Guardians versus Warriors

Why should we in law enforcement be called, or want to be seen as, guardians over warriors?

I get it, “warriors” sound good, and evokes an image of a Spartan soldier, who fights the demons and ne’er do wells who would victimize and harm those we would protect. But is also denotes being at war. Being at war with another country, state, or entity possessing a desire to harm or takeover us. It says that we are at all out unmitigated self-preservation. In the case of police officers, we have created a series of “wars” which we are currently fighting. Be it a war on drugs or a war on crime, we must remember what image gets evoked and how it is perceived.

At this time, we have been at real war for a majority of the existence of our country. Our military has been actively engaged all over the world, including here on our soil, more often than not, since 1775. We have come to know what war means, or what being at war means. When we tell our police officers they are at warriors at war, we create a specific mindset, and subsequently, a way of action in people that may not be best to create and foster the type of communities we dream about.

If you tell your peacekeepers, your law enforcers, they are at war with a segment of the population, you set in motion a way of doing business and perception of the community that could be dysfunctional at best, and extremely damaging at worst, to long term sustainable and thriving communities. Police officers will see this segment as enemies. And naturally, to increase their chance of survival, everyone who lives with this other group, and looks like them, will be seen as enemies. Look at our war history to understand this. How difficult was it to determine enemy combatants among the civilian population in Vietnam? In Iraq Afghanistan? What happens to soldiers who fail to identify the enemy dressed as a normal civilian? How do soldiers begin to treat everyone?

When you tell officers they are at war, and they have actually been at war, how do they view the community? There are two sides in a war: mine and the enemy’s. Well, my side looks like me, talks like me, behaves like me. Anything else is a threat to my safety and my very existence. If our police officers have this view, what will that look like? It will look like anyone who doesn’t dress like them (wear a police uniform or work in policing) becomes an obvious potential threat. Anyone who doesn’t think or behave like them (have perceived similar value/belief system) becomes suspect and is therefore a threat. We see evidence of this in our communities today.

I see social media postings by police officers and articles about law enforcement where officers are working really hard to differentiate themselves from those segments of our communities. They rationalize the killing of an unarmed, restrained civilian by police by remarking upon the decedent’s criminal history. They are making it seem reasonable and allowable that this person significantly contributed to their death simply because of a prior criminal history. Or they say the victim (such as Breonna Taylor) put herself in the position to be shot at blindly by police because she had dated a drug dealer and her current boyfriend was a drug dealer. This second statement about Kenneth Walker, is plain false, but the narrative has been spread without any supporting facts.

I don’t wish to get into a debate or argument about specific cases. I do have strong thoughts on events, based on experience and relevant knowledge to support my opinions. What I want to suggest is that we start to move away from one mindset and move toward another. I believe we can alleviate some of the tragedies we are suffering between law enforcement and our civilian communities, both ways, if we change, the way we-in policing-see ourselves. I suggest we consider ourselves guardians not warriors.

Making this change in designation will do a couple things that will impact the foundations or our relationships. I believe it will realign how we see ourselves and how we perceive our role and responsibility to our communities. It may seem like a ridiculously small or even unnecessary change in title or wording. To that I would counter with, if it is so small, insignificant or otherwise “unnecessary”, what does it matter to then make the change?

I think the title of guardian better reflects law enforcement’s role in communities. We are not there as an occupying force, defeating the other side or getting them to submit to some sort of control or removal from a place. We are not at war with our neighbors and fellow community members. Calling ourselves guardians is a reminder that we are a part of the community and serve in a critical role that will support the actions of others as we create and grow a successful and nurturing environment for present and future inhabitants.

I believe that occupying the role of guardian will allow civilians to see police differently. They will not see police officers as foreign or separate from the community. The public view of warrior is someone who goes off to a faraway place and deals with hostile, enemy combatants; mostly killing first and asking few questions. The image in their mind is not one of cooperation or co-anything. Warriors are to be kept at least at arm’s length, and in a more formal relationship.

 We in law enforcement should be working to create stronger, more familiar connections. People are more able to be policed, corrected, or held accountable when they feel a positive relationship with the person doing the correcting. And that connection works both ways. Officers are more accountable to the community they police when they are known to the people and seen as a human being, not some Robocop machine.

It’s a part of humanizing the badge.

Train smart, stay safe, #bebette