Why police recruits need to be trained to be more than just warriors or guardians

If one truly understands the multiple roles of an officer, they will also understand the roles are not mutually exclusive and can coexist at the same time

Are law enforcement officers warriors or guardians? The simple answer to this question is yes. We are warriors and guardians at different times and sometimes at the same time.

In a law enforcement context, the term warrior is often misunderstood. It is one of many roles an officer must be ready to assume at any given moment. In addition to the warrior role, officers may also be guardians, grief counselors, crisis intervention team members, enforcers, and forgivers.

If one truly understands the multiple roles of an officer, they will also understand the roles are not mutually exclusive and can coexist at the same time. Those who comprehend the nature of the job understand the need to be able to switch from one role to another in order to successfully navigate this profession. In any situation, and specifically in a physical arrest situation, a law enforcement officer must be prepared to assume the warrior role at a moment’s notice.

Starting with recruits
Helping recruits to understand the concept of having multiple roles is important. Recruits enter law enforcement with little or no real context of the dynamics of being a professional law enforcement officer.

Training with context is critical for the new learner to help grasp key concepts. Training without context, for example, could be illustrated by handing a pair of handcuffs to a recruit that has never had a pair in his hands and telling him to figure out how to apply the handcuffs safely and effectively while mitigating injury to the subject if possible.

Sometimes law enforcement officers’ roles overlap during an event, sometimes they change in the middle of an event, and other times they just change as the shift moves from call to call. To further explore the notion of having multiple roles, here are some examples.

Active shooter response
An officer is responding to an active shooter incident. While the shooter is still in the act of killing, the officer on the contact team can maintain a dual role of warrior and guardian at the same time. The officer is a warrior in the sense that he or she must be prepared and have the proper mindset to go into a life and death battle with the shooter if needed while also acting as the guardian of those that are potential victims.

Domestic violence response
A couple of officers respond to a domestic violence event. While walking up to the home, the officers may hear a terrible scream for help inside. After entering they see the husband with a knife while the wife and children are frozen in fear. The contact officer immediately assumes the warrior role to confront and be ready to engage the husband while the cover officer assumes the guardian role to protect the wife and children and safely remove them from the danger and to help reassure them of their safety. The contact officer manages to get the husband to drop the knife and when the husband is taken into custody, the officer assumes the enforcer role.

There are a number of times in which I started a contact as the enforcer and after completing an investigation I turned into the forgiver. Even when the investigation revealed a minor or technical violation of a law, I used my discretion to forgive the crime and counsel the subject instead of arresting the subject. There were also times when the situation was reversed.  When the situation suddenly changes, it requires an appropriate role change to match it.

Multiple roles of cops
On any given day, an officer may have to transition from one role to another on a call-to-call basis. The first call for service may require an officer to assume the role of a crisis intervention team member when encountering a suicidal subject.

As soon as that call is cleared, the officer may be dispatched to an unattended and unexpected death call at a home with grieving family members. On this call the family members are obviously upset, but the officer needs to secure the scene to the best of his or her abilities in order to rule out foul play. This requires the officer to walk a fine line between the grief counselor and the enforcer roles in order to respect the grieving families, but also to secure a possible crime scene.

Lastly, an officer may be in an on the ground struggle against a larger and more skilled suspect. In this scenario, the officer is becoming fatigued and is injured in the struggle. In order to win the encounter, the officer adopts the warrior mindset understanding that if he or she does not end this struggle with extreme force it will only get worse. In accepting the warrior mindset, the officer is able to also understand the will and need for self-defense.

The idea of law enforcement officers having multiple roles is a training tool that can be used by any trainer. If even just one officer is helped by this tool, then it is worth it.

Officers who understand the nature of the job will understand the need to be able to switch from one role to another. This understanding will enable officers  to successfully navigate this profession. 

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