The Army Warrior Ethos states, “I will always place the mission first, I will never accept defeat, I will never quit, and I will never leave a fallen comrade.” That ethos is the mindset called a “warrior mentality.” That ethos is a set of principles by which every soldier lives.

Police values are military values. According to the Department of Defense, the core values of each branch of service are

  • Department of Defense: Duty, integrity, ethics, honor, courage and loyalty
  • Air Force: Integrity first, service before self, excellence in all we do
  • Army: Loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, personal courage
  • Coast Guard: Honor, respect, devotion to duty
  • Marine Corps: Honor, courage and commitment
  • Navy: Honor, courage and commitment

The military and police both operate on a belief that core values not only govern how individuals act within the organization, but how they guide the actions of those individuals as they do their jobs. While we share values, the critical aspect is how those values are lived, practiced and enforced, and the mindset behind the values.

In policing, the warrior mentality is necessary in a small fraction of an officer’s career, while the majority is taken up by practices that require good interaction skills such as empathy, listening and the capacity to think through a problem and find pro-social solutions. That said we cannot discount the need for men and women in uniform that are ready and able to display courage and bravery when it is absolutely necessary to protect themselves or our communities.

Among the recommendations of the 21st-Century Policing task force was the promotion of a guardian mindset over the warrior mindset. Almost seven years later, the debate about the two continues. The task force’s report urged, “Law enforcement should embrace a guardian rather than a warrior mindset to build trust and legitimacy both within agencies and with the public.”

Many, including police officers, question the semantics of the term, but as Val Van Brocklin pointed out in a Police1 article, “Words matter.” She wrote that Lieutenant Chad Goeden, commander of the Alaska DPS Training Academy, began implementing a guardian mindset when he first took command of the academy there. He specifically instructed his staff to stop using the term warrior and begin using the term guardian. Why, what is the desired outcome?

The definition of guardian is a “defender, protector, or keeper”—one who advocates for another. This approach to providing public safety and living by the values we’ve listed above, which ultimately means a change in mind- set, can help build trust between officers and civilians and prevent the unnecessary use of force.

We’re interested in the warrior/guardian debate because of how all mindsets go back to values and living one’s values. Aligned values lead to great police work, individual values in opposition lead to the problems we’ve seen. Values determine not just the success of policing, but of business, life, career, and all the decisions human beings make.

With time, good or bad values will affect and change any culture. What normally happens is there’s not enough attention paid to those values on the accountability side. We can put our espoused values up on the wall or make fancy documents, even speak about the department’s values, but if we’re not actively living and checking ourselves on those values every day, then we are missing opportunities to grow and get better as individuals and as an organization.

The values set and communicated by top members of a business or organization are sometimes disconnected and not personally or professionally meaningful: “Yeah, that’s what we say, but that’s not really what we do.” Have you heard that? We have.

Once you set solid foundational values, then you have to begin to apply them in your officers and live them yourself if you want to see them take root and grow. Eventually, that new culture, that new way of doing things and living by those values will take hold. But it’s a long journey.

Your values are the things that you believe are important in the way you live and work. They should determine your priorities, and deep down, they’re probably the measures you use to tell if your life or department is turning out the way you want it to. You need a strong chief, a strong leader who can articulate the value, communicate it, and apply the consequences for not abiding. You can make it work, but people are often reluctant to be open- minded about it, especially if they sense a loss of power, have deep-held beliefs (in their mind, they are right and the new proposals are just wrong) or have different ideas about how that value is upheld.

The culture we are part of when we develop our values also becomes the culture and method we use to drive our values. We can all have the same values, it’s how we choose to uphold or implement those values that matters—especially when the event is highly charged, or emotionally volatile. For example, applying the value “Integrity,” it’s doing what’s right at all times, even when no one is watching, whether emotionally charged or routine situation.

Look for more to come on VALUES.

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