Norm Stamper, former chief of the Seattle Police force, has written a story like no other. Part-memoir, part polemic, Stamper exposes the unvarnished truth — both disturbing and inspiring — about policing in America today.

Breaking Rank
A Top Cop's Exposé
of the Dark Side of American Policing

Norm Stamper

Book Reviews

Stamper has written a tremendously important book, pulling no punches as he takes a searing look at law enforcement as it is — and as it should be. Shocking, heartbreaking, hilarious and illuminating, Breaking Rank will attract both cops and 'civilians.' I loved it.

Ann Rule

"A provocative new book…a side [of policing] rarely talked about by the men and women in uniform…. There is a passage in this book that is as powerful as any that I've seen or read or even heard about in a long time [about Stamper's having shot and killed a man who'd been threatening to murder his son]…. Certainly for those African Americans who have been waiting for someone in this country to talk, boldly, about the issues of racism inside police forces…you'll want to get [the book]…that's the kind of forthright conversation you get on all sorts of issues…. I highly recommend it."

Tavis Smiley, The Tavis Smiley Show, PBS

"Norm Stamper earned this book…. Reading page after page of penetrating (but always constructive) criticism coming from a former police chief is like going on a bender with a get-out-of-jail-free card. I wanted to stand up waving a lighter as I read passages detailing police racism, homophobia and hatred of political dissidents…Stamper's passionate voice of reason deserves a place in the annals of police reform."

San Diego Union-Tribune, Books(read the whole review)

"Breaking Rank is an apt title given the text, but is actually too mild to describe the contents…. What is bad news for law-enforcement agencies is good news for a general readership. Stamper's book will help lay readers understand the dark side of policing like it has never been understood before…. The book is filled with dramatic, well-written stories about crime, punishment and unpunished transgressions. It ought to be required reading for anybody who cares about policing, no matter where they reside."

Seattle Times

"The 1999 riots during the World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle ended the 35-year career of Norm Stamper, the city's police chief. But they didn't silence him, as evidenced by Breaking Rank: A Top Cop's Exposé of the Dark Side of American Policing…The reader rides along with Stamper, starting his days as a brutish patrolman in San Diego and ending with his crusade to eradicate corruption and brutality in American policing. Stamper steps fearlessly into the contradictory world of cops and offers himself as Exhibit A. It's tough to ignore a cop under any circumstance, but especially one who can make equally compelling cases for decriminalizing marijuana and locking up domestic abusers for life."

The Boston Globe

"Breaking Rank is part confessional, part game plan for how to reorganize law enforcement in the name of justice and democracy…. Reform…isn't easy. Instead of walking away, however, Stamper is hanging in with this manifesto. Rather than outing its author as some fuzzy-headed liberal, Breaking Rank reveals instead an advocate for the kind of progressive social justice that Bobby Kennedy would have loved—a cop with guts enough to admit his own mistakes, learn from them, and remain a voice for changing the institution that both made and broke him."

Seattle Weekly

"In writing Breaking Rank, Norm Stamper has taken a big step toward ensuring that his legacy is more than confused images of roiling demonstrators, tear gas dispensers, and flailing billy clubs. In an engaging, direct, and sometimes brutally frank mixture of memoir, social commentary, and police theory, Stamper demonstrates without a doubt that he is a thinking man's cop. For those of us who focus on the drug war…reading Stamper is a necessary corrective, a tonic to quiet those cop-loathing tendencies that too easily result from looking too closely at the workings of drug prohibition. …it should be required reading for anyone interested in drug reform or the larger issue of the proper role of the police in our society…. Stamper looks at all of this, examining cop culture and police politics with an informed, incisive eye and a gripping narrative style. Readers may not always agree with Stamper's conclusions, but they will be well-served indeed to read him and think hard about the issues he raises."

Drug Reform Coordinating Network

Stamper's keen intelligence and integrity blaze from the pages of this exceptionally well-written book; it is rich with his salty wit and wisdom, honed as a street cop, chief, and innovative leader in the communities he has served. Stamper's no-holds-barred honesty won't let you put the book down as he tackles the sacred cows, from domestic violence and race to homophobia and police brutality. With surprising humility and courage, Stamper weaves in his personal learning curve, sharing stories that solidify his credibility as a true hero of our time.

Sara Buel, Clinical Professor, University of Texas School of Law, and Co-Director of the UT School of Law Domestic Violence Clinic

"You're living in a fairyland, my friend."

Bill O'Reilly, The O'Reilly Factor

"Former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper's new book dares to speak the ugliest truths and inbred dangers of America's law enforcement system.... Norm Stamper isn't a Jewish man, but chutzpah is something he embodies. And he embodies it in spades.... He doesn't ask for the reader's sympathy. The descriptions of his own abusive patterns are hardly sympathy inspiring. But Stamper gets real in order to try to get other men, including cops, thinking about the commonality of abusive behavior toward women.... Breaking rank is not an easy thing, and I, for one, am grateful that Stamper had the courage to do it."

Evergreen Monthly

"The best police stories are told by police officers. In Breaking Rank, Stamper…candidly describes his odyssey as a police officer and offers candid advice along the way… While accounts of daily police work comprise the bulk of Breaking Rank, Stamper also offers a number of clear-cut ideas on how best to reduce crime…. This lengthy, well-written work is recommended for collections in criminal justice and police studies."

Library Journal

"Stamper's book should be required reading for all young law enforcement officers who, in particular, aspire to positions of future leadership of America's police forces. It offers guidelines for progressive changes, including greater emphasis on community policing, the rampant crime of domestic violence, and less militaristic models of police department organization. Stamper also makes persuasive arguments for such controversial policies as elimination of capital punishment and the decriminalization of drugs. The author was a working cop and police administrator in San Diego and Seattle, where he was chief of police. This reviewer had the opportunity, as a newspaper editorial page editor, to observe Stamper's outstanding performance in the latter role. His account of his personal experiences is arresting—no pun intended—and often very entertaining."

Charles J. Dunsire, former editorial page editor, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"Although many San Diego officers will challenge his account of policing, I doubt they worked Logan Heights or Barrio Logan in the 1970s as I did. Norm...makes the case for a radical police priorities.... [Breaking Rank] should be mandatory reading for police officers...truly captures the excitement, challenges, pain and frustration one experiences in over 30 years of police work.... I found the book hard to put down as it brought back memories...I had long forgotten.... This book will definitely offend some police officers and cause others to commend Stamper's candor.... He appears to have reached a point in life when he doesn't need to worry about being politically correct."

John Welter, Chief of Police, Anaheim Police Department, from review in Police Quarterly.

"A magnificent book…brought out practically every question I've ever had about the police, with as much honesty as I've ever seen…extremely informative."

Blaise Bonpane KPFK, Los Angeles

"Breaking Rank by Norm Stamper [is] one of the more unusual books to come out in years. Stamper was police chief for Seattle from 1994 to 2000, capping a 34-year career as a police officer. In rich detail he draws on his experiences to argue for radically new approaches on such issues as drugs, prostitution, gun control, capital punishment, community oversight, and more. Although a strong supporter of unions, Stamper devotes a whole chapter to a blunt argument that police unions too often have defended an indefensible status quo."

World Wide Work, a publication of the American Labor Education Center

"An extraordinary book. It caused me to depart from my regular programming [on the Middle East], and to take up Norm Stamper's refreshing and informative views on the nation's war on drugs."

KPFK, North Hollywood, Don Bustany

"...part memoir, part manifesto and wholly unusual not only for its candor (it recalls Stamper's early fondness for baiting blacks and homosexuals) but for opinions that make you double-check the author's identity (an ex-police chief damning both capital punishment and the 'war on drugs'?)."

Washington Law & Politics

As mayor of Seattle I had the great good fortune to locate and appoint as my police chief an extraordinary leader. Norm Stamper was a different kind of chief: visionary and progressive, tough-minded but compassionate…. Breaking Rank will become required reading for all Americans who yearn for more responsive and accountable policing.

Norm Rice

Stamper…marches to his own refreshingly off-step beat…Stamper's honesty provides a unique perspective of the role, power, and limitations of a big-city police chief…. Stamper's personal experience and knowledge of the upper echelon of police power is all too rare in police literature; his healthy intellect and analytical nature [are] all too rare in the upper echelon of police power…. [He] is willing to address the issue of police corruption with far more forthrightness than most… What stands out is the courage of Breaking Rank. A character in Louis de Bernières's novel, Birds Without Feathers, could just as well be describing Norm Stamper: "His courage was not the foolish kind of a young and silly man. It was the courage of a man who looks danger in the face, and forces himself not to flinch."

Law Enforcement News, a publication of John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

"Taking personal responsibility: that's not something you hear much of. I compliment [Stamper] on that… "[he has] said a lot of things here that are interesting about the way that policemen ought to conduct themselves…I know [he has] taken some heat [but] people ought to take a look at what [he is] saying. Maybe it would help some of our police departments do a better job."

John Kasich, Fox News/Heartland

It was my honor to sit next to Chief Norm Stamper at the annual fallen officer's memorial where he held Officer (Antonio) Terry's young orphaned son on his knee and let the boy wear his hat. If Chief Stamper has something to say, I'm ready to listen."

J. A. Jance, bestselling author and creator of the J. P. Beaumont series

"[Stamper] is an advocate for the legalization of drugs and prostitution, as well as a critic of racism, sexually predatory behavior and the prevalence of domestic violence within police departments… Breaking Rank…is a startling and often shockingly raw account of the uglier truths of policing in America."

In These Times

"In Breaking Rank, Stamper tells the sometimes harsh details of life on the inside of the force and, with passion, he advocates for change in the institution. This brave book is as inspiring as it is disturbing."

Darvill's Bookstore, Eastsound, Washington

"Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are paid out every year to settle lawsuits against police departments. In this excerpt from Breaking Rank (…published by Nation Books), the former chief of the Seattle police force explains why it makes better financial sense for a cop to kill you by accident rather than just wound you."


"Cop thriller: Stamper returns with a page turner…the book tends to validate beliefs held by law enforcement watchdog groups."

San Diego City Beat

"A very provocative book…from a white police officer, who spent 34 years as a cop…pulling the veil from what's really happening…very heavy. You gotta get it."

Rev. Al Sharpton, from "The Al Sharpton Show: Keeping it Real"