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Warrior or guardian? How police training fails us

Police officers throwing canisters
REUTERS/Eric Miller
Minneapolis police officers throwing canisters to break up protesters on May 27.
I’ve been so sad ever since George Floyd’s killing by police. So sad, so enraging. I keep wondering how it could have been different. For years, my son has been teaching me about police brutality against black Americans from his vantage point as a resident and business person in Brooklyn. 

And all the others. Philando Castile, a Minnesota black man who simply reached for his wallet when a traffic cop asked him for his driver’s license. Verdict in that case: not guilty. 

And Justine Damond, who called to report the possible assault of a woman in her alley: killed by the Minneapolis policy officer who responded to her call. 

Rethinking training

I’ve been listening to and reading about inquiries into and critiques of contemporary police training. A good example is the 2016 MinnPost commentary by James Densley, professor of law enforcement and criminal justice at Metropolitan State University, entitled “It’s time to rethink Minnesota’s system of police education and training.”

Remarkably, Densley wrote, Minnesota is the only state in the nation that requires aspiring police candidates to earn a two-year degree from a regionally accredited college or university. Yet most high-school career fairs and police recruitment videos “show the ‘sexy’ side of the law enforcement — officers dressed in hard body armor crashing through doors at dawn, fast-roping from helicopters, taming riots, and shooting their way out of trouble.” This is especially curious, Densely notes, because most officers complete their entire careers without firing their weapons.

photo of article author
Ann Markusen
In addition to their college degrees, many police recruits have gone to “warrior camp,” an exercise scrutinized in a July 11, 2018, Star Tribune article by David Chanen following public concern over the deaths of Castile, Damond, and Thurmond Blevins, an African-American running from police in north Minneapolis in June of 2018. Warrior training is the invention of retired Lt. Col. David Grossman, whose courses and book, “On Killing,” teaches that cops should be taught to kill with less hesitation. As writer Cinnamon Janzer describes in an April, 2019, issue of Next City, “Warrior training prioritizes officer safety over community safety by conditioning trainees to view all encounters as inherently dangerous.” 

A ban, and police defiance

Both Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arrandondo have spoken out against such training, banning it for their officers, though it is hard to prevent them from privately taking the course. Janzer quotes Mayor Frey:

Fear-based, warrior-style trainings like ‘killology’ are in direct conflict with everything that our chief and I stand for in our police department. … Fear-based trainings violate the values at the very heart of community policing. When you’re conditioned to believe that every person encountered poses a threat to your existence, you simply cannot be expected to build meaningful relationships with those same people.

The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, a non-AFL-CIO affiliated union, represents the city and park police officers. They are part of the problem, enthusiastically endorsing and financing warrior training for their members. In May of 2019, following Frey’s ban, the union offered free “warrior training” in defiance of the ban. 

A better metaphor: guardian

It’s not just Minnesota, either. It’s national. In the April 10, 2015, Harvard Law Review, author Seth Stoughton reviewed the recent record in an eye-opening article entitled “Law Enforcement’s ‘Warrior’ Problem.”

“Officers are trained to cultivate a ‘warrior mindset,’” he wrote, citing a long list of articles and videos you can find online. For instance, the 2015 International Law Enforcement Educator and Trainers Association Conference featured two sessions each on “Becoming Knights – Teaching Warrior Mindset to the Non-Warrior” and “Building Warrior Women Trainers.” 

Stoughton argues that the guardian, not the warrior, offers the appropriate metaphor for modern officers. He offers two practical changes to police training that could advance the ultimate police mission — promoting public security — in a way that fosters, rather than thwarts, public trust: requiring non-enforcement contacts with members of the community and emphasizing tactical restraint. 

Ann Markusen is a professor emerita, University of Minnesota; principal of Markusen Economic Research; and a resident of Red Clover Township.

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Colin Brownlow on 06/18/2020 - 01:20 pm.

    They are or rather should be first and foremost civil servants.

  2. Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/18/2020 - 01:43 pm.

    Mmm – Thurman Blevins was an active shooter. The man was intoxicated and had been discharging a gun. Maybe the police did not have to kill him, but glossing over those kind of details doesn’t help anyone and undermines your credibility.

  3. Submitted by Joe Smith on 06/18/2020 - 02:23 pm.

    When there are armed invaders in YOUR house you are going to want warriors coming through YOUR door and willing to fight to the death for YOUR home. This nimby thinking you want social workers coming to your house to stop a rape is silly. Police need to be held accountable for their actions when they cross the line, everyone agrees on that. Saying we want only passive policing doesn’t take into account the violent criminals all across the USA. Pollyanna wishing are not going to stop violent armed criminals, police are.
    Make it easier for police departments to fire bad cops. That means taking on the unions, are Democrats willing to do that?

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/18/2020 - 03:19 pm.

      Actually, you really don’t. Even with armed invaders, you are better off with professional cops, not cowboys who are as likely to shoot you as the criminals. Warrior cops killed Breonna Taylor.

      The warrior cops ARE the bad cops.

      • Submitted by Joe Smith on 06/18/2020 - 04:01 pm.

        Professional cops.? Are not all cops trained and professional? In a house invasion at YOUR House, you want to wait for the right professional group of police. Are you going to interview them before they come in to make sure they are qualified? Might be hard to get away from the criminals that are beating and raping your family. Geez,!

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/18/2020 - 07:10 pm.

          No, not all cops are professional. The warrior cops are cowboys and clowns. Incompetent losers. Professional cops know how to deal with dangerous situations. And it isn’t with this warrior nonsense.

          Everyone will be safer with these warrior losers off the street.

        • Submitted by Matt Haas on 06/18/2020 - 08:33 pm.

          Well considering I have a better chance of being killed by conservative health care policy than the mythical “home invasion” that apparently keeps every conservative up at night, staring terrified at the front door, I’ll say yes…

        • Submitted by Matt Haas on 06/18/2020 - 08:35 pm.

          Strange though, that I don’t seem to recall the roving bands of armed barbarians, raping and pillaging their way through civilization BEFORE the the whole “warrior” fad. Perhaps you need a better neighborhood?

  4. Submitted by lisa miller on 06/18/2020 - 05:31 pm.

    Actually my understanding is that MPD under Harteau in their recruiting did emphasize service and not warrior. Their psych eval process was criticized by some members of the community at being unfair to some under represented groups and I am not clear that it was reinstated. They have tried to focus on service instead of action. And there are quite a few cops that have social service degrees in addition to their primary degree like Chief Arradondo does. One big issue is quality simulated training and de escalation on a regular basis as well as enough cops so they are not stretched thin.

  5. Submitted by Paul Nelson on 06/18/2020 - 08:29 pm.

    Also — armed invasion of your house? This is less likely than getting hit by a meteorite. Right wing fantasy stuff.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/20/2020 - 09:25 am.

    I think Joe’s comments perfectly illustrate the culture of fear that drives these mentalities about warrior policing, gun “rights”, etc. These responses really put the “reaction” in “reactionary”, and it’s funny because they always pretend to be the tough guys in the room.

    Fear is a normal reaction to danger, but these guys see danger everyone, whether it’s there or not, and THAT becomes an irrational perspective. So we’re having a conversation about police training and Joe trots out his fear of home invasions, and concludes that cops who shoot first and act questions later (so they may be judged by twelve rather than carried by six later) are going to be his salvation. Fearful cops armed to the teeth and trained to see threats in any human activity or behavior are the gold standard of security. Whatever.

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