Warriors or Guardians?

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.

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Illustration: Sequoia BlankenshipIllustration: 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.

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