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POLICE: GUARDIAN OR WARRIOR, OR SOMETHING ELSE

In almost three decades of serving as a law enforcement professional, up and through the ranks, there have been many changes that I have been witness to.  Some have been successful and some have been less than successful.  I believe that policing must evolve as society is every changing.  As society changes, so must the police who serve their respective communities in order to be effective.  But the police still remain the police; protecting and serving their communities.    

The latest trend is the discussion regarding whether the police should be guardians or warriors in their community.  The Guardian supporters think that the mindset of the police must be changed to be guardians of the community.  The reasoning is that the guardian mentality will supposedly help the police to not create avoidable violence.  The supporters of this line of thinking believe that the guardian mindset will help build trust in the community.

The warrior supporters argue it the warrior mentality is necessary to combat and defeat criminals.  The belief is the warrior mindset must be present to keep the officers vigilant and not become complacent.

Of course, with efforts to change a mindset comes new training, new expenses for training and a cottage industry of change agents working to implement the change from warrior to guardian.  It’s the new trend in law enforcement, so if it’s new, it must be better, right?  Not necessarily.   

Was the officer in Ferguson a guardian or warrior?  What about the officers in NYC who were slain sitting in their cars?  What the the officer who was brutally attacked in Philadelphia.  Was they a guardians or warriors?  I suggest they were neither, but rather, police officers working to keep their communities safe.  They weren’t attacked because they were guardians or warriors, but because they were law enforcement professionals.  The represented the safety and security of the communities they were protecting.  They were the symbol of what is right.   

In my opinion, this discussion is all just semantics and doesn’t reflect what a successful police officer does on a daily basis.  Worse than semantics though, is the training budgets, already strained to keep their officers’ current on case law, CPR, First Aid and other mandates, are now being refocused to teach the officers the guardian mindset.  The officer’s valuable time is being expended on guardian training.  I have read comments from police executives speaking about the cost of ammunition in relation to the guardian transition, indicating that the money on ammunition should be reduced to allow for training consistent with the guardian mentality.   The cost of the transition to a guardian mentality has a real, tangible value.  And for what, semantics?  

I don’t think spending finances on semantics is something that should happen.  Successful police officers are not guardians or warriors, but rather, they are law enforcement professionals.  They are constantly changing how they act to reflect the situation at hand.  The majority of time, a successful police officer is handling routine matters, and should be more guardian than warrior.  Other times, the situations require a more warrior mentality.  Teaching the officers to transition from stressful situations to routine matters, seamlessly, it what makes an officer successful.  It also helps the officer survive their career.  It’s not guardian or warrior, but rather, it all about teaching officers how to think, both in routine and stressful situations.   It's about teaching them to transition from one perspective to the other, quickly, seamlessly, hundreds of times each week.   

The argument that the guardian mentality will help the officers not create avoidable violence is not supported by facts or data.  What has been proven time and time again is that officers that are trained properly, act properly.  This isn’t warrior or guardian, but rather, teaching officers how to evaluate each situation and respond responsibly.  It’s teaching officers case law so they know what they can and can’t do.  It’s teaching officers to respond, not react. It’s teaching them to use objectively reasonable force, regardless of the situation.   It’s teaching them how to talk to people.  It’s teaching them to be police officers.  It’s not about guardians or warriors, but rather law enforcement professionals. 

In today’s world, policing is a very complex and difficult job.  Teaching our officers how to think is what will make them and their departments successful.  Spending time on semantics isn’t teaching officers how to think, nor is it providing the tools necessary for them to be successful.  You want to limit liability, then teach your officers to be professionals.  Ensure that our hiring practices have high standards and only hire the best and the brightest.  Telling law enforcement professionals that they are now guardians, instead of warriors isn’t accurate or is it mitigating liability concerns.  It’s just adding another layer of confusion; something else to think about rather than them simply doing their jobs of protecting and serving their communities.        

In my three decades of policing, I never thought of myself as a warrior or guardian.  No, I was, and still am, a law enforcement professional.  I have to wear many hats each and every day and none of them say warrior or guardian; they say police officer.  I am expected to handle a variety of situations and make perfect decisions every time.  It’s time to stop worrying about semantics and instead, focus on a creating a new generation of thinking officers, who transition from guardian to warrior, with ease or without concerning themselves of which one they are at any given moment.  No, they aren’t guardians or warriors, but rather police officers, who have to do it all, all the time.    


Allen Huggins