There has been a debate in law enforcement over the past five years or so, and depending on how plugged in to the nation-wide news and police-specific training and news sites you may have already heard about it. This debate has strongly opinionated folks on both sides of the spectrum. Some of the people who are engaged in the debate are elected officials, some are simply citizens who want to be heard. There are instructors, supervisors, and members of the star and oak leaf cluster club that are airing their own takes on the debate.
In this world of political correctness, we are actually debating whether we should be training our officers to identify themselves as a warrior.
To some, a warrior is a crusader who burns down villages and commits atrocities. To those folks a warrior is a mindless drone who does not differentiate between the masses while imposing physical pain and suffering and those who are not compliant. To these folks, a warrior is someone who is in search of a fight. These people have confused a warrior with a barbarian or a conqueror.
There are those in this debate that have suggested replacing the term warrior with paladin or centurion, apparently in the hopes that those who oppose the term warrior will not have enough education to recall the repression and atrocities committed by those who were called those titles. They are slightly more specific, yet essentially the same term.
Others who have entered the debate are pushing terminology similar to protector or guardian because they are more kind and friendly terms. The idea is that officers will identify themselves as a protector or guardian of the community rather than some form of oppressor. I have never met an officer who thinks of himself or herself as an oppressor. We are called to enforce laws written by those who have largely never served in our ranks. In my experience, those who find the police as oppressive typically don’t enjoy being arrested or ticketed for breaking laws.
The entire debate is semantic, six of one, half dozen of the other reasoning at it’s best. It’s the type of thing people enter into in order to feel like they are making a difference, or at least they can make the argument during the next election cycle.
The idea that this debate is even taking place is evidence of the further weakening of our moral fabric as a society.
There is a time and a place for anyone in law enforcement to be a protector or guardian. These types of things happen on a daily basis in large metropolitan cities, suburbs like my Donut County, and in rural areas.
As you read this, there are law enforcement officers nationwide who are protecting their citizens in overt ways that are never news worthy. They are blocking traffic near a disabled vehicle, or pushing a vehicle out of the roadway. There are officers who are giving folks a ride during a rainstorm, buying food for the needy, or waking a homeowner to explain the dangers of leaving a garage door open overnight. There are many other things that happen, but never get shared because they aren’t newsworthy.
Chances are pretty good that no one specifically told these officers to be protectors or guardians. It’s part of the job, and we do it without expecting or receiving a simple thank you from anyone most of the time.
As a law enforcement instructor and a supervisor, I go to great lengths to make sure my folks receive more of their training on high risk, low frequency situations. These are the situations that someone may die even if everything is done perfectly. The more we train in these areas, the better we perform when we are confronted with them.
I harp on the idea of being a noble warrior. A warrior who stands the righteous ground, not in a biblical way, but in a morally correct way. I make sure they understand my expectations, and that they will not be held at fault if they make an ethical decision and it turns out bad. Make the right decision, at the right time, for the right reasons.
As a Marine, it was an honor to be called a warrior. To me, warrior is a person who continues on with the mission at hand in spite of the weather, personal ailments, or in the face of an extremely undesirable situation. A warrior does not quit just because something goes wrong. A warrior constantly seeks self improvement. To the warrior, to be found lacking in courage and fortitude is a worse fate than death itself.
Then Major General James Mattis, “Chaos”, the embodiment of a warrior leader, issued a decree to the Marines of the 1st Marine Division before the initial invasion of Iraq. In his statement, Mattis implored those in his charge to: “demonstrate to the world that there is “No better friend, no worse enemy” than a U.S. Marine”. The entire statement was a page long. It was summed up succinctly in those six words, “no better friend, no worse enemy”.
Those six words are my philosophy when it comes to policing. If you need my help, I will do everything legally and ethically possible to make sure you receive it. I will make sure that those assigned to me do the same. If you decide to victimize my community or my citizens, I will make sure you are held accountable in a legal and ethical manner. If you decide to fight, I will fight you, but it is your choice to make. It is my job as a supervisor to make sure that those assigned to me will do the same.
The onus of responsibility is not on the law enforcement officers who patrol our streets when it comes to use of force. That responsibility falls on the shoulders of those who choose to resist. The only thing laid squarely on the shoulders of the cops out on the street is to meet the level of resistance with an appropriate level of force for the situation, no more and no less.
Mistakes are made, without a doubt. There have been plenty of times that an officer has interpreted the actions of a suspect incorrectly. In a split second, these things will happen from time to time. Some of those mistakes are preventable through proper training. Some of them fall in the realm of the concept that cops are human and humans are imperfect. A misinterpretation of a situation in a split second can have lasting, tragic results for the suspect, the officer, the families, and the community. But generally, these situations play out in the manner they do because of the actions of the suspect.
Those who have the idea that law enforcement warriors are at “war” with our community miss the point all together. The war isn’t necessarily with the community at all, although at times it may be true as rioting and social disorder are being deemed “justifiable” behaviors by the media and politicos. The war is with those who victimize our communities.
You can soften the terminology and teach the philosophy of officers being protectors or guardians all you want. The fact of the matter is we do that more often than we do anything else. The problem lies in those high risk, low frequency moments when lives are at stake.
With the exception of our military veterans, I’m sure that my agency isn’t alone in that many of our newest officers who are fresh out of the academy have never been in a true physical fight. They undergo training in the academy and from the agency in the use of force. They hit bags with fists, feet, and batons. They learn arm bars and pressure points. They learn to use OC spray and Tasers. We teach marksmanship and safe weapons handling. But these kids have never been hit in the face in anger by someone else.
They’re coddled and weakened by well-intentioned parents. They’re raised to walk away from potentially violent encounters. This does not work in law enforcement. We’re expected to rise to the occasion and go toward the violence that others flee. We’re a line in the proverbial sand.
To fail to teach anything of the warrior ethos to these new recruits is to set them up for failure when the chips are down. That failure may result in the recruit being seriously injured, or it may result in a comrade not receiving the support necessary during a life and death struggle. We have to engrain the recruit with the idea that a true warrior rises to the occasion and pushes the fight back to those who would bring it.
We expect them to perform as protectors and guardians. We’ll continue to teach them how to do so safely. Those are high-frequency, low risk situations.
For the high-risk, low frequency situation, give me a noble warrior. A noble warrior will seek out danger, no matter the circumstance.
Time to go patrol the Donut…