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A New Study Finds 'Warrior' And 'Guardian' Cops Exist – To A Degree

Concerns that deadly police encounters are fueled by "warrior cops" have led to programs that teach communication and engagement as alternatives to force and control. But do they work? Or are they based on a false premise?

To assess a training program called " T3 - Tact, Tactics and Trust," researchers first had to test the underlying idea, emphasized four years ago by President Barack Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, that officers follow either a "warrior" or a "guardian" mentality.

"What we recognized was that there wasn't really a whole lot of research on the subject, so it was difficult to really say whether or not these 'warrior' and 'guardian' mindsets existed," said lead author Kyle McLean of Florida State University.

Officers in Tucson, Arizona and Fayetteville, North Carolina, responded to a survey administered prior to taking the training.

The officers ranked how strongly they agreed or disagreed with statements like, "as a police officer, my primary responsibility is to fight crime," and "as a police officer, I view having positive non-enforcement contacts with the community as critical to my job."

The study, which appears in the journal "Justice Quarterly," found such "warrior" and "guardian" attitudes do exist; but, as McLean explained, they don't represent an either-or prospect.

"Actually, our results show that you can be both. And so you can adopt a guardian mentality and a warrior mentality to varying degrees."

The suitability of each comes down to circumstances, he added.

The results of the survey have been compared to a post-training survey to gauge if the training produced shifts in outlook. Those findings will appear in a future publication.

News Science
Nicholas Gerbis was a senior field correspondent for KJZZ’s Arizona Science Desk from 2016 to 2024.