How Police Think 

Tuesday, April 20th, 2021

“Warrior” and “guardian” represent two distinct ways of thinking about policing. Warrior policing is what you’ll see in just about any Hollywood movie or TV show. It’s high-speed chases, armed drug busts, and capturing murders. It’s terribly dramatic, but it’s also terribly unrealistic. Most policing, most of the time, is much, much duller than this. Nevertheless, with the militarization of American police forces in recent decades, a warrior mentality has taken hold.

By contrast, guardian policing places an emphasis on protecting and defending. Rather than chasing criminals with guns drawn, guardians work with the local community, de-escalate conflict and valuing all citizens. It sounds pretty nice, and oh yeah, it works.

Over at Slate, Mary Harris has a worthwhile interview with Michael Sierra-Arévalo, who studies policing across the country. He has a lot of insight into just how police think about their interactions.

[I]f you treat even the most mundane interaction as one that might escalate into violence at any moment, how you police is going to be different. That interaction is going to be imbued with different kinds of emotions. There’s going to be a different kind of interaction with that citizen.

Unfortunately, as we’ve seen time and again, that kind of interaction turns deadly for citizens too often. Sierra-Arévalo is not expecting rapid improvements to this problem, though he does have some hope for the future.


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