Law Enforcement's 'Warrior' Problem

128 Harv. L. Rev. Forum 225 (2015)

10 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2015

See all articles by Seth W. Stoughton

Seth W. Stoughton

University of South Carolina School of Law

Date Written: April 2015


Within law enforcement, few things are more venerated than the concept of the Warrior. Officers are trained to cultivate a “warrior mindset,” the virtues of which are extolled in books, articles, interviews, and seminars intended for a law enforcement audience. An article in Police Magazine opens with a sentence that demonstrates with notable nonchalance just how ubiquitous the concept is: “[Officers] probably hear about needing to have a warrior mindset almost daily.” Modern policing has so thoroughly assimilated the warrior mythos that, at some law enforcement agencies, it has become a point of professional pride to refer to the “police warrior.” This is more than a relatively minor change in terminology. Though adopted with the best of intentions, the warrior concept has created substantial obstacles to improving police/community relations. In short, law enforcement has developed a “warrior” problem.

In this Commentary, I first describe how law enforcement training and tactics reflect the warrior concept, identifying aspects of modern policing that, if not addressed, will continue to prevent or undermine efforts to improve public perceptions of police legitimacy. I join a growing chorus of voices contending that it is the Guardian, not the Warrior, that offers the appropriate metaphor for modern officers. Drawing on that principle, I offer two practical changes to police training that have the potential to advance the ultimate police mission — promoting public security — in a way that fosters, rather than thwarts, public trust: requiring non-enforcement contacts and emphasizing tactical restraint.

Keywords: policing, police, warrior, law enforcement, police culture, culture

Suggested Citation

Stoughton, Seth W., Law Enforcement's 'Warrior' Problem (April 2015). 128 Harv. L. Rev. Forum 225 (2015), Available at SSRN:

Seth W. Stoughton (Contact Author)

University of South Carolina School of Law ( email )

1525 Senate Street
Columbia, SC 29201
United States
803-777-3055 (Phone)

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