By Lou Reiter, LLRMI Co-Director and Director of the Public Safety Internal Affairs InstituteLou Reiter
Are these just words or something more? “Professional or skilled journeyman.” “Warrior or Guardian of the Peace.”
Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s there was a push in American law enforcement to professionalize. And there was some evidence of that. Many states created POST type organizations to standardize basic training and certify law enforcement officers. Some even created methods to decertify officers. While we had the Code of Conduct from 1957, some states like California expanded that code to Canons of Ethics.
The early 1970s also brought the advent of collective bargaining that strengthened the role of unions in law enforcement. In many jurisdictions this was necessary to ensure that reasonable safety and up-to-date training was provided to street cops. What might have developed into a cooperative, conciliatory relationship between management and unions, however, seemed to gravitate more to a contentious relationship. The ‘working conditions’ of the union mandate slowly crept into the area of officer discipline and administrative investigations. The end result should be a ‘reasonable and fair’ system, but that has gotten mired into constant acrimonious legal battles.
Recently law enforcement has seen changes in the state certification bodies, as well. Reports that the Michigan unit has been allowing officers with criminal records to become and remain officers surfaced. Decertification has waned or become so complex that it almost is nonexistent. The effort to create a national database of officers being terminated or allowed to resign in lieu of termination has not materialized to the point of being usable. The chore of getting warm bodies to fill police cars has resulted in less qualified cops being hired.
The movement to professionalize law enforcement is all but dead. We probably should accept that law enforcement has become an industry of ‘skilled journeymen.’ Now that isn’t meant to be something derogatory. This type of worker is an accomplished worker. Training and increased work knowledge now becomes, as it has always been, a responsibility of the employer. Wages are figured on an hourly basis with strict regulation to number of hours worked and the requirement for overtime. Equipment including safety equipment is the responsibility of the employer who designates what can be used and prohibits other equipment from being used.
Rather than use the Code of Conduct for performance issues, detailed rules and regulations must be created and meticulously followed to substantiate any performance violations. The courts have consistently given law enforcement wide latitude in discipline when employers can demonstrate a ‘rational reasoning’ for the discipline. The courts emphasize that strict discipline is required in a “quasi-military, paramilitary, chain of command” organization where “espirit de corps” is essential. Arbitration, however, has not been so accommodating. It has required management to be much more specific and delineate each and every performance issue based on any collective bargaining agreement, written policy or procedure, and past practices.
And then we get into the words “warrior or guardian of the peace.” What are these meant when considering the task of today’s law enforcement officer?
Starting in the 1980s there was a necessary focus on the protection of the street level officer. This movement was really lead by Calibre Press in its three printed texts on the subject and then its nationwide seminars on “Officer Survival.” This was intensified with the availability of military style equipment and weapons. The ‘war on drugs’ and the increased firepower available to civilians warranted these developments. In some cases, however, things got out of hand. Poor decisions often hindered law enforcement’s reasonableness and caused outside persons to challenge the need for this equipment and tactics.
Training focused more on the ‘warrior’ needs of law enforcement. Consider the percentage of training hours devoted to these types of training needs versus those of the ‘guardian of the peace’ requirements. Any reasonable officer would rather engage in ‘warrior’ training than the generally boring subjects of crisis management, human relations, and service oriented topics.
Even the manner of dress has changed. More and more field officers are wearing some form of BDU and tactical outer vest. The image of the street cop has changed. With the overreliance on smart phones, computers and unmarked cop cars there is less personal contact between civilians who are not the subject of a call for service. Getting officers out of the vehicle and to engage with the community being served has become more difficult for many agencies.
Several societal issues handicap new officers. Most have limited personal experience with the segments of the population of the people they now have to service. Few have any military experience and many have limited employment experience. The advent of texting has created an absence of any person-to-person skill. Many view police work as simply a job rather than a calling. In many jurisdictions the officers rarely live in the community they police.
Yet the primary task of local law enforcement is community service. Providing client needs to people rather than enforcement. More and more of the clients have mental health needs. Homelessness and poverty are constant challenges for the street cop. Public image of law enforcement in some segments of the community served has eroded and there is a beginning point of hostility in many calls for service.
There definitely is a need for the street cop to be a ‘warrior’ at times. But the vast majority of the street cop’s tour of duty is that of the ‘guardian.’ The challenge is how to equip the officer to know when to turn off the ‘warrior’ when most of the time the street cop needs to exhibit the needs and compassion of a ‘guardian.’