Since the Michael Brown shooting in 2014, the role of law enforcement officers in the United States has been examined by a host of sources, most of whom have no experience in law enforcement. One refrain I have heard repeated as gospel in certain circles is the belief that police officers should not be warriors, but guardians. At other times, proponents of this belief say that the police fail to serve and protect, instead acting as an occupying force. This has led to some seriously flawed trends in law enforcement training, emerging at the behest of naïve and inexperienced civilians leading recruits towards dangerous tactics and mindsets.
This accusation rests on the artificial division between protecting a community and using tactics that are aggressive. To merely “protect” and be a guardian sounds more like the job of a security guard. In law enforcement, this practice is known as “reactive policing” – taking action only as a reaction to calls for service. No attempt is made to intercept trouble before it starts. It is widely demonstrated that such an approach emboldens criminal behavior, and in the event that force is needed, new officers are slow to act quickly. The result is in a much higher possibly of the fight being prolonged or escalated – and a higher chance that both subject and officer will be injured. (Here, I speak from experience as a Field Training Officer.)
In fact, in the aftermath of the Ferguson riots and unrest throughout the nation, violent crime has risen dramatically across the board. While academics seem confused as to why, law enforcement know exactly why this is happening: it’s harder to get officers to be proactive when they feel their departments and communities will disavow them, despite their actions being entirely legal and justified. For some, reactive policing seems safer.
I understand this perspective from my fellow law enforcement officers. To you, let me simply remind you that safety was not why you first signed up. You chose this career precisely because you recognized our calling to advance into the fray, and
to back down now is cowardice. Do not allow your resolve to be broken by this hardship. Come and bleed with your brothers. Thucydides writes, “The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.”
For those of you reading who are not in law enforcement, I would like to address why it is essential for police officers to be Warriors, and why being a Warrior does not preclude being a guardian. Please take a moment and listen: lives depend on this.
First, I would ask that you understand what a Warrior is, and what a Warrior is not. A few weeks ago I wrote about the Universal Warrior Attributes, and as we address this topic I think it would benefit you to read it. For brevity’s sake, however, here is the short list:
- Humility, which is drawn from the Davidic ethic of the servant leader, is the recognition of one’s own finitude and imperfection, and respect for others (including one’s enemies).
- Loyalty, both to one’s superiors and to one’s comrades.
- Discernment, which is the ability to clearly decide when and how to act – otherwise known as wisdom.
- Benevolence, which is a virtue in peace because it tends to preserve peace, and a virtue in war because of its humanity.
- Brutality, which is three parts: speaking truthfully, possessing physical and mental strength and toughness, and possessing the ability to act violently when necessary.
- Courage, which as in Bushido is both martial and moral in nature.
- Honor, which is the attribute that ties the other six together.
When we talk about a Warrior, then, we are talking about someone who is first and foremost acting in accordance with the Davidic ethic, who discerns the best course of action, who is violent when necessary and benevolent whenever possible. All of these things make up a Warrior – but this definition is different from the one you have heard before. In the editorials, a “warrior” is simply a brute.
This is highly misleading. But it demonstrates the disconnect between the two American worlds. I have mentioned elsewhere that there is a tiny fraction of our population that serves either as law enforcement professionals (about 800,000 sworn officers, according to the DOJ), and about 1.5 million members of the military, including Reserves. Recognizing that there are many Reservists who are in law enforcement – myself included – we can safely assume that simply adding those numbers together for a total of 2.3 million is a very liberal estimate – so generous as to be unrealistic. 2.3 million Americans – out of a population of 321 million. A mere 0.71% of Americans, give or take a bit, actually live their lives as professional Warriors. This is a huge departure for nearly every civilized society in the past, even from a generation ago. (You can read Nick Palmansciano’s well-known treatment of the issue here.)
When you consider this, however, you must understand how foreign the Universal Warrior Attributes must seem to the general public. This is why civilians have difficulty understanding how someone could genuinely care about their community, and still be aggressive in enforcing the law. It is the duality of the Warrior’s nature – both gentle and deadly – that confuses the uninitiated, who cannot conceive of holding such extremes in the balance. To those of us who live the life, however, such duality of nature seems almost mundane. It is implicit. In the words of the legendary Mad Dog Mattis, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.” Anything less translates to bad officer safety – or more generally, bad tactics through complacency.
As a caveat, we mustn’t simply reject reform to our police training and tactics. There are, in fact, some potential benefits to the training these editorialists offer. For instance, I’ve worked on the Crisis Intervention Team for several years now. CIT is specifically tasked with safely resolving mental health crises, which involves the discipline and patience to meet people where they are. Given the high correlation between police action and mental illness, it is certainly in our best interest to push CIT training down to the patrol level (although the rollout of such training may be more difficult than one initially thinks.) So also, the success of the community policing model can be compared to the “hearts and minds” approach to counterinsurgency in the military theater. Even the unquestioned warriors of our society recognize that human relationships win wars, not brute force.
And this is ancient knowledge. Sun Tzu said, “Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”
But just as we cannot give up compassion, we cannot give up our capacity to fight. In the event that violence is necessary, it must be executed swiftly, without hesitation, and without remorse. It must also be so familiar to the officer that it is both effective and minimizes liability. Humans don’t do this naturally – we are creatures of habit. Col. Dave Grossman writes in On Killing, “If you spend years and years dialing 4-1-1 and never practice 9-1-1, then under stress you are likely to dial 4-1-1.” We have to train, then, not only for the act of violence, but to be able to access that act rapidly. Put differently, if we understand the psychology and physiology of a fight, we know that our bodies fall back to how they have practiced. There is a warrior truism that states, “We do not rise to the level of our expectations, but fall to the level of our training.”
Teaching young cops to set de-escalation above all else, to only use violence when there is clearly no other choice, and to fear the consequences of ever using violence, means that when those young cops use force, they don’t know how to control it. They have only thrown a punch once or twice in their lives – how will they place their strike accurately and powerfully, to end the fight? They have only shot static targets on the range – how will they be sure they can put their rounds center mass and account for every round they fire when their opponent is running, attacking, aggressively pressing their assault? Our fight-or-flight reflex must be conditioned so that in the critical moment, we do not waver. To hesitate in that instant is to die – or worse, to allow someone else to die.
The division between the warrior and the guardian is the product of a grave misunderstanding by our civilian compatriots. But rather than adopt an “us-vs.-them” attitude towards the editorialists, I want to offer this: it is not antithetical to the Warrior life to be able to de-escalate. Sun Tzu argues that the most excellent Warriors use de-escalation to resolve situations. But we cannot forsake our proficiency in physical violence, and we cannot ever – ever – become complacent to the dangers of our profession. We must embrace the duality of our beings. Being an excellent Warrior, after all, makes us better guardians.