“Cops...More Than Warriors”
By Scott Mattison (Chief Deputy, Swift County Sheriff's Dept, Benson, MN)
 Copyright © Oct, 2000

Isn't it indeed possible that cops are more than warriors ... that we need to learn from war and learn from warriors and apply the lessons learned to law enforcement and to peacekeeping? Isn't it possible that we need to grow beyond the warrior paradigm?

I started in this industry when I was 20 ... 26 years later, I find that I'm still learning, but that there are some things that are continually revalidated by my experiences.

As a cop, I know that for all that warriors are, we are more than warriors.

Our influence, our control, our presence, our force is not delivered from 40,000 feet, nor from 4 miles, nor from 400 feet ... most frequently, it is delivered from four feet to contact.

We spend most of our careers continually being reimmersed (and reinoculated) in life-threatening situations where the law frequently authorizes us to use deadly force, but we instead find ourselves skillfully, passionately de-escalating situations and taking adversaries into custody, using discretion and skill to bring confrontations to non-violent conclusions—much more frequently than is documented and much more frequently than we give ourselves credit for.

We arrest people. As the definition bears out, we stop them. We stop them sometimes by using deadly force, but much more frequently, by skillfuly and sometimes desperately using threats of deadly force (demonstrated readiness to use deadly force), force multipliers, less-than-deadly force, elements of tactical advantage, verbal and non-verbal communications skills, in combination with officer presence skills (cover, concealment, shielding, variable distancing, relative positioning). We often do all this while simultaneously processing a multitude of information within a very compressed time frame.

We need to embrace the spirit, the principles, and the methods of the warrior so that we will seek out our adversary, close with our adversary, and win over our adversary. At the same time, we recognize certain pitfalls inherent in a narrow view of the warrior when the adversary is in one instant the enemy, but in the span of the next instant has become the penitent—surrendering-in-whole, surrendering-in-part, or freezing in place. As peace officers, we must call upon the warrior-based skills, but also call upon a wide array of other related skills.

We do not have the luxury of being indemnified nor justified by rules of engagement or by ops orders which may have been expertly formed weeks, days, or even hours prior to the confrontation. Despite the preparation, rehearsal, and practice imbedded in pre-planned uses of force, the most important set of facts are those occurring at the precise moment that the individual officer confronts those perceived facts. No shielding is afforded by orders or by chain-of-command.

Peace officers work within "ranges of reasonableness" (my quotes), the parameters of which are defined by the overlapping justifications imbedded in case law, statutory law, policies, training, experience, knowledge, skill, discretion, culture, perception, perspective, distortions, technological limitations, individual moral codes, and the immediate, fluid, moment-by-moment realities of each individual confrontation.

In my sphere of influence as a peace officer, it is as likely as not that I will in some way know my adversary, not in the Sun Tzu-sense, but in the interpersonal sense. We will have had some sort of direct or vicarious contacts by virtue of having crossed paths in the law enforcement context or in some other community-based context.

I can find no comfort or emotional shielding afforded by anonymity. On-duty or off-duty, many know who I am and who my family members are. I must live with all of my decisions, as must my spouse and my children.

If deadly force were only justified to kill (an admittedly myopic warrior focus), some aspects of this job would be much simpler. However, in my role, deadly force is only justified when necessary to defend human life—it's use is not an entitlement that is triggered solely by the actions or anticipated actions of my adversary, it is an option to individually envoke a duty imposed on me by law, the use of which must be justified under law,moment-by-moment.

As a peace officer, once I have used any level of force, I must take the subject into custody, care for his injuries, protect a use-of-force scene, possibly protect a related crime scene, control the subject's family members, control witnesses, give a brief oral account of what occurred, and eventually try to compress the distorted recollections of the realities of a four-dimensional event onto a two-dimensional sheet of paper.

Most of us, irregardless of the size agency we work for, operate as individual officers, not following the predetermined activities of a bomb run, the digits of launch coordinates, the delivery of a single precise round at impersonal distance, nor the clamor of a team-based mission ... we work alone, we initially confront situations alone, and we make life-altering decisions without benefit of an immediate superior's pre-action oversight.

All critiques are after-action critiques.

Until technology enables me to handcuff you from afar, I will need to arrest you ... face-to-face, man-to-man. This means that, when we fight, when I call upon those elements of the warrior within, I will be close enough to smell you, to touch you, to strike you, to cut you, to hear you, to plead with you, to wrestle with you, to shoot you, to handcuff you, to bleed on you and you on me, to tend to your wounds, to hear your last words. Our meeting may be brief, but I will have had a more intense contact with you, my unwanted adversary, than with most of my loved ones.

As a peace officer, I don't have the warrior luxury of villifying or depersonalizing you as "the enemy." At some rapidly-arriving point along this continuum of confrontation, you needed to be stopped and I was there to stop you ... once the confrontation is concluded, you again become a citizen—a citizen in jail or prison; a citizen in the hospital; a citizen in the morgue; or, a citizen returned to the street by due process.

The incongruencies embraced by peace officers are orders-of-magnitude more complex than those of peacetime warriors: show me people who put their lives and their livelihoods on the line for others (that much we share in common with our warrior brothers and sisters), but who also retain the skills to individually exercise decisiveness balanced with patience; compassion balanced with power; the ability to fight criminals balanced with the ability to treat the same criminals with dignity and respect; the ability to provide service to the least-deserving, but most needful members of our society balanced with servicing the needs of the silent public; the ability to arrest a suspect balanced with comforting a victim; the ability to console the mourning balanced with the ability to take a life; the ability to empathize balanced with the commitment to due process of law ... not a warrior, a peace officer.

Do we have anything in common with the warrior? Absolutely. We need to learn from the warrior, evaluate the lessons to be learned, and apply that which makes sense for our roles.

However, we must also embrace the reality that peace officers are much more than warriors. Do we want to portray ourselves as warriors on the witness stand? Trust me when I say that the warrior persona will not be valued by a grand jury nor by any other jury. Why not? Because it is not valued under the law. Under the law, peace officers and their actions are expected to be reflections of reasonableness. The warrior persona might endure the scrutiny of UCMJ due process, but it won't last five minutes in a state or federal district courtroom, in an internal affairs hearing, or before a civilian review board.

We swear an oath to God to uphold the law, to protect and defend our country and its citizens, to be accountable to a constitution, to be guided by principles, to live lives of service, to make sacrifices for others ... we stand for something greater than ourselves ... we share at least that much in common with the noblest of our fellow warriors.

But it's not about merely sharpening the warrior's edge ... it's not about marketing gimmics or gadgets ... it's about selecting the best-suited people for the job, training them to win, equipping them to win, leading them to win, developing them to win, and supporting them throughout their careers to keep learning and to keep winning—as peace officers.