optometrist and some friends wagering on a college football game. “To Sal, betting a few bills on the Redskins was a stress reliever, done among friends,” a friend of Culosi’s told me shortly after his death. “None of us single, successful professionals ever thought that betting fifty bucks or so on the Virginia-Virginia Tech football game was a crime worthy of investigation.” Baucum apparently did. After overhearing the men wagering, Baucum befriended Culosi as a cover to begin investigating him. During the next several months, he talked Culosi into raising the stakes of what Culosi thought were just more fun wagers between friends to make watching sports more interesting. Eventually Culosi and Baucum bet more than $2,000 in a single day. Under Virginia law, that was enough for police to charge Culosi with running a gambling operation. And that’s when they brought in the SWAT team.

On the night of January 24, 2006, Baucum called Culosi and arranged a time to drop by to collect his winnings. When Culosi, barefoot and clad in a T-shirt and jeans, stepped out of his house to meet the man he thought was a friend, the SWAT team began to move in. Seconds later, Det. Deval Bullock, who had been on duty since 4:00 AM and hadn’t slept in seventeen hours, fired a bullet that pierced Culosi’s heart.

Sal Culosi’s last words were to Baucum, the cop he thought was a friend: “Dude, what are you doing?”

In March 2006, just two months after its ridiculous gambling investigation resulted in the death of an unarmed man, the Fairfax County Police Department issued a press release warning residents not to participate in office betting pools tied to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The title: “Illegal Gambling Not Worth the Risk.” Given the proximity to Culosi’s death, residents could be forgiven for thinking the police department believed wagering on sports was a crime punishable by execution.

That’s an excerpt of an excerpt from Radley Balko’s new book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Policing, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Eric Florack says:

    Wecome to Hope and Change.

  2. PJ says:

    @Eric Florack:
    You did notice that it’s about something that happened in 2006?
    Or are you just off your meds again? Should someone alert your caretaker?

  3. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Eric Florack:

    You’re not very strong on reading, are you?

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Eric Florack: Reading comprehension is fundamental.

    The book is on my list.

  5. Al says:

    From the excerpt in Salon that someone clearly didn’t read:

    So long as partisans are only willing to speak out against aggressive, militarized police tactics when they’re used against their own and are dismissive or even supportive of such tactics when used against those whose politics they dislike, it seems unlikely that the country will achieve enough of a political consensus to begin to slow down the trend.

  6. legion says:

    The entire point of having a police force is to protect the citizens from things. They get the powers they have specifically because they take risks that regular citizens shouldn’t have to. So when cops put citizens at risk to protect their own safety – shoot-first policies, no-knock entry, warrentless searches, etc – they_stop_ being cops, and they stop being worthy of any sort of respect. They become just another gang of armed thugs.

    If anything, people are safer without cops at all than with bad cops. At least if I shoot at a criminal breaking into my house, I’m a hero. If I shoot at a cop breaking into my house, I’m gonna die.

  7. Anderson says:

    What a sad, despicable man Eric Florack must be, to read something like the above post & have the reaction “blame Obama.” I cannot even begin to imagine such a tiny, dirty soul.

  8. @PJ: You should have seen what the mouth breathers over at Breitbart had to say about the Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control agents going SWAT on the teenage girls buying bottled water.

    According to those mouth breathers and Florack, Obama runs not only the federal government, but also the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Fairfax Police Department. (The ABC thing is especially funny to me since the mouth breathers, who claim to be Constitutional scholars, have apparently never read § 2 of the 21st Amendment which gives alcohol regulation powers exclusively to the states.)

  9. Sam Malone says:

    Florack is right….we need to impeach Obama for this 2006 occurance.After all…none of the other Republican manufactured scandals have gotten any traction. Maybe Florack is onto something.

    This is simply the logical conclusion of not having the spine to question Law Enforcement or, for that matter, the Department of Defense. If you have a SWAT team, you are going to use your SWAT team. If you have an 8 ton military vehicle, you are going to use that 8 ton military vehicle.

  10. Anderson says:

    @Timothy Watson: They just DEFEND the Constitution, no need to READ it or anything … besides, the only parts you really need are the Second and Tenth Amendments and the Takings Clause.

  11. Franklin says:

    @Neil Hudelson: Not so good on writing, either. Unless my faulty dictionary is missing the word ‘wecome’.

  12. Franklin says:

    By the way, James has written before about how we put military veterans on a pedestal. I think the same thing happens with police. We are just too deferential to what they are doing. You’re taught this from a young age – that you should trust policemen with your life.

    I don’t know how to reverse this trend.

  13. Donald Sensing says:

    The militarization of police forces is 20 years old. It started with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the dramatic downsizing of the country’s land-warfare forces. The transfer of advanced weaponry and other military equipment to police forces began under Bill Clinton’s administration (but would have still taken place had GHW Bush won reelection) since it would have been mothballed or scrapped anyway.

    The quantity and quality of the transfers accelerated after 1997’s North Hollywood shootout, in which two outlaws entirely outgunned LA police until some police officers took modern rifles from gun stores to fight back. After that event, in which 11 officers were shot, no one dared question the police forces’ need to modern weaponry. Couple that with the weird urge by pols of both parties to be seen as allies of cops, and the federal money spigots opened wide.

    And that drug gangs from down south are massively well armed (in some degree, getting their weapons directly from the US Government) can’t be denied, so in many cases heavier arms for at least some police do seem justified.

    The problem is that SWAT teams now think of themselves as soldiers and think of civilians generally (and suspects specifically) as the enemy. Couple that with a near-total absence of criminal sanctions used against shooters such as Det. Deval Bullock, in the post, and we have, literally, state-sanctioned, extra-judicial executions going on all the time. Just take a look at Cato’s interactive map of botched SWAT and paramilitary police raids.

    Worse, this sort of mindset has trickled down to even Barney Fife cops who really have nothing to do, but get guns anyway, such as well-armed Alcoholic Beverage Commission agents who lurk near college campuses and assault college students with weapons drawn for buying bottled water.

  14. Sam Malone says:

    This is slightly tangental to this discussion…but did you read about the insurance company refusing to cover a school where the teachers are allowed to be armed?
    Another genius Republican idea that withers when exposed to the real world and not simple NRA talking points.

  15. MM says:

    @Donald Sensing:

    Couple that with the weird urge by pols of both parties to be seen as allies of cops, and the federal money spigots opened wide.

    That’s not a particularly weird urge. Despite the fact that crime has been mostly falling for decades, most people believe that crime is going up. People think the world is more violent and more dangerous than it actually is. If that’s the case, you can’t get elected as the politician who is “soft on crime”. You have to try to buddy up to law enforcement and promise to be tougher on crime than the other guy.

    So long as tabloidy news and the unreasonable expectation of 100% safety at all times exist. this will get worse, not better.

  16. Rob in CT says:

    I’ve been a Balko fan for some time. He and I don’t exactly see eye-to-eye, but his reporting on policy overreach is excellent.

    We definitely need to reach a point where a politican doesn’t automatically get brownie points for being “tough on crime” and metaphorically fellating cops. That’s step 1, I figure. Step 2 is a turn towards treating claims by police with more skepticism (whether the claim is “I really need that tank!” or “I feared for my life!”). The other steps flow from there.

    I made the mistake of glancing at the comments to the Salon article. Hopefully I didn’t actually lose any brain cells…

  17. Rob in CT says:

    Gah. Police overreach, not policy overreach.

  18. anjin-san says:

    @ Eric Florack

    Ah, so you have uncovered yet another Obama time travel plot.

    Nothing gets by you, does it?

  19. PogueMahone says:

    Balko has been doing the yeoman’s work on this issue for years. Everyone concerned with issue owes him a debt of gratitude.

    I bought two of his books today. One for me, and one for my asshat brother-in-law who thinks that cops can do no wrong.


  20. John Cain says:

    I’m sure Patterico will be along soon enough to point out a spelling error on page 75 that invalidates Balko’s entire book and everything is fine as it currently is, dammit.

  21. @John Cain: If that happens I will laugh my butt off since Patterico got SWAT’ed a year or so ago. Self awareness isn’t a prime stat (feat?) for RWNJs.

  22. Donald Sensing says:

    “That’s not a particularly weird urge. ”

    Okay, I won’t argue with that. But being a supporter of the police doesn’t mean being their lapdog, either. I know you know this, but ISTM that a lot of the pols don’t.

  23. MM says:

    @Donald Sensing: Agreed. Support does not equal fetishization, but too many politicians have conflated the two, and too many other people have been content to go follow that narrative. You can believe in Law and Order without thinking a jaywalker should be tased or that it’s soft on crime if you don’t think peeing in an alley is a sex offense.

    I support my friends and family by encouraging their best qualities, and trying to keep their worst qualities from coming to the fore. I don’t see why being a supporter of law enforcement should be any different.

  24. John Cain says:

    @Timothy Watson: I think you should be prepared to laugh your butt off. Last week he opined that everyone was missing the sweet, sweet context that totally exonerated cops for shooting that dog in Hawthorne.

  25. Barry says:

    @Eric Florack: “Wecome to Hope and Change. ”

    And what are you Tea Party whoresons doing? Fighting this, or supporting this?

  26. Barry says:

    @PogueMahone: “Balko has been doing the yeoman’s work on this issue for years. Everyone concerned with issue owes him a debt of gratitude.”