We train and encourage officers to be warriors because it’s necessary for many aspects of law enforcement.
Moreover, if the public demands quick resolutions to school and mass shootings or acts of terrorism, they are also insisting on military training and equipment.
There is an endless debate as to what we want American policing to be. There are those who wish for officers to be guardians, not warriors, in the hope that communities and law enforcement will be more supportive of each other.
The question is whether it’s fair to ask cops to be the first responders to school shootings or acts of terrorism or the increasing number of mass shootings without being thoroughly trained and equipped. If extensive training is mandatory to deal with mass shootings or other violent acts, is there more than a hint of hypocrisy in asking cops not to have a warrior mindset?
The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing
“Law enforcement culture should embrace a guardian—rather than a warrior—mindset to build trust and legitimacy both within agencies and with the public. Toward that end, law enforcement agencies should adopt procedural justice as the guiding principle for internal and external policies and practices to guide their interactions with rank and file officers and with the citizens they serve. Law enforcement agencies should also establish a culture of transparency and accountability to build public trust and legitimacy,” President’s Task Force on 21th Century Policing.
The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing … has embraced many of these principles. In August, the Police Executive Research Forum, a law enforcement think tank, followed suit.
“The goal of the guardian officer is to avoid causing unnecessary indignity,” said Seth Stoughton, a law professor at the University of South Carolina and a former police officer in Tallahassee. “Officers who treat people humanely, who show them respect, who explain their actions, can improve the perceptions of officers, or their department, even when they are arresting someone,” Washington Post.
We Would Love to be Guardians
We have said for decades that being a police officer mostly involves social work, not violent confrontations. We counsel kids and their parents. We intervene in the lives of those down on their luck. We are first responders to horrible automobile accidents. We deliver babies. We assist crime victims. We walk neighborhoods and converse with average citizens. We do far more of this kind of work than chasing bad guys.
This is police work. This will always be police work. Yes, there are high crime areas where cops are madly running from call to call but for the vast majority of the country, cops are there to be guardians.
As a cop, I stood between a middle-aged man and his wife ( I was 21 and not married) trying to calm both down and get them to seek help before things got ugly. I spoke to parents about their wayward children. I spent time with distraught crime victims trying to figure out a path forward. There were several times where I had to go home to change clothes because I was covered in blood due to a terrible auto accident.
Military-Like Precision Was Necessary
But I was also involved in situations where military-like precision was necessary. We served felony warrants for homicides where I was armed with a shotgun to protect officers going through the front door.
There were times when we really didn’t understand what was happening, all we knew that there was violence and someone with a gun close by. Senior and more experienced officers barked out orders and told me what to do and how to do it. Even during horrible accidents, it was necessary for experienced officers to take the lead and tell me who to assist first based on the degree of injury.
All of this involved a military-like situation where someone told me what to do and my only response was, “yes sir.”
Whether it was riot control or an accident or someone shooting, it was necessary to fall back on a military hierarchy. We were trained as a paramilitary force because it was necessary to have a formal command and control structure to be organized and efficient. A military mindset saved lives and kept you from screwing up. It saved people from unnecessary injury. Acting in unison gave me the courage to do what had to be done.
But Now We Want Guardians?
As stated, we are already guardians for the mast majority of incidents. Use of force is not on the table for 90 percent of what we do.
But when the crap hits the fan, communities demand we go forth and end the violence as soon as possible.
Have you ever shot a gun? Imagine being in a crowded school or shopping mall with shots being fired and you have hundreds of people in close proximity. Your ability to pick the right target, control your breathing and work in unison with other people in law enforcement demands military-like precision.
If the bad guys have automatic or semi-automatic weapons, you need to have them as well. It would also be nice to have an armored car or two to protect the wounded and to take law enforcement officers to where they need to be without being shot.
To do all of this well, you have to be extensively trained, you have to be properly equipped. It’s impossible to train cops to do what the public demands without military-like training and a military-like mindset. All of this falls on average cops, not specialists. There were times in my career when I wondered why a SWAT team was not present.
My article is in response to another piece of research indicating that military tactics hamper law enforcement.
The use of Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams and other forms of “militarized policing” doesn’t deter violent crime or provide the safety benefits (either to the public or to police officers) that many police administrators claim–and it disproportionately affects black communities, according to a study by the National Academy of Sciences.
The militarization of America’s police has been hotly debated in recent years. Critics argue that effectively turning cops into soldiers risks alienating them from the communities they supposedly serve.
New research provides evidence supporting such warnings. It finds the use of SWAT teams—perhaps the most common and visible form of militarized policing—neither reduces crime nor enhances public safety.
It reports this aggressive approach to law enforcement is disproportionately used in minority communities. And finally, it finds portraying officers in military gear decreases public support for the police.
Overall, “the routine use of militarized police tactics by local agencies threatens to increase the historic tensions between marginalized groups and the state, with no detectable public safety benefit,” Mummolo concludes. “While SWAT teams arguably remain a necessary tool for violent emergency situations, restricting their use to those rare events may improve perceptions of police with little or no safety loss.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions might want to rethink his support for a plan in which surplus military gear is passed on to police forces. This research suggests the benefits are negligible at best, while the costs are quite real, Pacific Standard.
So the next time we have an armed invasion of a school or a terrorist incident or a mass shooting at a concert, is it the opinion of critics that law enforcement secure the perimeter and wait for a SWAT team or the military?
Nope. That would be absurd. Hundreds of your kids would be murdered at their school desks.
So the public demands that regular, everyday street cops rush in and take on the bad guys (when you’re not quite sure as to who they are, where they are, how many there are) and stop the bloodshed as soon as possible without military training and tactics?
No one argues that we should not be a friend to the community. No one is suggesting that we be anything less than fair and impartial.
But folks, we are a military-like organization because it’s in everyone’s best interest.
I’ve participated in stress-induced firearms range training with high scores and then went into the shoot-don’t shoot computerized lab, with the bad guy holding a female and baby hostage where he announced that he is going to slit her throat. I fired a simulated handgun to stop a homicide. The only successful shot would be his head and he was moving around. I shot the women twice before doing it correctly.
It’s almost impossible to hit a small, moving target at twenty feet while controlling your stance, breathing, trigger pull, and immense fear. Yet in the real world, I would have to live the rest of my life knowing that I shot an innocent person while trying to save her. The media attention to me and my family would be damning and intense.
Guardians? Warriors? Yes, I understand the difference and I support both objectives.
But all I know is that military-like training and weapons are necessary when the public demands resolutions to almost impossible situations.
Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. – Retired federal senior spokesperson. Thirty-five years of award-winning public relations for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Former Adjunct Associate Professor of criminology and public affairs-University of Maryland, University College. Former advisor to presidential and gubernatorial campaigns. Former advisor to the “McGruff-Take a Bite Out of Crime” national media campaign. Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.