'Peace Officers' are the guardians of our society

Police officers and deputies viewing themselves as 'peace officers' is consistent with the approach of training officers to be guardians of society

By Chief David G. Dominguez (Ret.)

In 2016, Executive Director Sue Rahr of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission wrote on the National Police Foundation blog about how law enforcement has become very good at fighting crime, yet as a profession, we are struggling.

I would agree, law enforcement in the United States is at a crossroads with continuous challenges. Police chiefs and law enforcement executives around the country are examining how training and development occurs so that recruits and officers are steeped in community and cohesion – and understand they are guardians in addition to warriors.

Redlands Police Department squad car with Peace Officer decal.
Redlands Police Department squad car with Peace Officer decal. (Photo/National Police Foundation)

Guardian vs. warrior

There will always be an element of warrior, it is the part of the profession. One just needs to look at the recent increase in line-of-duty deaths, mass shootings and the dangerous life-threatening situations police officers face daily.

For many, the guardian vs. warrior discussion poses the question: Guardians of what? I submit that police officers are guardians of the fabric of society, not just the people.

Recently, I was introduced to a non-profit organization formed to address this issue. The mission of Police2Peace is unique and straightforward – to include the designation “Peace Officer” on law enforcement vehicles. By employing cutting-edge social science to deliver a powerful message, Police2Peace wants to strengthen the fabric of society.

When I first met Police2Peace’s founder and Executive Director Lisa Broderick she explained why this concept would work with an example from mainstream advertising.

“Pepsi displays the words ‘cool’ and ‘refreshing’ as a positive suggestion hoping you’ll feel that way when you consume their product. It’s called priming, and it is well known in advertising,” Broderick said.

Police2Peace believes the use of priming can be applied with the application of “Peace Officer” on patrol vehicles to result in enhanced community outreach and obtain positive results.

The Police2Peace foundation’s work is being supported by the Joint Public Policy Institute of New York University and UCLA to perform independent research to gauge the impact of the changed vehicles on public perception. In 2017, a feasibility study concluded with the LA-area suburb Redlands (Calif.) Police Department, who changed over vehicles in 2017. Results showed the public highly supported the use of the decals. Citizens surveyed reported that the decals would improve or significantly improve the community’s perception of law enforcement.

The Richland County Sheriff’s Department (RCSD) also conducted a pilot study with the expectation of statistically valid results that would show improvements in public perception of law enforcement in the short term, and a decrease of negative interactions and negative perception between departments and their communities in the long run. Read more about RCSD’s findings here.

The term peace officer has a long history

While the research behind the program is interesting, the message being delivered is captivating. Police officers and deputies viewing themselves as “Peace Officers” is consistent with the approach of training officers to be guardians of society.

California, like all states, has a Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) and is responsible for setting minimum selection and training standards for California law enforcement. Thus, the term peace officer is a significant part of history in law enforcement and interwoven with police officer.

Recruits and law enforcement professionals need continued education in what it means to be a “peace officer.” A considerable number of situations involve addiction, homelessness, mental illness and domestic violence. Law enforcement continues to need recruits who are capable of diffusing situations, problem solving and thinking like guardians when enforcing the law when applicable. Being a guardian doesn’t mean responding to situations and being soft on crime. Sometimes, the role of law enforcement officers is not to enforce the law, it is to diffuse the situation – to keep people safe with as little violence as possible. Once that is done, then officers can enforce and apply the law.

There is an evolving trend and growing acceptance of the guardian concept within law enforcement. To that end, the work of Police2Peace goes a long way to positively influencing the impression some citizens have of law enforcement using a simple phrase, while reminding officers of their chosen profession – to keep the peace.

For more information regarding the Police2Peace project, visit www.police2peace.com.

About the author

Chief David G. Dominguez was a police officer in the Inland Empire, San Bernardino and Riverside counties for 33 years. While with the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department, Chief Dominguez worked corrections, patrol, investigations and training, reaching the rank of sergeant. In 1994, Chief Dominguez was hired by the Riverside Police Department as a lieutenant, promoting to Deputy Chief of Police in 2003. In 2008, Chief Dominguez was appointed the Chief of Police for the City of Palms Springs, CA. Chief Dominguez is a graduate of the Senior Management Institute of Police (SMIP) from the John F. Kennedy Government Center at Harvard University and the Supervisory Leadership Institute in California.

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