From Warriors to Guardians: How Cities Can Embrace 21st Century Policing

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This is a guest post by Thomas M. Larned. This post is the first entry in a two-part series regarding efforts to reform policing practices in response to a growing divide between police officers and the communities that they protect and serve.

Sheriff Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith), a TV character from the 1960s that embodied many of the ideas associated today with community-oriented policing. (Image courtesy CBS archives)

In “The Nobility of Policing,” authors Michael Nila and Stephen Covey described the Guardians from Plato’s perfect society as “those with the most impeccable character (who) are chosen to bear the responsibility of protecting the democracy.”

Last month, law enforcement leaders from around the country met in Washington, D.C. at the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) Re-Engineering Police Use of Force conference to collaborate with health and education experts as well as international colleagues to discuss strategies to return police officers from the mindset of a warrior to the mindset of a guardian. In pursuit of that objective, participants examined current recruiting and training practices in an effort to ensure departments are hiring officers who share their departments’ core values and are providing them with the tools to safely perform their duties. Concepts including Procedural Justice, Justice Based Policing, Tactical Restraint and Community Policing were emphasized as alternatives to “zero tolerance” crime prevention strategies, which many believe have led to unnecessary and excessive instances of use of force and caused resentment toward police officers. In fact, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and Chicago Police Department are currently engaged in a project to develop performance measures to evaluate officers based on their ability to prevent use of force encounters through de-escalation techniques.

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Officer Joe Friday (Jack Webb), a character from the 1960s TV show Dragnet, was famous for being one of the most straight-laced police officers depicted on television. Officer Friday fired his weapon two times during the entire span of the show. (Getty Images)

In “The Four Pillars of Justice Based Policing,” King County (Seattle) Sheriff Sue Rahr described Justice Based Policing as “a strategy to improve the quality and outcome of interactions between police and citizens while improving officer safety. Over time and across multiple interactions it strengthens community trust and confidence in the police and increases future cooperation and lawful behavior by citizens.” Rahr and other members of the President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing are developing strategies to improve police practices nationwide, recognizing that one way to reduce violence against police officers is to reduce the level of hostility toward police officers.

Additionally, many departments are embracing the concept of Procedural Justice, which asserts that the “process” during a law enforcement encounter may be more important to a citizen than the “outcome” and that citizens are more likely to accept the legitimacy of law enforcement actions when the encounter leaves the citizen believing his or her dignity was respected. Professor Tom Tyler of Yale University states, “If legal authorities exercise their authority fairly, they build legitimacy and increase both willing deference to rules and the decisions of the police and the courts and the motivation to help with the task of maintaining social order in the community.” For example, a driver may not mind paying a speeding ticket that is issued by an officer who is professional and respectful during the encounter. On the other hand, a driver who is bullied by an officer may be left with significant resentment, even if he receives a warning rather than a speeding ticket.

Seth Stoughton, a professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law and a former police officer, suggested in the Harvard Law Review Forum that police departments should expand community policing principles and instruct officers to employ tactical restraint to reduce risks when doing so is consistent with the police mission, stating, “Tactical restraint doesn’t teach officers to run away from violent confrontations; it teaches them to approach every situation in a way that minimizes the threat of having it turn violent in the first place.”

Communities and police departments confront unique challenges based on a number of factors including economics, education, geography and cultural attitudes that require individualized solutions. Members of PERF emphasized the need for improved training regarding de-escalation techniques and the development of specially trained crisis intervention teams to resolve encounters with the mentally ill without resorting to the use of force. Police departments including Los Angeles, New York and Oakland, Calif., have emphasized critical thinking and tactical restraint concepts based on the theory that officer safety can be increased and the need for the use of force can be reduced by officers who use good tactics to maintain distance and cover from a threatening subject. By slowing down an encounter, officers create an opportunity to communicate, develop a tactical plan and obtain re-enforcement. Departments including Oakland and Spokane, Wash., described excellent results from the use of body cameras in conjunction with the implementation of reforms. However, Executive Director Chuck Wexler, who led the discussion at the PERF conference, reminded the audience that safe and effective policing principles continue to depend on an organizational culture committed to the safety of all of the participants in a crises encounter – including wrongdoers. As Wexler stated, “The only thing body cameras without reforms accomplish is to record bad policing.”

Thomas M. Larned 125x141About the Author: Thomas M. Larned is Of Counsel at Roetzel & Andress, where he focuses his practice on white-collar litigation and corporate compliance matters. Prior to joining Roetzel, he spent 29 years directing complex criminal investigations for the FBI and Massachusetts Public Defender, as well as conducting comprehensive inspections of FBI Field Offices, ensuring compliance with FBI policies and the U.S. Attorney General’s Guidelines. He served as the FBI Legal Attaché in Iraq and Canada, where he oversaw all FBI operations. He earned his law degree from Suffolk University Law School and his undergraduate degree from Northeastern University. He can be reached at or 202-697-4892.