Last week the mayor of Minneapolis Jacob Frey ruled that his city's police officers will no longer be permitted to attend "warrior-style" training…Not even on their own time or their own dime.
Frey has no background in law enforcement. His pre-political history reads as follows: former professional runner (I kid you not), a lawyer, and a community organizer.
With that background he thinks he knows what's best for police. I'm a journalist who has covered law enforcement every working day of my life for more than 17 years, and I will tell you the most important thing I know about police work. I'm not a cop, and any knowledge I have about your profession comes from the men and women who have actually worn the badge.
But Mayor Frey believes he can read the local papers, listen to the arguments of anti-police advocates, watch some body camera video, and suddenly become an expert on police work.
To him I offer the following proposition. Let's run you through an approximation of what it's really like to be a cop in 2019. We're going to send you through the police academy. Then some random day six months, or two years, or five years from now, we'll rush you into a use-of-force simulator. Before entering, you will be given all the information an officer arriving at a scene receives. It ain't much and it's often wrong. A few seconds after entering the simulator, you will have to decide whether to shoot a man. If you decide wrong and shoot him unnecessarily—according to the press and the activists—you will be investigated, called a murderer, targeted for retribution, possibly prosecuted, and definitely sued. It will cost you your career, your reputation, and maybe your home—even if the shoot was legally justified. If you choose wrong the other way and the simulated person shoots you. Well…then an agitated street criminal is going to actually spray multiple handgun shots at you from 10 feet. You'll be wearing body armor, so you may get lucky and suffer no injuries. But you could die. Or more likely you will be wounded and suffer some permanent disability. And if you get it absolutely right in that simulator, then your big reward is you get to go back to work for the next 20 or so years. You will probably also still get sued.
That's the closest approximation of what it's like to be a cop involved in a shooting in 2019 that I can create. And I can guarantee you one thing: Mayor Frey will not take me up on this offer.
But progressive politicians like Frey expect the officers who work their cities to accept that proposition. They also expect them to always be able to de-escalate every situation, magically talking armed criminals or mentally ill subjects into complying and going to jail or treatment or both.
Some politicians want police officers to be social workers, not cops, and certainly not warriors. They often refer to this concept as officers as guardians. Personally, I love the idea of officers as guardians. But people like Mayor Frey need to remember a guardian is useless if he or she can't do violence to ward off the threats facing the people they guard.
Last month we ran a story on PoliceMag.com about a Cahokia, IL, police officer who stopped a man with an expired license plate on his car. After learning that the man was on his way to a job interview and that he committed the offense because it was his only option, Officer Roger Gemoules drove the man to that interview and he got the job. That's great police work from a guardian.
Here's some other guardians at work. In October 2018 a gunman attacked a Pittsburgh synagogue killing multiple people; officers engaged him in a running gun battle to end the threat. Two tactical officers were wounded. The alleged gunman was shot and taken into custody. That was also great police work.
A great police officer is not all about helping people in need or all about being a warrior; a great police officer is a balance of both. The mayor of Minneapolis should realize that and understand that officers need to train both as warriors and as helpers.