The Mission of the Guardian: Fight Crime & Don’t be an Ass#$%@!

Too much has been made of the warrior/guardian distinction & confuses matters

By Sue Rahr  |   Apr 19, 2017
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Policing is dangerous. No matter how well trained or equipped officers are, there is a risk of injury and death with every encounter. Each officer must find a way to psychologically manage the ever-present threat in order to do their job.

A very effective way of doing that has been to adopt the identity of a noble warrior. This identity perfectly meets the need for a tough and resilient mindset to face danger and survive a deadly encounter. While every person a cop encounters on the street represents a potential threat—their fellow officers represent safety. Belonging to the exclusive brotherhood of warriors, whose members have each other’s back no matter what, is equally important—especially in the current social environment where cops feel under attack, not just on the street, but every time they turn on the news.

I think the concept of the “warrior” has been promoted in training and embraced by so many cops because it meets a legitimate need. So why then do we need the nauseating, politically correct term “guardian?”

Guardian & Warrior

The term “warrior” has a very honorable meaning to nearly everyone I know in law enforcement—its nobility is understood at a visceral level. Unfortunately, however, the public does not share that understanding. And here lies the crux of the problem. They don’t know what it’s like to do a job with the constant threat of injury and death hanging over their head. In fact, many in the public see the image of a “warrior” as an antagonistic bully.

Feeding this misperception are those in the media who constantly seek images of conflict to exploit in pursuit of ratings and “clicks” in the polarizing world of social media. This image of the warrior cop—dressed for battle, obscuring any glimpse of the human being inside the protective gear—has intensified the perception of a battle of “us against them,” and you have to pick a side.

We must acknowledge that some in our ranks have themselves bought into and perpetuate the antagonistic image of the warrior. Some trainers have over-emphasized the “us-against-them” dimension of warrior culture, thinking they are making new recruits safer. Ironically, as veteran cops know through experience, an antagonistic “us-against-them” attitude sets new officers up for greater resistance and therefore greater risk of injury. In a training environment, the “us-against-them” culture (drill sergeant vs. grunt) gets in the way of effectively learning complex skills and decision making.

For many of these reasons I began using the term “guardian” in our police training in Washington State, trying to make a distinction between the ROLE of police and their SKILLS. It helped our trainers better demonstrate the balance required in the multi-dimensional role of police—toughness and resiliency while serving and protecting.

We don’t present it to our recruits as having choose between being a warrior OR a guardian. We present it as two dimensions of a complete police officer. In fact, we ratcheted up defensive tactics and firearms training to increase the skills and confidence of recruits so they didn’t feel the need to use intimidation as a substitute for skills.

Unfortunately, I did not effectively communicate this distinction to cops outside the academy, the training officers on the front line. A huge mistake on my part. As you would expect, when word got around, a lot of cops interpreted the term guardian to be a kinder, gentler, more politically correct version of a warrior. To make matters worse, about a year after we implemented this approach, Ferguson happened. This just fed the misperception that the guardian concept was nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction of political correctness to the inflammatory media hype.

Here’s the irony. Decent, constructive community members and leaders who support cops and “law and order,” love the term guardian because they interpret it the way most cops interpret the term warrior! And they interpret the term warrior as antagonistic and “us against them.” The community that supports us wants to be protected by strong, decisive, fair cops. Simply put, they just want you to fight crime and not be an ass#$%@! I would have made this our academy motto if I thought I could get it past my commission.

Conclusion

In this day and age we need the support of the public and policymakers that decide what resources should be dedicated to public safety and how our actions should be scrutinized. If we are secure enough in our toughness and nobility to use words that the public understands and supports, we might someday find the kind of support that the guys in the shiny red trucks get, between video games and cooking the next meal.