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On courage, cowardice, and recklessness in law enforcement

While everyone agrees Courage is the keystone of all virtues and lies in Aristotle’s Golden Mean between Cowardice and Recklessness, law enforcement often has a hard time defining the three traits. Sometimes we see recklessness rewarded with medals, dinners, and honors, and one worries that it may be modeled by others to tragic ends. On the other hand, cowardice can be equally hard to determine if the officer simply doesn’t just run away.

The article from theTimes Times-Picayune (New Orleans officer fired after failing to shoot at gunman, Thursday March 19, 2009) allows us to think about these issues and, hopefully, allow us all to reflect on what behavior does constitute each of the three traits: courage, cowardice, and recklessness. Does hesitation equate to cowardice? It certainly can, and does in some instances, but does rushing forth always equate to courageousness? It does not and in some cases will later be found to have been tragically reckless. In any of our judgments, we need to be sure we don’t use our hindsight bias to find fault or virtue when it may be unwarranted. On the other hand, it is important to evaluate actions in terms of what training could have enhanced an officers response and reduced his or her reaction time. If the theory of “Recognition Primed Decision Making” is right, a novel experience we are not trained for could lead to hesitation, a possibly fatal trait, or one that might be judge cowardly. Training in context, as close to reality as possible is one of the surest ways to eliminate hesitation and insure success!

In this day and age it is a good thing to get back to first Principles and reflect on the nature of our profession and virtues of the warrior!

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