Criminology Police Militarization
Scott W. Phillips
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 June 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0249


Police militarization has been a background topic of research in law enforcement for several years. That is, only a small number of scholars explored militarization in the past, providing a foundation for understanding the issue. The subject, however, did not receive widespread attention in policing scholarship. The law enforcement response to public protests in Ferguson, Missouri (2014) is arguably the inflection point for greater attention of police militarization, at least in the United States. During the weeks following events in Ferguson, there was an explosion of media attention at the national and local levels; in less than a month the US Senate held hearings in the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Unfortunately, in the few years since 2014, there has been only limited empirical research exploring this topic. Another limit of the research is that a clear definition of militarism or militarization has yet to be offered. While there is some guidance in the research, these remained vague and indeterminate concepts. One of the most common conceptions of militarization deals with how the police appear. But there are serious questions regarding the validity of using this to measure militarization. One topic that received sizable attention, particularly in law journals, was the United States government’s legislation and funding providing local police departments with military-style equipment. Commonly referred to as the 1033 program (although there are other lesser-known programs), it is suggested that police agency accessibility to military equipment was made primarily through this program. While there is no empirical evidence that this is the case, there are questions regarding the propriety of the federal government supporting a militarized approach to policing. This bibliography provides a review of the available research focusing on police militarization. It will attempt to frame the existing scholarship within a number of themes, although it might be argued that some of the material could be placed in multiple topics. It should also be noted that the current body of scholarship dealing with police militarization is somewhat limited, but it is expected to slowly grow over time.

General Overviews

Beck 1972, an examination of the first SWAT team in Los Angeles, offers a fundamental understanding of why a militarized approach initially developed in policing. Bernstein, et al. 1977 is critical of the growth of policing as a means for dealing with domestic social disorder, including the use of SWAT. Some of the scholarship regarding police militarism or militarization, such as Auten 1981, Kraska 1996, and Kraska 2001, was framed as if to determine how this newfound issue fit within the larger policing field. More contemporary work, including Campbell and Campbell 2009, Fisher 2010, Koslicki 2017, and Kraska 2007, offers general assessments of militarized policing. A few works, such as Radil, et al. 2017, provide rudimentary data analysis to explore the relationship between the 1033 program and militarization. Bieler 2016 offers a summary of many of these works. Finally, Balko 2013 is included here, although its academic and empirical contributions are rather limited to a full understanding of police militarization.

  • Auten, J. H. 1981. Paramilitary model of police and police professionalism. The Police Studies: The International Review of Police Development 4:67–78.

    This article provides a general overview of the early history of policing and its relation to a military model for organizational construction. It provides a detailed discussion comparing specific functions of military organizations, as well as individual soldiers, with the expectations of police organizations and individual officers. Each of these comparisons are then used to discuss the police effectiveness.

  • Balko, R. 2013. Rise of the warrior cop: The militarization of America’s police forces. New York: PublicAffairs.

    This book argues that politics and policy have resulted in an increase in the use of SWAT in American policing. It used, however, a selection of anecdotal stories to describe the deleterious impact of the political shift toward aggressive enforcement tactics.

  • Beck, G. N. 1972. Los Angeles Police Department: SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics teams). FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin 41:8–10.

    This article provides a historical examination of the development of police SWAT units. It is helpful for anyone who wants to compare current standards of police tactical units with their original framework.

  • Bernstein, S., L. Cooper, E. Currie, et al. 1977. The iron fist and the velvet glove: An analysis of the U.S. police. 2d ed. Berkeley, CA: Center for Research on Criminal Justice.

    This book takes a Marxist criminologist approach to understanding the police role in society, arguing that coercive policing serves capitalists in a democratic society. Public services, such as helping or protecting people, mask the repressive role of the police. A section of the book suggests that SWAT teams are a refined approach to coercive policing.

  • Bieler, S. 2016. Police militarization in the USA: The state of the field. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management 39.4: 586–600.

    DOI: 10.1108/PIJPSM-03-2016-0042

    This article provides a review of police militarization scholarship. It explores definitions, organizational values, influences, and the impact of a militarized approach on the police field.

  • Campbell, D. J., and K. M. Campbell. 2009. Soldiers as police officers/police officers as soldiers: Role evolution and revolution in the United States. Armed Forces & Society 36:327–350.

    DOI: 10.1177/0095327X09335945

    The authors consider the adaptation of both police and the military of each other’s characteristics. The authors discuss the political, legal, management, and social implications of the convergence of role characteristics.

  • Fisher, J. 2010. SWAT madness and the militarization of the American police: A national dilemma. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.

    This book provides a review of the use of SWAT as a tool for enforcing lower-level criminal offenses. It then examines the use of tactical units as part of the War on Drugs and the increase in the level of violence associated with SWAT units.

  • Koslicki, W. 2017. SWAT mobilization trends: Testing assumptions of police militarization. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management 40.4: 733–747.

    This article uses time-series analysis to examine if federal grant funding can explain the growth of SWAT units in American police agencies. Contrary to what was expected, there was a decrease in the creation of new SWAT units, and a decrease in their use for narcotics raids. The research is important for those wanting to understand the evolution of SWAT teams and their relationship to notions of police militarization.

  • Kraska, P. B. 1996. Enjoying militarism: Political/personal dilemmas in studying US police paramilitary units. Justice Quarterly 13:405–429.

    DOI: 10.1080/07418829600093031

    The author provides a qualitative discussion of the socialization of officers assigned to tactical units. The article considers militarization against the notion of framing social problems as post–Cold War issues, as well as revitalizing militarism in popular culture.

  • Kraska, P. B. 2007. Militarization and policing: Its relevance to 21st century police. Policing 1:501–513.

    DOI: 10.1093/police/pam065

    The author provides a discussion of the distinctions between militarism and militarization, and examines the blurred lines between the police and military. He argues that the changing nature of modern policing accounts for the shift toward an increased use of military tools and tactics in law enforcement.

  • Kraska, P. B., ed. 2001. Militarizing the American criminal justice system: The changing roles of the armed forces and the police. Boston: Northeastern University Press.

    This book offers several chapters addressing militarization from various thematic frameworks, including an overall shift in criminal justice ideologies. Chapters also specifically address the militarization of the police in several contexts: for example, its function as a standard law enforcement approach, its use in community policing, and its role in changing police organizational structures.

  • Radil, S. M., R. J. Dezzani, and L. D. McAden. 2017. Geographies of US police militarization and the role of the 1033 program. The Professional Geographer 69.2: 203–213.

    DOI: 10.1080/00330124.2016.1212666

    The article examines the 1033 program, which is the primary federal government program providing surplus military equipment to law enforcement agencies. The authors argue that the lines between the police and military have blurred, resulting in increased militarization at the county level. They also suggest that the presence of SWAT units does not explain the increase in militarization.

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