From Warriors to Guardians: Recommitting American Police Culture to Democratic Ideals

New Perspectives in Policing

April 20, 2015
Authors: Sue Rahr and Stephen K. Rice

The first recommendation from the interim report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing states:  “Law enforcement culture should embrace a guardian mindset to build public trust and legitimacy. Toward that end, police and sheriff’s departments should adopt procedural justice as the guiding principle for internal and external policies and practices to guide their interactions with the citizens they serve.”  The term “guardian mindset” was used as a succinct description of officers who focus on protecting over conquering.  The report states further, “Law enforcement cannot build community trust if it is seen as an occupying force coming from the outside to rule and control the community.”

  • 'As police executives, elected leaders, and criminal justice professionals grapple with a response in the wake of Ferguson and related incidents, Rahr and Rice provide thoughtful insights on how to transform America's policing culture from the militaristic to the more humanistic. This article could not be more timely.' - Dr. Laurie Robinson, Professor, George Mason University

In a new report released today by the Executive Session on Policing and Public Safety (2008-2014) and funded by the OJP National Institute of Justice (NIJ), Sue Rahr and Stephen K. Rice make a case for addressing both the internal and external culture of police agencies in order to create a culture that supports a guardian mindset. The old adage “So the station…so the street” describes how the values demonstrated inside the organization have a powerful influence on police behavior in the community. The way leaders exercise their power inside the organization signals to officers how they are expected to use their power on the street. Strict military structure and protocols in many police agencies and training academies are at odds with the concept of internal procedural justice.  

  • 'America's focus is on the legitimacy and efficacy of its police departments. This paper provides clarity to that focus as well as a path forward. I strongly recommend it as required reading for the police professional.' - Charlie Beck, Chief, Los Angeles Police Department

In From Warriors to Guardians: Recommitting American Police Culture to Democratic Ideals, the authors offer concrete ideas and outline a specific example of transforming the organizational culture of a police academy from a military ‘boot camp’ model designed to ensure strict compliance with rules and orders, to a culture based on developing critical-thinking leaders and institutionalizing procedurally just values – toward the mindset of a leader as a guardian. 

  • 'The authors’ call for a shift in the police mindset from warriors to guardians of democracy is important and timely. Public trust is the cornerstone of public safety, and this brief provides a needed roadmap for agencies seeking to change.' - Dr. Tracey Meares, Professor, Yale University

This latest installment in the New Perspectives in Policing series was written by Sue Rahr, Executive Director of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission and former King County Sheriff, Seattle, Washington and Stephen K. Rice PhD, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Seattle University. From Warriors to Guardians was published as part of the New Perspectives in Policing Series from the Executive Session on Policing and Public Safety (2008-2014) and was funded by the OJP National Institute of Justice (NIJ).



Findings and conclusions in these publications are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice