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Columns : In My Sights

Warriors or Guardians?

Uninformed activists who would change police officers from warriors to guardians should be careful what they wish for.

January 13, 2016  |  by Dave Smith - Also by this author

Illustration: Sequoia Blankenship
Illustration: Sequoia Blankenship

Over the years I have tried to keep this column from being in any way political, and focus on issues that help the reader stay healthy, strong, and safe. The problem is that few things having anything to do with law enforcement today are NOT political. Whether the issue is use of force, crime statistics, or budgets, one can be accused of damn near anything, in a political sense, just by commenting on the problem.

Social justice warriors clamor for "procedural justice" wherein the officer is supposed to take into account the social injustices of the past when enforcing the laws of today. The fact that one racial or ethnic group is over-representing in a crime statistic becomes "de facto" proof that the system is rigged against that group; and to attempt to argue any other sociological cause is to have malice in your heart. The same problems I examined in Sociology class back in the early 1970s still exist in spite of society's "surefire" remedies that were applied back then. Even worse, rather than re-examine those social remedies and their failures, we are simply going to continue them and act as if they're only now being initiated.

One of the big mistakes of the past is the fantasy that law enforcement causes criminality and that if only we can change the police we can stop poverty, crime, gangs, etc. Recently, a Presidential Committee was formed to "fix" law enforcement following the support among the powers that be for the "hands up, don't shoot" myth. The result was a hodgepodge of societal complaints about the law enforcement community, with the impressive title of "21st Century Policing."

If you haven't read it you better Google that immediately and get reading because everything you believe about law enforcement and its relationship with the community is about to affected. The first recommendation in this self-referential report is that the culture of policing needs to change. We need to become "guardians instead of warriors" because we have been teaching cops to be soldiers instead of protectors.

What? Excuse me, but one of the essential concepts of law enforcement training is that we are different from soldiers since we go on "calls for service" instead of "missions." In fact, soldiers often make great cops since it is a natural transition from protecting a nation to protecting a neighborhood. I thought we all knew that already.

The warrior archetype is as powerful and important in our collective unconscious as any of the other "heroic archetypes," and until now I have never heard anything negative about it. As Stephen Pressfield has written in his book, Warrior Ethos, the true root of warriorship is selflessness. What a remarkable virtue, and one that is at the foundation of a free people. I would gladly have warriors protecting every community in this country and, in fact, I believe we do. However, the President's Committee recommends we follow Plato's concept of the Guardians for our nation, without bothering to explain what that entails.

Well, let me explain.

Plato was no friend of freedom or democracy. His beloved mentor, Socrates, had been executed by the Athenian democracy, and when Plato sought to describe his more perfect world in "The Republic," he portrayed a perfect utopian society run by Guardians: philosopher-kings and their special chosen soldiers who would rule over the simple masses of commoners. That is not a model of policing in a free society, but rather a model for a KGB, Gestapo, or Stasi; indeed, it is for good reason that when Karl Popper wrote "The Open Society and Its Enemies," freedom's first foe was Plato.

It isn't surprising that 21st Century Policing recommends centralized control over the training of local agencies, and collecting funds to implement it. In fact, I strongly suggest you read the full report so you see how remarkably extensive the writers believe their reach should be; they want to change police culture in a free society and undo local control that goes back to the Anglo-Saxon tradition, well before William the Conqueror. Pretty powerful recommendations from a tiny coterie of people who deliberated for only a couple of months.

Perhaps most troubling, however, is that there hasn't been the least discussion of the fact that there actually was one department in the Committee's eyes that had done all the outreach, all the foundations, all the social engineering necessary for success when this report was released in May 2015…the Baltimore PD.

Heads up, Sheepdogs.

Dave Smith is an internationally recognized law enforcement trainer and is the creator of "JD Buck Savage." You can follow Buck on Twitter at @thebucksavage.

Comments (18)

Displaying 1 - 18 of 18

Kevin McCormick @ 1/13/2016 8:15 PM

Thanks, Dave, for calling attention to the ridiculous ploy our detractors have come up with, by redefining the word "warrior" as "marauder." It is shameful that people associated with the profession, including regular contributors to Police One, support this notion of turning warriors into "guardians." Since we probably can't tar and feather them and run them out of town, they should at least be ostracized. Don't invite them to speak at police seminars. Don't buy their silly books. Don't apply to work at their agencies.

Chris Hefner @ 1/15/2016 8:58 PM

Well said Dave

Mike Lasnier @ 1/15/2016 9:39 PM

I like how page 11 of the presidents report includes this little ditty: "As Plato wrote, “In a republic that honors the core of democracy—the greatest
amount of power is given to those called Guardians. Only those with the most impeccable character are chosen to bear the responsibility of
protecting the democracy.”

Too bad Plato never actually wrote that; it's total B.S., but these so called "Experts" who were appointed to change Law Enforcement have clearly never read Plato, but they are more than willing to invoke his name expecting us all to "ooooh" and "ahhhh" because they said "Plato!" so they must be smart! Those who claim to have read books are very irritating to those of us who have actually read them.

And the above quote? Page 7 of the blue courage textbook "The Nobility of Policing" by Dr. Michael Nila. Nice guy; didn't pay much attention when he was referencing "Plato", though. As Dave pointed out; Plato HATED democracy, and guardians were evil.

Mike Lasnier @ 1/15/2016 9:51 PM

Here is a link to a study that proves that "Guardian" Training doesn't work; it was done by people who strongly support the Guardian concept! The summary on page 4 shows NO change in attitudes between recruits who get this training, and experienced cops. It also shows no difference between civilians who want to go into law enforcement, and the same civilians after this "Guardian" training. It's worthless. If you spend time and money on this garbage, you will get ZERO return on that investment. How's that for evidence based policing?

Kevin Sailor @ 1/16/2016 9:45 AM

Just one more way the current administration is trying to chip away at our freedoms. From "common sense" gun control (which is nothing more than people control and has nothing to do with reducing crime) to this new ridiculous notion about changing cop culture. I fear for the future of this nation. Thanks Dave for a very insightful article.

Cathy Troutt @ 1/17/2016 10:52 AM

Great article Dave and on point. Our "President" doesn't have maintaining democracy on his mind. The sheep need to wake up.

Stay vigilant @ 1/17/2016 11:20 PM

Ummm just an observation here, what you described about Plato's "guardian" method for choosing roles in society is pretty much EXACTLY what's already happening. This is why were dealing with insurrection, rebellions and riots on the regular. The American people are getting sick of it and it's going to start getting even more dangerous for badges than it already is. And that's a shameThere are a lot of great LEOs on our streets, I have a few in my family. Even considered going for it myself a few times. For every dirty badge out there there are 100 great cops. That being said some changes need to be made. Officers need to start holding other officers accountable when they do dirty things, so this frat boy "don't talk on a brother/sister" bullshit. And make the public understand more that law enforcement is just that-enforcement. Yes, as a cop there is some discretion there, ultimately police are duty sworn to obey and uphold the law-even dumbass laws that dumb ass politicians put into place. It's real easy to blame cops because people see cops on a regular basis, when really people need to look at LAWMAKERS not law ENFORCEMENT. officers need higher education requirements. If you only have a high school diploma and wanna join the force because you got picked on too much, you are not going to be a cop. Period. Atleast some sort of collegiate criminal justice program should be required for ALL departments nationwide. There are bad people in all professions, none with quite so dire outcomes as an unqualified/corrupt cop. Officers hold the power to ruin and indeed TERMINATE someone's life based on their intentions and judgement. Police hold uniqueness in this respect. A bad banker isn't taking people's freedom or getting people killed. Officers should be trained accordingly. Just my thoughts.

Robert @ 1/22/2016 8:36 AM


Thank you for sharing this interesting article.

There are issues with the Warrior/Guardian mindset, but let's not overlook issues on both sides. This is far more about what is psychologically nurtured in men than it is about political debate. Indeed, one could easily find so-called Warriors on any side of any issue.

Briefly, there is nothing wrong with being Guardians. There is nothing "less" about Guardians than Warriors. If we're attracted to the latter, and not the former, perhaps the ego is inserting itself unnecessarily.

I think the issue has to do with Warriors Gone Wild, the so-called Warrior who does not carry in him/herself enough of the protective spirit which a Guardian mindset has the potential to foster. Again, this is about psychological balance, and not politicism.

I'll conclude by saying that we (Public Safety) should be defining our own service ethos, and not getting riled at what others attempt to throw on us.

Good article.

Truth and Honor @ 1/24/2016 1:18 PM

(1 of 3) It is devastating that a group of individuals with influence over the “State”, decided with one voice that the “Guardian” philosophy is an attitude which all officers agree with or should agree. The tragedy is how one would take the “Guardian” philosophy out of a book and or out of context that, I believe, not one of those individuals with influence read to its fullness and truly understood the perspective in which it was written. If they did read Plato’s the Republic, they will see that Plato, through Socrates voice, proposes that the citizens in the State either comprise, or should be assumed of as comprising, separate races that correspond to the metals of gold, silver, bronze, and iron. At the beginning of this well-constructed State, the Guardians are of the golden race and are well suited to rule the city. Otherwise less noble children will be born, who will not guard meritoriously; conflict will precede, and the State legitimacy will be endangered.

Truth and Honor @ 1/24/2016 1:23 PM

(2 of 3) If our communities became aware of this or understood the context that the Republic was written and what a true “Golden Race” Guardian were to be raised, nurtured, trained, and policed the new ideal State, than, I believe we may have a much deeper problem on our hands. This change in philosophy is brought to our law enforcement communities, not in a democratic (rule by the people) way, but by, according to the Republic, the oligarchy (rule by the few). This concern runs deep in the ranks of all noble law enforcement officers far and wide. There needs to be a profound conversation among the lines of all law enforcement agencies and the communities that they serve to help understand the true vision of the Guardian philosophy.

Truth and Honor @ 1/24/2016 1:25 PM

(3 of 3) I would like to recommend to stop idealizing old philosophy, without data and science to support such beliefs, and begin developing, through well-defined research, a style of policing that has already worked or will work to better define our communities needs that we all serve.

Thank you for the great Article!

Brian @ 1/29/2016 9:35 AM

From one extreme to the other.....Dave, I've read your stuff for years and am fond of it, but you go to the other extreme. Why must we be regarded as EITHER warriors OR guardians...are we not in fact BOTH when you look at our fundamental purpose as police officers. Are not warriors, guardians and guardians, warriors, undertaking each role when the time to do so presents itself? I think so....Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?....We must be watched over every bit as much as those we watch over...and we must be careful to always keep in mind our role. We must be humbly polite and courteous when doing our jobs on a daily basis and strongly and professionally assertive on a daily basis as each moments dictates and, yes a ruthless warrior capable of extreme decisive violence should that time come as well....The point is our task requires us to be able to switch from one to the other in the blink of any eye. People on both sides fail to recognize that...

Kyle @ 2/8/2016 3:19 PM

Some points:
the Warrior vs Soldier debate came up during the increase of use of the "warfighter" term after 9/11.. maybe it was to make an easy gender-neutral noun to describe all military service - people (soldier's technically are different than marines or sailors etc), while including spooks and contractors and other parties
is interesting that "Warrior Ethos" is quoted as warrior = sefless, this army lt. colonel actually has the opposite view about what being a warrior:
(see next post)

Kyle @ 2/8/2016 3:19 PM

Indeed, the key difference between a Soldier (or a Marine, or an Airman) and a "warrior" is almost that simple. A serviceman does his job as a part of a complex human system, he does so with discipline and selflessness as his hallmarks. Courage also matters, of course, but it is but one of several values that are needed. The serviceman is the product of a Western society which, while it values individualism intrinsically, values subordination in pursuit of a collective objective as well. A warrior, on the other hand, is the product of a culture or subculture which is essentially purely honor-driven. That is not a good thing.

Callitasiseeit @ 4/11/2016 2:02 PM

I was trained to kill in the military. I thought the police were trained to serve and protect. Cops are assholes for the most part, and you wonder why no one likes you. If you look at the statistics being a cop is not the most dangerous job out there, although it is very stressful. You assholes should do a better job at weeding out the sociopaths, prevent good cops from becoming sociopaths, and get rid of the officers with substance abuse issues ( including steroids which you love) and anger management problems. Of course sadly this will never happen.

Callitasiseeit @ 4/11/2016 2:22 PM

I was trained to kill in the military, I thought the police were trained to serve and protect not kill. A very small percentage might wonder why citizens don't like the police citizenry. I am a citizen not a civilian. If our country was under attack and I was not in the military then I would be a civilian. As a police officer, even if you are non active, or reserve military, you are a citizen and a civilian first. Weed out the sociopaths, the people with substance abuse problems ( including the favorite anabolic steroids) and go figure anger management disorders and the job would better, and we as citizens united would all benefit

Keith @ 6/20/2016 10:58 AM

The problem is that much more time is spent on use of force and defense training than de-escalation training.
Not saying that the former two aren't important, yet de-escalation should be just as important. Too often, police officers antagonize suspects, which escalates the situation, instead of de-escalates it. Regardless of whether you think the Brown's death was justified or not, it's obvious the Ferguson officer could have handled the situation better. He has a history of maltreatment of people. Use of force should be used as a last resort in most cases and unfortunately, many police officers use it first. Tamir Rice and the Walmart case are two clear examples of this problem.

Steven @ 12/28/2016 3:04 PM

The problem I have seen with military becoming cops is they come into it with a socialist over-control we are better than them mindset. They get everything for free, always expect more and better free stuff, telling everyone how it should be without concern for reality, and that all military personnel need to band together for the purpose of destroying the enemy; that's everyone but them. I'd say the military is based on the Plato model and therefore none should serve as police. Of course that is a generalization, but is mostly true. Just because you were in the military does not make you a hero, or smart, or good, or qualified, and the same goes for being a cop. Most go into these fields with good intentions, but like shit, half sinks to the bottom, and the other half (too often shitty brass) rises to the top.

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