When Serving Meets Surviving Officer Mindset Matters

Are law enforcement officers guardians or warriors?   It is a question that has been asked in many communities in recent months. The answer is complex, yet simple. Both answers can be correct. And despite perceived differences between communities and their police officers, there can be a unified response to the question.

Residents of areas where crime is low may tell you their officers are guardians. These officers spend their hours on patrol keeping the peace in an area where peace is prevalent. They view their officers as members of the community who have a heart to serve. They see officers who are willing to spend their days attending community events and chatting with neighbors. They see officers who do not seem to mind the lack of excitement seen in TV shows and movies. These officers spend more time talking about Friday night high school football games than they do about wild car chases or gruesome crime scenes. They look out for their friends and neighbors with pride and compassion. They do not mind being viewed as guardians. But they will tell you that there is still a warrior in each of them.

Residents who live in areas where crime is high may tell you their officers are warriors. In many neighborhoods, warriors are seen in a negative light. These officers spend their hours on patrol handling one service call after another. They see their officers initiating contact with motorists and pedestrians. They see their officers leaving many situations with someone secured in the back of the squad car on their way to the local jail. They see Bearcat tactical vehicles and officers wearing gear that looks like it belongs on a soldier, not a police officer. They really want a guardian, but the dangers police officers sometimes face are best handled with a warrior mindset.

These officers want their residents to know that sometimes they have to be the warrior. A warrior can overcome the most dangerous and life-threatening situations. Residents hear the wail of the siren on a regular basis and have long forgotten what a peaceful night sounds like on their block. They recall a time when an officer walking the beat would visit with people and build relationships based on trust and familiarity. Many seasoned officers have fond memories of those days as well. Even as they are faced with public criticism and questions about their motivations for patrolling the toughest neighborhoods, these officers also look out for their friends and neighbors with pride and compassion. Although the perception can be negative, these officers do not mind being viewed as warriors. But they will tell you there is still a guardian in each of them.

As law enforcement officers, we find ourselves trying to resolve situations that started with events that were beyond our control. We must handle them with integrity, professionalism, and compassion. We must gain control of these situations in order to prevent injury to the people we are sworn to protect and ourselves. To accomplish all of these things, we must be guardians and warriors at the same time. It is not an easy task. Some of our actions are easily viewed by the community as those of a guardian while others are easily viewed as those of a warrior. When we break each situation down, we see that both mindsets are present in almost everything we do. We must realize that being both is okay. We must share that ideology with our communities and within our own ranks. 

When the lines of communication are open between a community and its law enforcement officers, we all have the opportunity to learn. We can learn from, and about each other. In order to provide a high level of service to a neighborhood, we must understand what the residents want. We can never know what a high level of service means to a neighborhood if we do not spend time serving as their guardians. Their guardians spend time talking about neighborhood concerns and the high school football game. Through open dialogue, residents can learn that some of their concerns may need to be handled by a warrior. Their warriors are willing to face unknown danger to make the neighborhood safe again. Their warriors are willing to stand between a resident and an armed suspect.

I believe this is where the complex question becomes a simple answer. The guardians are the warriors and the warriors are the guardians. We have taken an oath to serve and protect. That phrase was created long before the guardian versus warrior question was asked. However, in that promise we made as new officers, we find the answer. We must never forget we are guardians for our communities. We must continue to maintain our compassion and willingness to serve all of our residents, regardless of where they live. We must never forget that we are warriors. For in some instances, the warrior inside all us will be the only thing that protects the people who need us most.

At this time when the relationships between communities and police are at a crucial point, we must continue our engagement activities with our youth, our community groups, our neighborhoods, and every stakeholder in our communities. Through ongoing training, community outreach and engagement, we can reach a unified response whenever the question is asked: Guardian or warrior?

Sgt. Jason Cullum
Evansville (Indiana) Police Department
COPS Office Law Enforcement Fellow

Back to top

COPS Office Photo Contest – July Winner | Public Agencies Head Online to Poll Residents, Gather Input | When Serving Meets Surviving – Officer Mindset Matters | Operation Understanding DC