Even if law enforcement today seems to be much about complexity and high-speed interconnectivity across the globe, it is also about local problems just as it has been ever since the beginning of policing. Sir Robert Peel’s mission of policing was based on the police building high-trust relationships. Therefore, modern policing was formed upon a basis of communication and trust between the public and the police, yet over time the policing culture has drifted away from the notion that they are the guardians of democracy. The challenges of a dangerous and complex operating environment have caused some individuals to adopt a more dichotomous view; “Us against them – we are fighting a war”. President Nixon introduced the “war on” expression in June 1971 when he introduced the “war on drugs”*. As a consequence of this and of how police education in some parts is executed, some police officers look at themselves more as warriors than as guardians. It is sobering to recall; war causes casualties – on both sides.
We see these casualties in police shooting or maltreatment of citizens as well as we see citizens attacking and shooting police officers, when they in the line of duty are doing their job. The inevitability of casualties begs the question; is policing synonymous with war? The answer is no, policing is not synonymous with armed conflict, and drawing a sharp line between police and citizens is not an effective means for building trust and shared goals. But there are now more and more often voices raised on the matter. Voices from within the police as well as from other parts of the society that tell us that we have to make a decision on what path to choose. Some have already made the move from being reactive warriors to proactive guardians. These leaders have already left the crossroad where policing stands. Others have not even noticed that there is a crossroad. While yet others are standing at this crossroad still choosing between the warrior and guardian path.
We all have to make a decision on what path to choose.
*Sharp, E.B. (1994). The Dilemma of Drug Policy in the United States.New York, NY:
HarperCollins College Publishers