What's the 'win' in every police-citizen contact?

Dr. Stephen Covey suggests that while developing a winning mindset is key to a winning performance, it is equally important to ask, "Win what?"


In the wake of highly publicized officer-involved shootings and national protests, the White House created a task force in December 2014 to examine and make recommendations for 21st century policing. The eleven members were made up of law enforcement, non-profit and community organizers, and criminal justice scholars. They traveled the nation holding town-hall style meetings to listen to testimony and gather input for a final report of recommendations.

That report — issued in May 2015 — included the recommendation that “law enforcement should embrace a guardian — rather than a warrior — mindset to build trust and legitimacy both within agencies and with the public.”

This idea didn’t originate with the task force. Many within policing have been urging such a change well before Ferguson. One of the less-publicized impetuses for change is the number of cities entering settlements or consent decrees with the Department of Justice for unconstitutional patterns of police practices. Such legal mandates are incredibly costly on many levels. Their implementation — requiring changes in training, policies and procedures — demanded a look at what factors led to the unconstitutional police practices. Police mindset was one of those factors.

What’s the Winning Mindset?
What the profession ends up calling the winning mindset for 21st century policing — warrior, guardian, both, or something different (sheepdog, sentinel, paladin, blue knight, or a return to “just plain cop”) — doesn’t answer the nuts and bolts of what that mindset entails and how it can be operationalized in recruitment, hiring, training, tactics and the profession’s culture.

To assist that process, we can turn to Dr. Stephen Covey, American educator, businessman, keynote speaker, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and co-author of The Nobility of Policing.

In one of Dr. Covey’s books, he suggests that while developing a winning mindset is key to a winning performance, it is equally important to ask, “Win what?”

I saw this principle in action when my grandson first started playing pee wee ice hockey. Those youngsters had a great winning mindset. They were enthusiastic about everything. But they lacked understanding of what the win was for their team. So they’d all enthusiastically collapse on the puck rather than playing their positions. At halftime, when the goals were switched, they’d forget or not realize that change and score a goal for the other side. When people cheered, they’d cheer, too.

What’s a Win in Police-Citizen Contacts?
A winning mindset without understanding “win what?” can result in unintended consequences. So, in the current national debate about police-citizen contacts, what’s a win? Turns out, according to police, it’s a number of things.

In the last several months, I have had the opportunity to deliver a training session entitled The Winning Mindset for 21st Century Policing: Warrior, Guardian, Both, or Something Different. During those seminars, I’ve had the opportunity to pose the following question to LEOs in attendance in places like Plano (Texas), Anchorage (Alaska), and Loveland (Colo.):

“What’s a win in police-citizen contacts?”

Here’s a precis of their answers (not in any priority order):

  • Mutual respect
  • Problem is solved
  • Everyone goes home
  • Officer listens
  • Citizen accepts officer’s actions
  • Both sides are educated
  • Both sides come to an understanding
  • No escalation
  • Officer survival — physical and emotional
  • Voluntary compliance
  • Citizen has positive experience
  • Officer provides a service
  • Citizen retains dignity
  • Stereotypes are broken
  • Uphold the Constitution
  • Laws are upheld (doesn’t mean zero tolerance) fairly
  • Inspires trust in the citizen

What Mindset Best Ensures the Win in Police-Citizen Contacts?
As police participate in the national debate about police-citizen contacts and a winning police mindset for 21st century challenges, they must take into account the public’s perception of what they choose to call that mindset.

Two prevalent terms — warrior and guardian — draw strong and varied reactions within the profession. The profession must also consider the public’s perception of those terms as well as other terms being discussed — sheepdog, sentinel, paladin, blue knight, or just plain “cop.”

Whatever term the profession uses to describe its 21st century mindset, police around the country are saying the winning mindset is one that will most likely and often lead to a respectful, dignified, safe as possible, mutually instructive, service-oriented contact that inspires public trust that laws are being upheld fairly and citizens are being listened to and understood, if not always agreed with. I daresay most of the public would agree.

Mindset should be a key factor in police recruitment, hiring, training, tactics and culture. In closing, here is one deputy’s mindset and how it influenced his 25,000 traffic stops. Take a look and discuss what lessons you can take from the video in the comments. 

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