Special to the Register
An Eastern Kentucky University professor has played a major role in the production of an upcoming national television special.
Dr. Peter Kraska, whose research on police militarization has earned widespread media coverage for more than a decade, will be featured in an upcoming program, “Deadly Force: Arming America’s Police.”
Scheduled to appear first on Al Jazeera America at 9:30 p.m. Friday, the show will be repeated at 12:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. March 1.
“My role involved providing their team numerous phone conversations about the general topic of police militarization, helping them to frame their story,” Kraska said. “I also sent them data and information from the various national-level surveys I’ve conducted, along with some theoretical and policy analysis contained in other academic articles and books I’ve published.”
A two-hour, sit-down interview, conducted on a Saturday in December 2013, followed.
“They were mostly interested in my research and views on the broad topic of police militarization – focusing on the nature of this trend since 9/11 but also wanting to document the extent to which it had already been underway as part of the late 1980s and early 1990s War on Drugs effort,” Kraska added.
“I discussed with them the precipitous rise in the number of SWAT teams but, more importantly, the rapid growth in their use, predominantly due to conducting no-knock drug raids on people’s private residences in order to collect drug evidence,” he said. “We also talked at length about the U.S. military’s role in police militarization, mainly with regard to military training of SWAT teams as well as weapons transference programs that provide free heavy weaponry and armored personnel carriers to any local police department that desires these supplies.”
Indicative of Americans’ growing interest in the trend, a recently published book by Radley Balko titled “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces,” drawn heavily from Kraska’s work, has garnered significant national attention.
“I would say his overall concern – and I share this concern – is that a foundational feature of American democratic governance is a clear delineation between its military forces and its civilian police; the former responsible for external security, and the latter responsible for internal security,” Kraska said. “The civilian police dramatically moving down the militarization continuum over the last 25 years signals a historic shift in the nature of this feature of democracy.”
Currently, Kraska said, U.S. police departments are conducting more than 50,000 SWAT raids annually on private residences, most of which are no-knock drug raids.
“These are not SWAT deployments targeted at terrorism or active shooters; rather, over 90 percent of them are for the possession of small amounts of marijuana or small-time drug dealing.”
Kraska, who noted that Al Jazeera also interviewed advocates of the SWAT industry to offer a balanced perspective, said his experience with the network was positive.
“When Al Jazeera America contacted me in 2013 about this story, the journalist was so well-informed and professional … that I agreed to work with them,” Kraska said. “I can’t recall a more competent and nicer group of journalists, just a delight to work with.”
Kraska, who joined EKU in 1994 and also serves as chair of graduate studies and research in EKU’s School of Justice Studies, has distinguished himself as a leading scholar in the areas of criminal justice theory, police and criminal justice militarization, and research methods. He has published seven books, and his research, much of which involves EKU graduate students, has been featured in a number of leading journals and captured the attention of media outlets such as The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and Peter Jennings’s World News Tonight, among others.
His recent research interests include making theoretical sense of the emergence of underground cage-fighting, the trend to legalize through medicalization the use of performance-enhancing drugs, and a continuation of study into the blurring distinction between civilian police and the military in the “wars” on drugs and terrorism.
First announced in January 2013 and launched last summer, Al Jazeera America has become one of the largest news-gathering organizations in the United States with 12 bureaus in major cities nationwide, three broadcast centers, a headquarters in New York City and a team of approximately 800 journalists and staff.