Why being a Jedi may be better than being a warrior or guardian
Communities want compassionate cops who are also willing to run toward gunfire – could Jedi training be the answer?
By David Pearson, P1 Contributor
The recent controversy around Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey banning police officers from receiving “warrior” and “fear-based” training shows the struggle our communities have about the concept of police officers as warriors versus police officers as guardians.
The topic is an emotional one with deep roots. The unfortunate problem is our country needs warriors. There are numerous examples of active shooter calls and other tragic events where we need men and women who will face such horrific events that occur almost daily, not in some distant land overseas, but here in our communities.
The warrior mindset helps prepare officers mentally and physically to answer these calls. However, our communities want and deserve law enforcement officers (LEOs) who are also humble, kind, approachable, compassionate, honest, transparent and involved in the communities in which they live. They want to be able to trust and rely on us, but they sometimes are hesitant based on their view of us as warriors.
These two terms are pulling us apart.
In 2015, I was struggling with these descriptions of LEOs. The pendulum was constantly swinging from warrior to guardian and back again. I thought there had to be a better way to label an officer. I have always taught classes by using metaphors and examples from movies, videos and debriefs, as I feel imagery helps solidify the concepts I teach. I particularly like the metaphor of the Jedi for three reasons:
- After 25 years in law enforcement, I thought the Jedi really described what everyone wanted in an officer.
- Jedi takesaway some of the “threat” from the word warrior while not advocating solely for a guardian mentality.
- Seriously, who would not want to be a Jedi?
In late 2015, with the help of psychologist and law enforcement consultant Dr. Kimberly Miller, we created a class called “The Way of the Jedi: The Balance between the Warrior and Guardian.” It was presented to different groups around the country and at national events like the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) conference and the National Sheriff’s Association (NSA) conference to an overwhelmingly positive reception.
I know we cannot make someone a Jedi, but the metaphor provided so many positive examples and lessons that were applicable to the law enforcement profession, and obtainable for the average human, that I fell in love with the concept. I hope you can see the parallels as I did. Here are four ways I see the Jedi culture as relevant to law enforcement:
1. The Jedi had a great cultural identity.
When any of the Jedi masters were instructing they never told a student, “I want you to do this.” They said, “A Jedi does this, a Jedi does that.” These standards and concepts were clear, simple and repeatable. When a topic was discussed, personal opinions did not matter. The yardstick that was used was the Jedi identity. In my Top 20 Concepts class I speak about foundational police concepts that do not change when leadership changes. They last because they are not about the person, they are about a higher calling – the “why” that is bigger than any one of us. I wonder how our profession would be viewed if we lived up to a higher identity?
2. The Jedi were not perfect (and they accepted that fact).
Jedi made mistakes but there was no backstabbing or gossiping. They showed grace, understanding and compassion for their own. They helped correct each other and built individuals who had failed back up to be great again. They held on to the lesson and let go of the pain of a mistake. And, even with their faults, they were loved and accepted by their “communities.” In fact, they were viewed as ambassadors who would help work through conflict. In our profession, we tend to feed on our own, finding fault and blame and pointing the finger to make ourselves look better. This opens us up to outside attack. Our Thin Blue Line should not be a veil to hide behind, it should be a call to action. We should show grace to our sisters and brothers, help to focus on the identity of a LEO, identify and work on our mistakes or shortcomings, and correct one another for the greater good.
3. The Jedi focused on coaching and mentoring.
Jedi masters had tough conversations with students and other masters. They did not avoid conflict among their peers. They pushed each other to live up to standards, values and ethics. They focused on continuous, humble learning and self-reflection. They spent time discussing emotional and physical well-being. This was done as a formal process. You could not opt out because you had been a Jedi for a long time.
I have spoken with sworn and civilian law enforcement personnel of all ranks from all over this country. They all agree this area of our profession needs a lot of attention. We must implement more formality and structure for our coaching and mentoring efforts. We need to concentrate on physical and emotional well-being for both sworn and civilian personnel. Our profession is struggling with police suicide and depression and only recently have we started to seriously look at this issue and provide assistance for LEOs. We owe it to ourselves and our communities to do better in this area.
4. The Jedi trained the soft and hard skills equally.
A Jedi was very adept and effective with soft skills such as communication, decision-making, emotional control and rational thought. A Jedi was humble and led with the soft skills, with compassion and curiosity rather than anger and judgment. They understood cultural differences, respected all life and believed in a higher cause. But if they needed to take out their light saber and defend themselves or others, they could do so effectively and confidently while maintaining control of themselves. They did not shy away from danger. When the action was over, they controlled their emotions and returned to their humble ways. They were balanced – equal portions of warrior and guardian, equally skilled in both.
There are many reasons our profession concentrates more on hard skills than soft skills, but we can address this shortage. One way is through scenario-based integrated training. This concept stresses the integration of soft skills training with hard skills training. It focuses on similar terminology and concepts across all skill disciplines. It also has a scenario-based component to allow personnel to practice hard and soft skills under reasonable stress to ensure that when under pressure on the street, LEOs perform as they trained.
I understand, appreciate and respect the thought process behind both the warrior and the guardian philosophies. Unfortunately, both concepts have been pushed to the extreme and now seem at odds. I think we need to move to a new way to describe LEOs – the Jedi way. This metaphor acknowledges both sides of the coin. It shows an understanding for the country’s need for men and women who will walk toward gunfire while all others run away, and it appreciates the need for balanced, integrated and disciplined officers. We need to embrace the way of the Jedi not only for our communities, but for the welfare of those who work in this demanding profession. With this new description, I think our communities can more fully understand and appreciate what we do, and more important, why we do it.
About the author
David Pearson is a lieutenant with Fort Collins Police Services in Fort Collins, Colorado. He has been a police officer since 1990 and held several assignments as a sergeant and lieutenant. He has been a law enforcement instructor since 1996 and has taught a variety of topics to include officer safety, SWAT tactics, active shooter and incident command.
Since 2005, David has been an instructor for the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) and has taught classes on several disciplines. David’s focus has been in less lethal technology and tactics and he is the main instructor for the NTOA’s Less Lethal Instructor course. David has certified over 1,000 instructors in the United States and Canada in the less lethal course. Since 2013, he has served in the role of Less Lethal Section Chair for the NTOA.
In 2017, David started his company, Rocky Mountain Blue Line Consulting, LLC, and provides expert witness assistance and consulting. David has presented at the annual conferences for APCO, NSA, IACP, California Chiefs, Utah Chief’s and Utah Sheriff’s Association.
David is a two-time Medal of Valor recipient for his actions on patrol and SWAT. He also earned a Medal of Merit for his life-saving efforts during a major flood. He holds a master’s degree in organizational leadership.