Skip to main content
SearchLoginLogin or Signup

A Qualitative Approach to Understanding Guardian Models of Policing

Published onApr 01, 2018
A Qualitative Approach to Understanding Guardian Models of Policing


Since 2015, there has been a growing interest and controversy regarding the “warrior” versus “guardian” models of policing. This article discusses the concept of guardian policing and uses qualitative data from an evaluation of guardian-based training in a police academy to highlight guardian concepts as understood by the trainers. Results suggest that trainers generally exhibit a widespread level of support and commitment towards the guardian model and the priorities of guardian training, view the model as consistent with what has traditionally been considered “good policing,” and believe that critics do not understand the basic elements of the model itself, nor how it is presented. A common misunderstanding, for example, is that guardian policing is taught in place of “so-called” warrior policing. In reality, however, the guardian model encompasses several concepts of warrior policing. Since the concept of guardian policing is subject to continuing controversy and confusion in law enforcement, this qualitative analysis contributes a deeper understanding and clarification of how academy training staff understand guardian policing concepts.


In 2014, high profile incidents of alleged police misconduct in Ferguson, MO, Staten Island, NY, and Cleveland, OH resulted in President Barack Obama’s formation of The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. In early March 2015, the Task Force issued an interim report which included several recommendations for bridging the divide between some increasingly alienated communities and their police forces. Of the solutions recommended by the Task Force, several specifically identified the need for a cultural shift in policing and for law enforcement cultures to adopt a “guardian mindset” (President’s Taskforce, 2015, Recommendation 1, p. 1). Since 2015, there has been a rapid proliferation of references, criticisms, and debates pertaining to the “guardian” model of policing.

The guardian model originated at the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission (WSCJTC) when Director Sue Rahr assumed the task of affecting change in the police culture and curriculum of the Basic Law Enforcement Academy (BLEA). Newspaper articles began to appear in 2013 (e.g., Humphrey, 2013; Miletich, 2013) that described these changes and used the term “guardian” policing. In 2015, a seminal article was published in the Harvard Kennedy School’s “New Perspectives on Policing” series, wherein Rahr and criminologist Stephen Rice defined and described the guardian model approach in policing, contrasting it against the traditional and historical practices endorsed by the “warrior” model. Since this time, there has been a rapid proliferation of articles and references pertaining to the warrior and guardian models of policing (e.g., Brocklin, 2015; McGill, 2015).

The warrior philosophy symbolizes a militarized form of law enforcement, which has largely defined practices of modern policing. Within this model, police are portrayed as “warriors at war” against crime and illicit drugs, fighting to cleanse their hostile communities of dangerous persons and other perceived threats (Balko, 2013; Rahr and Rice, 2015). Warrior-trained officers are instructed to uphold verbal and physical control to protect their communities; citizens must comply with their authority or subject themselves to the risk of sanctions, violence, and potential injury (Stoughton, 2015). Although these methods are often considered standard practices in law enforcement, research suggests that reliance on these methods presents a heightened likelihood of police abusing their authority and may create strained relationships between police and the communities they serve (Forman, 2004; Helfgott et al., 2015).

In contrast to the paramilitary standards defining the warrior model, the guardian model emphasizes the use of communication techniques instead of commands, equity instead of authority, and tactical restraint instead of forceful measures (Stoughton, 2015). Designed as a conceptual hybrid of procedural justice and community policing, the guardian philosophy portrays law enforcement officers as agents of the community, working alongside the citizenry to preserve democracy and civil rights (Helfgott et al., 2015). Further, guardian teachings promote the formation and maintenance of community partnerships with aims to address specific social harms facing the community (Rahr & Rice, 2015). As the warrior and guardian models each promote vastly different aspects of the police role, academic discourse and popular media have begun to examine the strengths, weaknesses, and consequences of how these models work in practice (Asken et al., 2013; Helfgott et al., 2015; Rahr & Rice, 2015; Stoughton, 2015).

The debate between the warrior and guardian models has only recently permeated the national discussion of what changes should be affected to reduce the trust deficit between police and the communities they serve. However, minimal research exists to explain what the guardian model actually entails and how it can influence law enforcement practices (Helfgott et al., 2015). For this reason, a more detailed definition is needed to elucidate the concepts of the guardian model and its related components.

There also is a need to understand how law enforcement personnel perceive the guardian model. In fact, much of the current debate is between police officers themselves—those who advocate for guardian policing, and those who criticize it. For the guardian model to gain a greater level of widespread acceptance, it is crucial to examine police interpretations of guardian concepts and how the model has been implemented in their practices. Further, it is critically important to understand how the trainers interpret the guardian model as they provide the foundational teachings for the next generation of police officers and ultimately will, or will not, implement these concepts into their day-to-day police work.

This article reports results of qualitative interviews conducted in 2014 at the WSCJTC at the onset of a pilot evaluation of the BLEA training. The study investigates the degree to which trainers understand and support the guardian model; examines the views of academy training officers instructing a guardian-oriented curriculum; and evaluates trainer attitudes and beliefs towards the guardian model and guardian training content and goals.

The emergence of the warrior versus guardian debate

The WSCJTC provides all new police recruits in Washington State with initial training through the BLEA, with the exception of the Washington State Patrol. The Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission also provides training courses for corrections staff, veteran officers, supervisors, and law enforcement leaders. The Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission trains approximately 600 officers each year in cohorts of about 30 officers each. In April 2012, Sue Rahr, the former Sheriff of King County, WA, was hired as Executive Director of the WSCJTC. In 2013, Rahr began to implement a cultural shift away from a traditional, paramilitary warrior training model to adopt a training curriculum now recognized as the guardian approach to law enforcement.

In training, the guardian model includes the goal of instilling academy graduates with the ability to carry out traditional police objectives of crime control with an expanded mission of preserving democratic values, including the protection of civil rights (Miletich, 2013).1 In this new model, police training also includes a pronounced emphasis of procedural justice concepts. In 2011, prior to her appointment as Executive Director of WSCJTC, Rahr, as Sheriff of King County, instituted her vision for policing through a program designated as Listen and Explain with Equity and Dignity or L.E.E.D. Concepts and practices used in L.E.E.D. trainings were primarily derived from procedural justice studies (Tyler, 1990, 2003, 2004, 2006a, 2006b; Tyler & Fagan, 2008; Sunshine & Tyler, 2003a, 2003b), which particularly emphasize how perceptions of procedural fairness affect police legitimacy. L.E.E.D.’s emphasis on communication and respect, combined with the softening of militaristic imagery and discipline in academy practices, provided the fundamental elements of a new model in law enforcement recognized as guardian policing.

At WSCJTC, the arrival of the guardian model signaled that some military protocols were to be abandoned, such as “bracing,” and using push-ups as punishment for recruits.2 In several articles published by Washington media outlets, quotes attributed to Rahr posit that these former academy practices (e.g., paramilitary model, humiliation as discipline) had not afforded the appropriate respect to recruits who had served as combat veterans; nor were effective in training recruits to interact with citizens in a professional and respectful manner (Belle, 2013; Humphrey, 2013; Miletich, 2013). Former emphases on warrior concepts of power, control, battle, and survival were exchanged for guardian concepts promoting the protection of both the law and the community, with attention to democratic values and the Constitution (Rahr & Rice, 2015). This transition to guardian practices also shifted training priorities, lending to a greater emphasis on social skills and de-escalation in the BLEA curriculum.

A spotlight was also placed on the warrior model in the 2013 media coverage of guardian policing, particularly in reference to Radley Balko’s notable book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces. Balko’s text portrays the downside of increased reliance on military-style Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams and the increasing pervasiveness of military terminology, tools, training, and imagery in law enforcement. Although this position was predated by earlier research (Kraska, 1999, 2001, 2007; Kraska & Cubellis, 1997; Kraska & Kappeler, 1997), Balko’s (2013) contemporary research asserts that SWAT teams have proliferated dramatically over time, and are now subject to overuse in the field of law enforcement. Whereas SWAT units were initially implemented as a response to infrequent hostage and armed conflict situations, their recent use has been less discriminate, focusing on lesser offenses such as regulatory violations, small sums gambling, and doctors overprescribing pain medication (Balko, 2013a). According to Balko, the proliferation of SWAT teams and the increased use of military imagery and training in policing have blurred the lines between police officer and soldier roles, resulting in the warrior paradigm (Balko, 2013a, 2013b).

Moving forward to 2015, two seminal publications resulted in extensive coverage of the guardian model, bringing the discussion of this policing philosophy to a national audience. First, in March 2015, the interim report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing3 became available to the greater public. In this document, the Task Force promoted 21 recommendations for law enforcement policy and practice organized into “Pillars.” The first Pillar is identified as a means of “building trust and legitimacy” for law enforcement, and its first recommendation explicitly uses the term “guardian” to define a recommended model for policing:

Law enforcement culture should embrace a guardian mindset to build public trust and legitimacy. Toward that end, police and sheriff’s departments should adopt procedural justice as the guiding principle for internal and external policies and practices to guide their interactions with the citizens they serve. (President’s Task Force, 2015, p. 1; emphasis added).

Following this recommendation came a 2015 article by Rahr and Rice titled, “From Warriors to Guardians: Recommitting American Police Culture to Democratic Ideals.” In this article, Rahr and Rice (2015) asserted that modern police have all “the accouterments and weaponry of modern warfare” (p. 1), but the “missions and rules of engagement are completely different” (p. 5) between law enforcement and military infantry. The authors go on to describe the facets of L.E.E.D. training, noting that “… officers are trained to take the time to listen to people; explain what is going to happen and how the process works; explain why that decision was made so the equity of the decision is transparent; and leave the participants with their dignity intact” (Rahr & Rice, 2015, p. 3).

Rahr and Rice (2015) also note that paramilitary police training does not represent the experience of the officer on the street. Police officers are expected to conduct day-to-day patrol operations with a degree of autonomy and authority; however, lessons learned in paramilitary academy training may undermine both of these values. When the WSCJTC operated on a paramilitary training model, academy staff expected recruits to yield without question, to blindly comply with authority, and to endure verbal abuse and humiliation in front of fellow recruits when rule violations were addressed (Rahr & Rice, 2015, p. 4). However, Rahr and academy training staff recognized that modeling this behavior in police-citizen interactions may cause a breakdown in communications between officers and members of the community. To remedy this issue, Rahr and Rice (2015) posited, “… we need to significantly increase the level of training and importance placed on communication skills and human behavioral science if we truly care about the safety of our officers” (p. 5). Amongst their recommendations, Rahr and Rice (2015) also suggested that academy training should educate recruits on the role of police in a democracy, and as a change from previous practices, each recruit is now presented with a pocket-sized book containing the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence (Rahr & Rice, 2015).

Over a dozen supplementary 2015 and 2016 articles from The Nation, The Wall Street Journal, and other media sources track similar themes, comprising the same basic story: recognizing fractures in police-community relations, questioning whether police agencies have become too militarized and if training provides officers with sufficient skills in de-escalation and communication, and, finally, addressing the guardian model’s potential to make law enforcement cultures more conducive to community relations. Typically, Rahr and/or the WSCJTC have been mentioned in these articles; however, by year-end 2015, police agencies outside of Washington (e.g., Chicago, Los Angeles) had demonstrated support for guardian policing, and were in the process of implementing the guardian-based trainings in their respective jurisdictions (Mather, 2015a, 2015b).

Outside of popular media, academic articles have provided strong insights regarding the warrior and guardian models. In the Harvard Law Review, Stoughton (2015) argues that essential elements of the warrior are admirable (e.g., courage and tenacity in the face of adversity). However, he goes on to contend that the warrior model has expanded and mutated to become a mindset promoting that police face an omnipresent force of hostility, and their prime objective is survival—protecting themselves against imminent threat.

According to Stoughton, a primary consequence of the warrior doctrine is that new officers are trained to see each interaction with the public as a potentially lethal encounter (2015). Stoughton (2015) identifies this mindset as a social barrier in establishing and maintaining productive relationships with community members, asserting that this policing philosophy may even contribute to conflict and violence, where none was necessary.

Between law enforcement journals, news media, and websites, there has generally been a mix of opinions on the guardian paradigm, offering some positive feedback (e.g., Brocklin, 2015)—but also, vehement criticism. For example, a Washington Post article (Kindy, 2015), recognized that some officers have accused Rahr’s methods of advocating a “hug-a-thug” mentality that could endanger police safety, and offered quotes from Rahr to suggest a majority of the police chiefs in Washington are skeptical of the training changes she had instituted. This skepticism aside, Kindy’s (2015) article goes on to ascribe the guardian model as a progressive response to the problem of police shootings that have taken place in Seattle and other major U.S. cities in recent history. An article featured on the website (Davis, 2015) provided another critique of the guardian model, arguing that no warrior mindset exists among police, nor are there undercurrents of “us versus them” in police cultures. He concluded that “cultural sensitivity” and “implicit bias” classes are useless to police, but recommended that “communication skills” and “confrontation simulation” training are valuable for law enforcement practices (Davis, 2015).4

As the warrior versus guardian debate is relatively new, we face a lack of empirical research to demonstrate the relationships between these conceptual models and officer safety. While the warrior model has led to militaristic police innovations intended to increase officer safety (e.g., SWAT teams, assault rifles), the guardian model seeks to decrease law enforcement’s reliance on these modernizations. As a departure from these methods, the guardian model endorses enhanced forms of officer accountability (e.g., body cameras, citizen review boards), and advanced training in communication skills—educating police to work effectively as problem solvers rather than soldiers (Balko, 2013). Although these changes to law enforcement philosophy and methods carry the potential to affect necessary change in police-citizen interactions, their divergence from traditional warrior values (e.g., militarism, forceful authority, authoritative presence) may impede the widespread acceptance of the guardian model in police cultures.

By 2016, guardian policing had become untethered from its origins at WSCJTC and integrated into national conversations on contemporary law enforcement practices. An emerging concern over police militarization, combined with a growing academic interest and popularization of procedural justice concepts, has shaped the “warrior versus guardian” debate into a fully formed, though confused discussion of the appropriate law enforcement priorities and professional imagery. Because guardian concepts have rapidly disseminated throughout academic, practitioner, and popular audiences, it is helpful to step back and reiterate the basic concepts which constitute guardian policing.

The guardian model at WSCJTC

The guardian model, as it was implemented at WSCJTC, continues to enforce high standards for physical performance, communication skills, and proficiency in defensive tactics and firearms. However, specific elements of the training curriculum related to the guardian model have evolved and changed since the inception of the changes in 2013. An updated WSCJTC curriculum now includes procedural justice concepts (through the L.E.E.D. training model), and new courses on how to protect against stress and burnout, emotional health and regulation, recognizing implicit biases, crisis intervention training, positive social interaction, and the importance of respect. Some of these curriculum elements occur in Blue Courage©, a proprietary training curriculum that educates recruits on the role of police in a democratic society, scientific research on stress and its effects, and approaches to avoid burnout.

Procedural justice concepts lay the groundwork for concepts later used to exemplify the guardian model. The primary components of procedural justice have been identified as: voice (allowing the citizen the chance to speak), neutrality (fairness in decisions), respect (using respectful language and not demeaning the citizen), and trustworthiness (the idea that the actions of the officer are for the public good) (Tyler & Huo, 2002; Tyler, 2006a). It is these components of procedural justice that were used by Rahr to design the model for L.E.E.D. training.

Conceptually, notions of procedural justice stem from early legal studies conducted by Thibaut and Walker (1975). This concept, which pertains to fairness perceived in procedural processes, was further elaborated upon by Tyler (1990) and colleagues (Lind & Tyler, 1988), developing measurement criteria and establishing the associations between procedural justice and perceptions of police “legitimacy” (Tyler, 1990, 2003, 2004, 2006a; Tyler & Huo, 2002; Tyler & Fagan, 2008; Sunshine & Tyler, 2003a, 2003b). A growing body of research has established the relationships between law enforcement practices of procedural justice and citizens’ perceptions of police legitimacy, police fairness, and satisfaction with police services (Mastrofski et al., 1996; Tyler, 2001; Engel, 2005; Weitzer & Tuch, 2005; Elliott, Thomas, & Ogloff,, 2011; Mazerolle et al., 2013). Results from these studies suggest that when individuals perceive fair treatment in procedural processes (e.g., police encounters), this communicates value and respect from the authority, which then encourages perceptions of legitimacy and the inclination to obey group rules and directives (Tyler, 2003; 2006b; Tyler & Wakslak, 2004). Because the guardian model attempts, in part, to promote police legitimacy and citizen satisfaction with police, this introduction of procedural justice into guardian training may offer a promising approach for the future of police-community interactions.

Police training and procedural justice

The recognition that citizen perceptions of police legitimacy matter, and the evidence suggesting that procedural justice can positively impact perceptions of police legitimacy, have important implications for guardian-oriented academy curriculum. Currently, scholarship lacks a rich, comprehensive body of research on academy training in general; rarely has evaluative research on procedural justice or guardian model training been discussed in the literature (Skogan, Van Craen, & Hennessy, 2015). Overall, there have been relatively few evaluations of police academy training (Bradford & Pynes, 1999; Traut et al., 2000; Chappell, 2008, McCarty & Lawrence, 2014). Primarily, research in this area has focused on specific training topics (Storey et al., 2011), ways to enhance recruit learning (Shipton, 2009; Werth, 2011), identifying individual characteristics associated with academy performance (Caro, 2011; Henson et al., 2010), and examining how socialization processes in training can impact officer attitudes (Chappell & Lanza-Kanduce, 2010; Haarr, 2001).

Noting this dearth of literature, researchers have recognized the need to evaluate police academy training to ensure that officers are provided with the skills necessary to be effective officers, such as critical thinking, conflict resolution, self-directed learning, problem-solving, coping strategies, and analytical skills (Bradford & Pynes, 1999; McCarty & Lawrence, 2014; Werth, 2011). In one training evaluation, Skogan, et al. (2015) developed, implemented, and analyzed the effects of an 8-hour procedural justice training administered to Chicago police officers by academy trainers. To measure the conceptual learning from this training, a pre/post survey was developed to measure adherence to procedural justice concepts such as neutrality, voice, respect, and trust. Results suggested that officers who completed the training increased adherence to procedural justice concepts, with the exception of trust. Furthermore, these officers differently followed procedural justice concepts over time, compared to those who had not completed the training (Skogan et al., 2015).

Rosenbaum and Lawrence (2012; see also, Schuck & Rosenbaum, 2011) presented findings from an evaluation of the “Quality Interaction Program” at the Chicago Police Department. Working alongside training staff, researchers developed a 20-hour training curriculum for basic academy instruction, based primarily in procedural justice concepts. Applying a randomized control design, researchers evaluated two groups of recruits through the process of academy training using a pre/post quasi-experimental design. Prior to academy training, and following graduation, recruits were asked to fill out a survey and complete a video assessment. Both methods of evaluation were purposed with reflecting cadet attitudes towards citizen interactions. No training effects were observed in survey results that reflected how officers felt about respecting civilians and their attitudes towards procedural justice practices; however, improvements were observed in the video assessment between pre- and post-time periods, suggesting that some training effects had taken place to improve cadets’ aptitude at interacting with the public (Rosenbaum & Lawrence, 2012).

The current study

As the police are tasked with serving the public as agents of democracy, evaluation of procedural justice concepts in police training is necessary to determine best practices. While research to date has evaluated some effects of procedural justice training, studies have not examined the impact of an entire academy focused on guardian-oriented policing as is the case at the WSCJTC. An important first step in any evaluation of academy training is to determine how instructors perceive the curriculum and their understandings of the teaching material. As part of a comprehensive pilot and longitudinal evaluation of guardian training at WSCJTC, a fidelity study was conducted to examine how trainers at a guardian-oriented academy understand, interpret, and evaluate the basic components of guardian training. Using a qualitative methodology, trainers’ perceptions and views of the guardian approach will be explicated, analyzed, and discussed.


The current study examines 14 qualitative interviews conducted as part of a comprehensive pilot and longitudinal evaluation of the “warrior to guardian” paradigm shift at the WSCJTC. This preliminary qualitative study served as a fidelity and construct validity exercise to inform the design of the pilot instrumentation. Researchers conducted interviews with WSCJTC training staff to gather general insights into their views of the guardian model and curriculum and to confirm the constructs were understood and would be measured correctly by the instrument. Because academy trainers are largely instrumental in disseminating the mission and content of the guardian model, it was considered critical to meaningfully describe the views and understandings of guardian-oriented training among law enforcement personnel at WSCJTC.

In qualitative research, reliability is ensured by making sure the process and protocol used for data collection is done in such a way as to be accessible to peer researchers (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). While qualitative studies are sometimes criticized as subjective and difficult to replicate (Bryman, 2012), the collection of qualitative data is particularly appropriate in research which does not seek to “prove” causation or relationship between variables, but, rather, attempts to identify and meaningfully describe or explain phenomena (Tewksbury, 2009). While qualitative studies are often limited in their overall generalizability, this method is particularly helpful in developing concepts and meanings in exploratory research of a phenomena—in this case, guardian policing.

A strength of qualitative methodologies is that well-collected qualitative data can offer a “local groundedness” enabling researchers to understand context and non-obvious, latent, and complex issues, such as the meanings people attribute to events, processes, and structures (Miles, Huberman, & Saldana, 2013, p. 13). Qualitative data also helps to supplement, validate, and better understand data gathered from the same setting. Thus, the current study served a dual purpose of informing and supplementing the subsequent collection of quantitative data in the pilot and longitudinal evaluation of the WSCJTC BLEA.


In this study, because the population was so small and it was important to understand the ways in which all of the WSCJTC trainers understood the guardian philosophy, we interviewed all available subjects in our study population. Interviewees were 14 “TAC” officers (an acronym for Trainers, Advisors, Counselors) employed by the WSCJTC. While TAC officers are assigned to specific curriculum content responsibilities (e.g., firearms, defensive tactics, traffic stops), each is also responsible for a cohort of approximately 30 recruits. Each TAC officer represents a local authority figure, and a “go to” person for academy recruits, providing a supportive professional relationship that often lasts beyond graduation. TAC officers employed by WSCJTC are seasoned law enforcement professionals “borrowed” from policing agencies throughout the state to teach at the academy. While there is a small contingent of permanent staff at the academy, a majority of instructors come from law enforcement agencies with contracts stipulating a limited period of employment. This “rotation model” means that TAC officers routinely cycle in and out of the academy, and back to their respective agencies.


An interview protocol was developed to solicit TAC officers’ perceptions of the “warrior to guardian” curriculum shift at WSCJTC. Queries addressed trainers’ familiarity with the elements of Blue Courage©, the guardian model, and other curriculum components. Interview questions also addressed perceptions of pushback from peers and administration at the TAC officer’s home department, and views on what defines a “good officer.” Interviews followed a semi-structured protocol; beyond the initial questions, some deviation and additional discussions took place to further contextualize and elucidate our inquiry beyond the initial questions (Berg, 2007).


Interviews were conducted in WSCJTC offices over a two-day period in September 2014. At the request of the researchers, WSCJTC command staff identified TAC officers working at the facility (n=16), and scheduled those available (n=14) to be interviewed.5 All human subjects protections were observed with full compliance of the principles of informed consent (purpose, confidentiality, and voluntary). All participants received a verbal brief and signed a written consent.

Two researchers conducted the interviews, which ranged from 15 to 45 minutes in length. The interviews followed a structured format to assure consistent responses. In this format, one researcher would facilitate the interview while the other researcher transcribed interview content, capturing general sentiments and selected, specific quotes. Final transcripts of all interviews were reviewed and edited by both interviewers, ensuring greater accuracy (Bryman, 2012). Following this protocol, each interview was coded to explore themes presented throughout the query.

The purpose of the interviews was to: (1) determine whether there was a shared consensus on what the Blue Courage© and guardian models represent; (2) identify what TAC officers recognized as the core elements of these training components; (3) explore TAC officers’ perceptions of the training content; (4) and determine how new training elements from the guardian model are perceived to support the qualities of “good policing.” These interviews served as a critical fidelity check, confirming homogeneity among the TAC group regarding their understanding and communication of the principles to be measured by the instrument. Additionally, these interviews reviewed the researchers’ collective understanding of the principal components of the scales to be measured, which confirmed construct validity.6

Data were coded manually, using printed transcripts from each staff interview. Interview data was analyzed by coding themes in training officers’ responses to the interview questions using modified grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1999). As the entire population consented to participate in the research, saturation was determined when all available WSCJTC trainers had been interviewed, thus offering all codes that could potentially be observed (Rijnsover, 2015).

Analysis of interview data moved through stages. First, an open coding process was used to analyze each interview transcript, identifying broad categories observed in the raw data. Analytic categories included: staff perceptions of guardian training elements, the role of training staff, and the ability of the trainer and the academy to shape police behaviors, particularly with regard to practices of “good policing.” Next, analysis proceeded to the identification of themes, using an inductive approach focused on identifying patterns and thematic codes within the data (Strauss & Corbin, 2015). Patterns and explanations were identified within the interview responses and organized into salient descriptive themes in an iterative process using data condensation and selective coding into themes. Themes observed within the data were used to communicate shared meanings amongst the study population with regard to training officers’ understandings and perceptions of the shift to the guardian-oriented training. Finally, these analytic themes were examined to ascertain verifications/conclusions from the data, which reflected the views and understandings of WSCJTC’s TAC officers concerning guardian training.


The data for this study was taken from transcribed interviews with 14 TAC officers at WSCJTC during September 2014.7 Our predominant research question was, “How do trainers at an academy following a guardian model understand, interpret, and evaluate the basic elements of guardian training?” Primary themes and concepts were identified from each qualitative aspect of this query. No attempts were made to quantify primary themes, other than to denote topics of discussion that occurred most frequently throughout the interview process.

Major elements of guardian policing 

Washington State’s Criminal Justice Training Commission instituted Blue Courage© training during the shift to the guardian model, and interviewees saw the two as integrally related. The specific guardian curriculum content was delivered through Blue Courage© or other training blocks such as the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) component. Most TAC officers suggested that the guardian model was to be understood more as a philosophy or approach to policing. During the interview process, trainers revealed themes that reflected their perceptions of the guardian model.

Training in the ability to communicate and be respectful to citizenry

The interviewees identified the need to communicate with respect as the primary component of guardian policing, whether the person is a complainant, witness, suspect, or citizen. This concept of respectful communication is also recognized as the chief element of procedural justice. In the context of police work, respect involves the tone officers take, withholding preconceptions, and a willingness to listen and understand the individual’s point of view. Interviewees noted that the lack of respect officers may exhibit often comes from a place of fear, since it may take courage for an officer to enter a situation without having their defenses up—both figuratively, and literally.

Interviewees indicated that one of the most important aspects of Blue Courage© and guardian-oriented law enforcement is courage—the resolution to have open interactions with people, free of the “puffer fish mentality.”8

Trainers emphasized the importance of demonstrating respect in police-citizen interactions and endorsed promoting practices that demonstrate empathy, understanding, and treating people with dignity. As one trainer indicated, by “show[ing] up professionally and treating people with respect … it goes a long way.” This respect-effect was also recognized as by one TAC officer as, “one of our greatest tools … giving dignity to somebody who hasn’t had dignity.”

While warrior trainings emphasize that police should achieve verbal and physical control over their environment and assert public authority, guardian teachings advocate for the use of interpersonal communication instead of commands, and showing intentions of legitimacy in place of forceful authority. When interviewed, TAC officers generally viewed the use of effective communication as more likely to produce more positive outcomes than employing force in the majority of citizen encounters. As one trainer stated, “You can still treat drug dealers with a level of respect and be safe about it.” Others noted that police have a responsibility to be accountable for how they treat citizens, stating that, “people respond to how we treat them, so if we go someplace and treat somebody in a way that escalates things when we didn’t need to, that’s our fault.” When trust and respect are fractured or denied in citizen encounters, police are put at greater risk, and less optimal outcomes may result. As one interviewee put it, “If the public doesn’t trust the police … you cannot be effective.” By demonstrating these values common to both procedural justice and the guardian philosophy (e.g., trust, respect, accountability) in day-to-day policing, research shows that positive interactions with citizens may effectively work towards building institutional legitimacy, public trust, and a greater willingness to cooperate with police (Mazerolle et al., 2013).

Although guardian practices promote effective policing, the guardian model does not actually supplant the warrior model. Even with the implementation of guardian-oriented training, many warrior elements of law enforcement still prove necessary in practice. One interviewee suggested that officers have to have the "heart of a humanitarian and a fist of a warrior … You have to have both. Lose the warrior, and you're dead; lose the humanitarianism, and you're an asshole.” Another stated, “There’s still a spot for the warrior, but the warrior is not all inclusive. The guardian incorporates the warrior. At times we may need to pull the warrior out of the guardian to address those issues.” Others postulated that officers will need to embrace warrior aspects of policing, in certain situations; “… my concern is that when these recruits get out there, I want to make sure that they can bring the warrior when [they] need to.” As one interviewee offered, “You can be Andy [Griffith] and still be Charles Bronson”—suggesting that trainers wanted recruits to be able to harness tactics of guardian and warrior models, depending on situation context. 

Providing the “why” of policing along with pride in the profession

Interviewees considered it integral to the Blue Courage© and guardian training curriculum to impress upon recruits that policing is a noble profession, rather than “just a job.” The interviewed TAC officers expressed opinions that recruits should garner more than just the knowledge and skills of policing during their academy experience; most believed that instilling recruits with the pride and duty related to policing is also paramount to professional success. Training staff referred to curriculum content as, “[we’re] getting back to the ‘why’ of policing,” regarded as the “‘honor’ and ‘pride’ of the profession.”

Other interviewees suggested that the core principals and the “why” of policing are intrinsically tied to civic duty, and “having your heart in the right place.” Building on this theme, training staff offered their beliefs that police should be recognized as “… caretakers of [the] community, instead of enforcers of rules.” Through BLEA training, recruits are taught that they are part of a larger community, and as police, their central responsibilities are to protect the Constitution and share ownership and stakes in the communities they serve. Instead of relying on tactics of heavy enforcement to raise community awareness, one TAC officer emphasized the importance of protecting civil rights and building partnerships, asserting, “The mission is to protect the rights of all people so they have freedom from fear, freedom of fear of the police too!” Interviewees indicated that “it's important to focus on the constitutional aspects of the job,” and “[Blue Courage] reinforces that message of ‘hey we're useless without the support of the people.’” Trainers noted that recruits were encouraged to be enthusiastic, empathetic, honorable, and prideful in serving their community.

Reducing the use of force (but being able to use it when necessary)

One primary criticism of guardian policing has been that it does not prepare officer to use force when considered necessary. However, trainers pointed out that less training is required to teach recruits how to to effectively use force than the training required to teach recruits to employ communication skills and achieve peaceful resolutions in street-level incidents. TAC officers shared a widespread agreement that self-defense and firearms training were essential aspects of law enforcement. Furthermore, interviewees believed that additional time should be spent on firearm and defensive tactics trainings, and maintained through in-service trainings to ensure that officers feel confident in their ability to employ force when necessary.

Contrasting former and contemporary policing practices, one trainer commented, “You have to be stronger as an individual to carry out this idea of Blue Courage; you have to be stronger, it was easier with: ‘you do what I say’—‘ask—tell—make’—that’s how I was trained (Ma’am, please sit over there. Sit over there! And, then you make them); you know, “I’m the police, you do what I say!” Whereas “ask—tell—make” procedures were considered a policing norm under warrior trainings, a new standard under the guardian model, L.E.E.D., suggests a practical use of learned communication skills to help de-escalate situations and resolve conflicts.

One training officer highlighted the reality that most people officers deal with in the community are law-abiding citizens, “There are outlaws and they get treated differently, but generally, you deal with average people who are having the worst day of their life … You show up and they are agitated, and you are in their living room, and [then] you throw them on the ground and put your knee on their neck—those are the people the guardian and Blue Courage training is all about.” As law enforcement has been particularly scrutinized for practices involving force in recent years, interviewees recognized that the warrior role needs to be deemphasized while building a new emphasis on relationships within the community. As one TAC officer commented, “We [aren’t] an occupying army … If you try to act like an occupying army [you may get killed]; we don’t have an army, we’re shitty light infantry. Cops get elevated opinions of ourselves, [and] we have to police with the consent of the policed.” In a discussion of how guardian-trained officers should present themselves, TAC officers offered that, “[Officers] should come from a place of confidence, a place of curiosity,” and, “If you don’t have confidence, you don’t have the ability to relate to the public.”

A clear theme emerged to suggest that guardian policing occurs when and if the officer is supremely confident in his/her ability to physically handle the situation, and has the skill and confidence to effectively use communication techniques, resorting to force only when necessary. One trainer emphasized that verbal communication should be the tactic employed first in police encounters stating, “When people don’t know how to communicate, they resort to force. I tried this and it didn’t work out.” Interviewees perceived in-service agency trainings as lacking when it came to physical conditioning and self-defense; that is, officers gradually lose the physical and tactical skills learned in the academy as they settle further into their respective departments, which made communication skills learned in the academy all the more important.

On the other hand, there was concern among training staff that recruits may misinterpret the concepts of guardian policing and show hesitancy to use force, when necessary. Throughout the WSCJTC evaluation, this concern proved to be the primary issue raised from the critics of guardian policing. One trainer indicated that “[Mastery of skills] opens up communication options; if you are three steps ahead of the person and you have a bunch of different skills options, then you will let the situation play out.” Others emphasized the need for trainings to override the fears and insecurities that can arise from volatile situations officers may face. During interviews, trainers addressed these issues with statements such as, “When you grow weeds that aren’t there before, you create ‘weeds’ [bad situations] from your fear and insecurity,” and “You have to act like a puffer fish to get people to do what you want,” and, “You’re afraid because your skills are substandard … you look at a poodle and treat it like a Doberman, and you use too much force. The more fitness and skill training that you have, the more confidence [you will feel].”Generally, interviewed TAC officers expressed the belief that effective academy training should provide new officers with the ability to overcome their fears and present newfound confidence in their skills and physical abilities.

By using academy teachings to achieve mental and physical preparedness and professional confidence, trainers generally asserted that officers would be prepared for the best outcomes in any encounter. One interviewee captures this idea, stating, “How fit you are when you show up makes a difference in what happens. I have confidence in my ability when people scream and yell because I am not afraid.” Trainers also noted the importance of using respect as a tool to avoid using force, but applying discretion and employing force when deemed necessary: “If you respect people, most will respect you, but there will be some you have to use force on.” Taken together, these statements suggest that trainers believe that officers should be physically and mentally prepared to use force, though only as a necessary measure when communication and de-escalation techniques are no longer effective in the situational context of the police encounter. One TAC officer noted that guardian trainings may carry the potential to create the unintentional side-effect of making new officers too concerned about the consequences of using force: “I think that some people are afraid of using force now, in mock graded scenes … it could have been an issue with just that cohort, but the training shouldn’t make trainees be afraid to use measures of compliance.” Other interviewees suggested that even though guardian training emphasizes the use of de-escalation techniques, time on patrol after leaving the academy can potentially impact learned skills. One training officer addressed this problem directly, stating:

During the 5 months [in the academy] you keep in physical shape, we make you skilled, we make you practice, we test you on those skills, you’re fit, your mind is right when you leave here. But after you leave here, your fitness level goes down and you don’t practice your skills, physically you are not as fit as you were in the academy. Those two factors are no excuse for you to use force sooner; your skills aren’t as good, so you get scared [and] you’re quicker to use force on people.

Because some of these skills deteriorate over time, TAC officers have also endorsed the notion of using regularly scheduled in-service trainings to further hone officers’ de-escalation techniques.

Counteracting the negative culture of policing

Interviewees recognized that one important aspect of training was to counteract the negative elements of police culture that promote “us versus everyone else” attitudes. Interviewees recognized that this omnipresent divide often does present a problem, which is frequently further aggravated by social norms of policing cultures—“the [police] culture feeds into the defensive mentality,” and “most departments are going the wrong direction.” Trainers indicated that an important component addressed in guardian-oriented training was “[counteracting] the ‘us versus them,’” and suggested that “it’s important to combat dangerous attitudes” … “the culture feeds into the defensive mentality,” and that most departments are, “going the wrong direction.” One trainer suggested that police subculture had elements common to deviant subcultures, “Police are a culture like any other and we separate ourselves by dress … we have gang mentality.”

Addressing the whole person (inoculating against burnout)

A primary element missing from the national conversations about how to “fix” policing is the recognition that police often face stress and trauma as part of the job. Trainers noted that the history and culture of policing discourages emotional catharsis; officers are socialized to act as if nothing bothers them. This “macho” persona may be particularly damaging in situations of stress or coping, as officers often see and experience traumas that may negatively affect their mental health lacking appropriate intervention. Law enforcement officers are also subjected to daily stressors rarely seen in other occupations as their jobs often entail interactions with intoxicated, angry, sick, injured, scared, and troublesome individuals. Outcomes in the justice system may also provide a secondary source of stress as officers may fundamentally disagree with how their cases are handled by the judiciary (e.g., bail releases, plea bargains, short sentences).

Recognition of one’s emotions and learning skills to control them presents a crucial and often overlooked aspect of the guardian approach. These issues are identified in Pillar 6 of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, titled, “Officer Wellness and Safety” (2015, p. 61). Trainers indicated that cynicism acquired on the job has the potential to encourage arrogance, captured in statements such as, “If you lose that love for people, and why we're doing this in the first place, you become cynical and arrogant … you start believing you're the glue that’s holding society together,” and, “Police officers tend to get jaded; [it] leads to long stressful careers and ends in short retirements.” Others highlighted the importance of training officers to cope with frustrations caused by the justice system, stating; “… try to help officers deal with the job; it is overwhelming, so many sad stories, guy gets released, all your work is for nothing, encourage officers that what they are doing is still important.”

Guardian training as role modeling

As noted above, TAC officers often acknowledged how the adoption of guardian training had permeated the atmosphere of WSCJTC, even affecting the dynamics of trainer-recruit interactions. In the academy environment, training staff treated recruits as they would expect graduates to treat people during their interactions on patrol, thus modeling guardian concepts. This new dynamic sharply contrasts with WSCJTC’s former methods using paramilitary training where recruits might be humiliated—and some trainers seemed to take pleasure in abusing their power.

Since the advent of the guardian model, these byproducts of paramilitary training are no longer considered acceptable. As one trainer noted, “We don’t belittle them … we try to bring them along.” Trainers emphasized that, “hazing is out” and “[my academy training] did nothing to motivate me [and] made me want to be quiet about things.” They also indicated the importance of creating a safe and responsive learning environment for recruits: “We expect them to be respectful—we model respect. We try to make it a safe training so learning can happen … tailoring training] to the individual needs of the student.”

A secondary theme that emerged, however, was that trainers often felt they were undergoing a “balancing act” to eliminate humiliating aspects of the paramilitary model, while continuing to maintain the essential components of the academy training process. Trainers saw value in some former practices of group discipline because it created espirit de corps—feelings of pride, fellowship, and loyalty experienced between recruits, bonding them through the disciplinary experience. Some trainers shared a perception that abandoning the military elements may have created too much familiarity between recruits and trainers and/or less respect exhibited from recruits towards training staff emphasizing the importance of a culture that respects chain of command, order, and discipline. Some TAC officers made comments to reflect their feelings on this issue, such as, “There needs to be a little bit more of a balance; they get too relaxed,” “You’ve got to have each other’s back, it’s not only his fault, it’s your fault [explaining why trainers used group discipline],” and, “Some instructors were mean before; I think that needs to be gone, but new recruits [are] complaining about the hours, they bitch about the exams, the housing … they should be proud to be here … some of that is missing.”

Trainer’s commitment to guardian training and “push-back”

For the most part, WSCJTC trainers heartily endorsed and agreed with the basic principles of the guardian model. However, in communications with their home agencies, most training staff also recognized “push-back” and some degree of resistance to the guardian model from their peers, supervisors, and agency administration. Comments relayed from TAC officers’ departments generally indicated a belief that the academy had “gone soft,” and new tactics were more in line with practices of social work than policing. In general, agency “push-back” was overwhelmingly negative. Agency representatives talked about guardian training as “bullshit,” and, “a passing fad,” in which “[police are] all drinking the Kool-Aid.” Commonly, home agencies would refer to guardian training with phrasing such as “hug-a-thug,” “teaching people to hug,” “hug you to death,” and “put the guns away and go out with a hug.” Effectively, these comments suggest that academy training is teaching officers to treat both criminals and citizenry with a kindness and gentleness unbecoming of a police officer, or what some referred to as the “touchy feely approach.” From these statements, it can also be inferred that WSCJTC TAC officers are facing an uphill battle to implement the guardian approach, as its primary values (e.g., communication, upholding civil liberties, community partnerships) may have the appearance of clashing against the warrior values (e.g., toughness, stoicism, authoritativeness) that have traditionally characterized police cultures.

Often, outright distaste for guardian values was exhibited by agency representatives who emphasized that a shift away from the warrior model would make police officers less effective at their duties. This theme was captured in comments expressing that guardian trainings will “cause us to be weak,” “new recruits are ‘pussified,’” and that “the academy is going soft.” Some TACs stated that other officers had taken this point even further, expressing that guardian training is “not the way it is on the street,” and “that shit is going to get you killed,” suggesting that the guardian trainings may even put officers in danger. Other agency representatives emphasized a direct approach in training discussions, making their opinions about the guardian model clear to TAC officers with statements such as, “we need warriors,” and, “go to the academy, and when you come back we’ll teach you how to do [policing].”

Interviewed TAC officers observed that much of the criticism directed towards the guardian model seemed to come from misinformation and a lack of conceptual understanding about the guardian model. Trainers suggested that veteran officers had often mischaracterized guardian concepts, which they articulated through statements such as, “I see them as not understanding what it is supposed to be,” and “nobody really understands what is changing.” Others characterized interactions explaining the guardian model to tenured officers as, “I wouldn’t call it pushback, but it is miscommunication,” and “they don’t understand what it means.” Training staff suggested that although veteran officers have often resisted the shift away from the warrior philosophy, they actually model their behaviors in ways consistent with the guardian model. In discussing this transition, one interviewee put it as, “cops say they aren't social workers … and then they act like them, after giving token resistance.”

Guardian policing as just “good policing”

An important observation that emerged in the interviews was the differential views of what academy trainers believed guardian policing to be. Training staff noted that “new flavors” are consistently being forced into police training; however, as one trainer noted, “We’re not teaching them any wild concepts … [guardian policing] is nothing new.” While some officers saw guardian training as a paradigm shift in policing, others described this philosophy as “old school” police work; a defining property of what “good policing” has always been, and “it’s semantics—because [the guardian model represents] what being a ‘good officer’ is.”

This idea ties into another line of inquiry: What are the qualities of a “good officer?” This particular question netted a wide range of qualities; many interviewees could not limit their answer to a single characteristic. Interestingly, the quality of good officers most commonly mentioned by training staff was having mastery over a professional skillset. Other answers generally illustrated good officers as those possessing notable communication skills (e.g., approachability, active listening), integrity, respect, empathy, honesty, courage, accountability, safety-consciousness, and awareness. These qualities are also as essential components of the guardian model of policing.

Generally, good officers were also identified as individuals with a comprehensive understanding of agency policies, laws, defensive tactics, and the confidence to effectively use this knowledge in law enforcement. In addition to these “book smarts,” however, “good cops” were also considered to be hardworking officers with “street smarts.” TACs noted that the street smarts most often desired in policing were recognized as good “common sense,” and the ability to “make the right decisions for the right reasons.”

Emotional intelligence was also brought up as one of the most crucial aspects in the making of a good officer. As policing constitutes a high-stress occupation, officers need to rely on emotional intelligence to “handle stressful situations,” and keep a “cool head” at all times. Interviewed trainers expected graduating recruits to have control over their emotions, harnessing the ability to be objective and patient and hiding their emotional reactions when necessary. As one trainer expressed, good officers need to be able to “swim like a duck … on the surface very calm, [but] under the water, you’re paddling like hell.” Other qualities of the good officer mentioned by training staff included: officer presence, confidence, obedience, well-roundedness, dedication to service, maturity, sense of humor, loyalty, collegiality, interest in the “science of policing,” flexibility, decisiveness, and the ability to “act like you care and … make it believable.”

Difficulty of implementation on the street

Ultimately, the test of guardian policing’s success in implementation will be if recruits are able to transfer skills learned in training into techniques used on patrol. Trainers interviewed were cautious in their predictions of how well recruits would implement the guardian model on duty. Interviewees often felt that later in post-academy phases of training, recruits will either get support for guardian policing—or sentiments such as, “forget what you heard at the academy.” As this latter option does present a clear possibility of occurring, trainers are faced with the difficulty of instituting meaningful change amongst the cadet population. While the academy is the logical place to begin, the possibility cannot be ignored that all recruits will eventually be socialized to norms and practices of their home agency.

To surmount this potential obstacle, trainers indicated that the guardian curriculum “[will need] buy-in from [field training officers] FTOs,” and that “FTOs in training for service will carry the values forward … some FTOs are in it for the money.” Because some agency cultures may be incompatible with guardian teachings, socialization to these cultures after leaving the academy may present a key element in eroding aspects of academy training. One trainer perceived that the “hardest [part of retaining guardian teachings] is going back to a police department that doesn’t recognize those values. It made sense for me because my chief is huge on [the guardian philosophy], but departments that are more good old boys, that would be harder.” Another echoed a similar sentiment, stating that “[new officers] have difficulty [adhering to the guardian paradigm], but only because they are not supported by the department.”

Discussion, limitations, and conclusion

Guardian policing has become either the “flavor of the month” in law enforcement, or a potentially useful avenue to address serious trust deficits with community members. The notion that “words matter” (Brocklin, 2015), and the influential authority modeled by training staff suggests that the methods used by academy trainers to conceptualize and convey law enforcement training represent a critical and under-explored area of study. The results presented here provide further insight into the ways WSCJTC training officers conceptualize and disseminate key components of guardian-based police training. The trainers interviewed in this study are the linchpins for the cultural transmission of guardian policing, so the study is an important step in determining their understandings, concerns, and reservations pertaining to the collective elements that make up guardian policing.

The current research contributes to the academic literature by examining how training staff at a guardian-oriented police academy present their attitudes and beliefs pertaining to the guardian model of policing. As a primary function of their occupation, these trainers are tasked with purveying the guardian message to incoming police recruits: The manner in which recruits are trained, and how well the training material is “sold” or conveyed may constitute a significant difference in how well the next generation of police adheres to this new model of policing. The views of academy TAC officers play a central component in the training process, teaching, advising, and counseling recruits throughout their academy experience. Thus, to ensure best practices, it is of paramount importance that TACs develop a thorough understanding of the course material to accurately impart this knowledge to their students.

Analysis of the TAC officers’ comments indicates that trainers’ understanding of the guardian model is consistent with concepts promulgated in academic articles. Furthermore, the trainers’ abilities to articulate and scrutinize the concepts of guardian policing were sophisticated and astute. Interviewed subjects promoted a widespread level of buy-in and commitment to Blue Courage© and guardian principles—especially trainers who had received advanced training, and therefore had greater familiarity with the content. However, for guardian training to make a successful impact in law enforcement, the officers themselves are responsible for implementing the knowledge learned at the academy, and personally investing in this new direction in policing (Lurigio & Skogan, 1994; Rosenbaum & Lurigio, 1994). Without the backing of policing cultures to push for guardian-oriented tactics and policy, the guardian paradigm may have much more ground to cover before gaining widespread acceptance amongst law enforcement personnel.

Training staff also acknowledged difficulties presented by the guardian curriculum, including the perceived problem of widespread in-service training deficiencies that may lead to officers being less physically capable following academy training, thus making them less comfortable in their ability to control potentially dangerous situations. As interviewees generally supported the notion that defensive tactics training was even more necessary as a component of guardian policing, some proposed the solution of requiring law enforcement agencies to institute mandatory trainings in defensive tactics to remedy this problem. Furthermore, trainers believed that the curriculum for defensive tactics should be expanded and improved in BLEA training so that future officers could feel more comfortable in their ability to control civilian encounters without resorting to violence. While communications classes may endow recruits with the skills to effectively defuse and deescalate many hostile situations, recruits should also be prepared for any eventuality, with an understanding of how to effectively employ force if necessary.

Another conceptually important finding that emerged from the interview process suggested that guardian policing was just “good policing.” One of the most important qualities of a good officer was identified as the ability to communicate effectively. Because skillful communication is recognized as a central tenet of the guardian model, interviewees expressed confusion as to how critics could misinterpret guardian policing to be anything other than “good policing.” Furthermore, other qualities mentioned as central to the guardian role (e.g., emotional intelligence, integrity, respect, honesty, courage) are not different from what society expects from “good” law enforcement. As police are granted with the social authority to maintain order, restrict liberties, and use force in protection of person and property, perhaps these guardian qualities should be expected of law enforcement officers when interacting with the citizenry they serve (Sanders, 2003; Schulenberg et al., 2015).

As a final thought, several interviewees shared the perception that a considerable amount of guardian training occurred through the relationship with the TAC officer rather than the actual content of training. What they meant was that the trainer modeled guardian principles in the way he or she interacted with recruits, other instructors, and the public at large. As TAC officers assume the responsibilities of teaching, advising, and counseling the student body, they serve as valuable role models to recruits throughout the academy experience. From the trainer’s statements on this topic, we might be able to infer that some trainers are more effective at imparting guardian principles to students because of who they are, how they do police work, and how they are viewed by their recruits. This assumption may present a valuable avenue for future research, as scholarship has not yet examined the individual and academy-related factors that may influence police adherence to guardian policing following academy graduation.

Our findings suggest that cultural expectations and interactions with ranking officers, FTOs, and peers in police agencies may significantly affect how recruits adhere to the tenets of the guardian model over time. However, findings also suggest that officers trained outside of the guardian curriculum are often misinformed about what the guardian model actually signifies, and how it relates to law enforcement practices. As officer peers and agency leadership may offer little support and/or knowledge of the guardian model, mandated in-service trainings should be considered to educate all agency personnel. By implementing this additional measure, WSCJTC may better promote understandings between agencies of how the guardian philosophy can be useful to the profession of policing, thus increasing their chances of success in disseminating the message of guardian policing to new officers.

As trainers expressed a belief that the majority of opposition to guardian training is caused by misinformation about what guardian training actually represents, mandating remedial guardian trainings offered through WSCJTC for officers previously trained under the warrior model has the potential to mitigate conceptual confusion about what guardian training is for officers who graduated from the academy before the philosophical shift. By educating law enforcement on the principles WSJCTC is using to shape the next era of policing in Washington, the guardian philosophy may achieve higher regard amongst its intended audience.

Limitations of this study include those often presented within qualitative research. Although a small number of interviews was utilized for analysis, this was not a sample, but, rather, almost the entire population of WSCJTC TAC instructors.9 Potentially, representativeness may pose a greater issue for the limitations of this study. Because WSCJTC employs a “rotation model,” TAC officers interviewed for this study may have already returned to their home agencies at present time. These findings may or may not be subject to replication at another academy adopting a guardian training model, or even at this academy, as new instructors may already be in place of those interviewed.

While these limitations are notable, we maintain that these findings are valuable to provide a greater understanding of how trainers in one academy understand and interpret guardian concepts. Our research question explored whether instructors employed by an academy at the ground-zero of guardian policing understood and/or agreed with the concepts endorsed by the guardian curriculum. Further, we were interested in how trainers perceived the emerging criticism regarding guardian training. Findings in this study indicate that training staff fully recognized these criticisms, and also understood the potential issues of socialization and acculturation recruits faced after returning to their hiring agencies. We believe that this qualitative approach, using outside researchers, may exhibit value when undertaking curriculum and/or philosophical changes in training venues.

Guardian policing was derived from the principles of procedural justice and pronounced concern over the militarization of policing. As a new foundation for police training, the guardian model was incubated at the WSCJTC, disseminated via the President’s Task Force on 21st Century policing, and has now become a buzzword among media outlets and politicians looking to improve police-community relations through new approaches. What is needed next is a more concerted effort to identify and evaluate the specific training components that comprise guardian policing, and an examination of how guardian training translates to the behaviors exhibited by officers on duty.


Asken, M., Christensen, L. W., & Grossman, L. C. (2011). Warrior mindset: Mental toughness skills for a nation's peacekeepers. Pennsauken, NJ: BookBaby.

Balko, S. 2013a. Rise of the warrior cop: Militarization of America’s police forces. Philadelphia: Public Affairs (Perseus).

Balko, S. 2013b, July 19). Rise of the warrior Cop. Wall Street Journal. Belle, R. (2013, July 31). Less warrior, more guardian is the new message at the state’s police academy. KIRO Radio My

Berg, B. (2007). Qualitative research methods for the social sciences (6th ed). Boston: Pearson Education.

Bradford, B., Jackson, J., & Stanko, E. 2009. Contact and confidence: Revisiting the impact of public encounters with the police. Policing and Society, 19(1), 20-46.

Bradford, D., & Pynes, J. E. (1999). Police academy training: Why hasn't it kept up with practice? Police Quarterly, 2(3), 283-301.

Brocklin, V. (2015, July 1). Warriors vs. guardians: A seismic shift in policing or just semantics?

Bryman, A. (2012). Social research methods. Oxford, England, UK: Oxford University Press.

Caro, C. A. (2011). Predicting state police officer performance in the field training officer program: What can we learn from the cadet’s performance in the training academy? American Journal of Criminal Justice, 36(4), 357-370.

Chappell, A. T. (2008). Police academy training: Comparing across curricula. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 31(1), 36-56.

Chappell, A. T., & Lanza-Kaduce, L. (2010). Police academy socialization: Understanding the lessons learned in a paramilitary-bureaucratic organization. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 39(2), 187-214.

Corbin, J. & Strauss, A. (2015). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Crow, M., S., Lee, C., & Joo, J. (2012). Organizational justice and organizational commitment among South Korean police officers. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management. 35(2), 402-423.

Davis, K. (2015, July 3). Warrior or guardian? Retrieved from

Elliott, I., Thomas, S.D., & Ogloff, J.R. (2011). Procedural justice in contacts with the police: Testing a relational model of authority in a mixed methods study. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 17(4), 592-610.

Engel, R. (2005). Citizens’ perceptions of distributive and procedural injustice during traffic stops with police. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 42(4), 445-481.

Forman Jr., J. (2004). Community policing and youth as assets. The Journal of Law and Criminology, 95(1), 1-48

Gau, J. (2014). Procedural justice and police legitimacy: A test of measurement and structure. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 39, 187-205.

Glasser, B.G. & Strauss, A.L. (1999). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. New York: Routledge.

Haarr, R. N. (2001). The making of a community policing officer: The impact of basic training and occupational socialization on police recruits. Police Quarterly, 4(4), 402-433.

Helfgott, J. B., Atherley, L., Pollock, J. Vinson, J., Conn-Johnson, C., Strah, B. M., Neidhart, E., Hickman, M. J., & Wood, N. (2015). Evaluation of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission’s “warriors to guardians” cultural shift and crisis intervention team training: Final report. Retrieved from

Henson, B., Reyns, B. W., Klahm, C. F., & Frank, J. (2010). Do good recruits make good cops? Problems predicting and measuring academy and street-level success. Police Quarterly, 13(1), 5-26.

Humphrey, J. (2013, November 19). State police academy building guardians instead of warriors.

Jones, J. (2015). In U.S., confidence in police lowest in 22 years. Gallup Poll.

Kindy, K. (2015, December 10). Creating guardians, calming warriors. Washington Post.

Kraska, P. B. (1999). “Questioning the militarization of US police: Critical versus advocacy scholarship.” Policing and Society, 9(2), 141–155.

Kraska, P. B. (2001). Militarizing the American justice system: The changing roles of the armed forces and the police. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press.

Kraska, P. B. 2007). “Militarization and policing—Its relevance to 21st century police. Policing, 1(4), 501–513.

Kraska, P B., & Cubellis, L. J. (1997). Militarizing Mayberry and beyond: Making sense of American paramilitary policing. Justice Quarterly, 14(4): 607–629.

Kraska, P. B. & Kappeler, V. E. (1997). Militarizing American police: The rise and normalization of paramilitary units. Social Problems, 44(1), 1–18.

Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.

Lind, E.A., & Tyler, T.R. 1988. The social psychology of procedural justice. New York: Plenum Press.

Lurigio, A. J., & Skogan, W. G. (1994). Winning the hearts and minds of police officers: An assessment of staff perceptions of community policing in Chicago. NCCD news, 40(3), 315-330.

Mastrofski, S.D., Snipes, J.B., & Supina, A.E. (1996). Compliance on demand: The public’s response to specific police requests. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 33, 269-305.

Mather, K. (2015a, July 14). LAPD rolls out enhanced training focused on public trust, use of force. LA Times.

Mather, K. (2015b, August 21). LAPD urges officers to be community guardians, not warriors on crime. LA Times.

Mazerolle, L., Antrobus, E., Bennett, S., & Tyler, T. (2013). Shaping citizen perceptions of police legitimacy: A randomized field trial of procedural justice. Criminology, 51(1), 33-63.

Mazerolle, L., Bennett, S., Antrobus, E., & Eggins, E. (2012). Procedural justice, routine encounters and citizen perceptions of police: Main findings from the Queensland Community Engagement Trial (QCET). Journal of Experimental Criminology, 8(4), 343–367.

Mazerolle, L., Bennett, S., Davis, J., Sargeant, E., & Manning, M. (2013). Procedural justice and police legitimacy: A systematic review of research evidence. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 9(3), 245-274.

Miles, M.B., Huberman, A.M., & Saldana, J. (2013). Qualitative data analysis: A methods sourcebook, Third Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Miletich, S. (2013, July 13). Police Academy 2.0: Less military training, more empathy. The Seattle Times.

McCarty, W. P., & Lawrence, D. S. (2014). Coping, confidence, and change within the academy: a longitudinal look at police recruits. Police Practice and Research, IN PRESS, 1-16.

McGill, A. (2015, May 8). Police must adapt from warriors to guardians. Reno-Gazette Journal. Retrieved from

President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (2015). Final report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services

Pyrooz, D., Decker, S. Wolfe, S., & Shjarback, J. (2015). Was there a Ferguson effect on crime rates in large US cities? Journal of Criminal Justice, 46(1), 1-16.

Rahr, S., & Rice, S. (2015). From warriors to guardians: Recommitting American police culture to democratic ideals. New perspectives in policing bulletin (NCJ 248654). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice.

Rosenbaum, D. P., & Lurigio, A. J. (1994). An inside look at community policing reform: Definitions, organizational changes, and evaluation findings. NCCD news, 40(3), 299-314.

Rosenbaum, D., & Lawrence, D. (2012). Teaching respectful police-citizen encounters and good decision-making: Results of a randomized control trial with police recruits. National Police Research Platform Report. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice.

Rosenfeld, R. (June, 2016). Documenting and explaining the 2015 homicide rise: Research directions. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.

Sanders, B. A. (2003). Maybe there’s no such thing as a “good cop:” Organizational challenges in selecting quality officers. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 26(2), 313-328.

Schuck, A. & Rosenbaum, D. (2011). The Chicago quality interaction training program: A randomized control trial of police innovation. National Police Research Platform Topical Report. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice.

Schulenberg, J. L., Chenier, A., Buffone, S., & Wojciechowski, C. (2015). An application of procedural justice to stakeholder perspectives: Examining police legitimacy and public trust in police complaints systems. Policing and Society, 27(7), 779-796.

Shipton, B. (2009). Problem based learning: Does it provide appropriate levels of guidance and flexibility for use in police recruit education? Journal of Learning Design, 3(1), 57-67.

Smith, D. (2016, January 13). Warriors or guardians?: Uninformed activists who would change police officers from warriors to guardians should be careful what they wish for.

Skogan, W. (2006). Asymmetry in the impact of encounters with police. Policing and Society, 16(2), 99-126.

Skogan, W., Van Craen, M., & Hennessy, C. (2015). Training police for procedural justice. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 11(3), 19-334.

Storey, J. E., Gibas, A. L., Reeves, K. A., & Hart, S. D. (2011). Evaluation of a violence risk (threat) assessment training program for police and other criminal justice professionals. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 38(6), 554-564.

Stoughton, S. (2015). Law enforcement’s “warrior” problem. Harvard Law Review Forum, Harvard Law Review, 128(6), 225-234.

Sunshine, J., & Tyler. T.R. (2003). The role of procedural justice and legitimacy in shaping public support for policing. Law & Society Review,37(3), 513–48.

Sunshine, J., & Tyler, T.R. (2003). Moral solidarity, identification with the community, and the importance of procedural justice: The police as prototypical representation of a group’s moral values. Social Psychology Quarterly, 66(2), 153-165.

Tewksbury, R. (2009). Qualitative versus quantitative methods: Understanding why qualitative methods are superior for criminology and criminal Justice. Journal of Theoretical & Philosophical Criminology, 1(1), 38-58

Thibaut, J. & Walker, L. (1975). Procedural justice. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Traut, C. A., Feimer, S., Emmert, C. F., & Thom, K. (2000). Law enforcement recruit training at the state level: An evaluation. Police Quarterly, 3(3), 294-314.

Tyler, T.R. (1990). Why people obey the law. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Tyler, T.R. (2003). Procedural justice, legitimacy, and the effective rule of law. In Toney, M. (Ed.). Crime and Justice: A Review of Research, 30, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Tyler, T. R. (2004). Enhancing police legitimacy. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 593(1), 84–99.

Tyler, T. R. (2006a). Why people obey the law. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Tyler, T. R. (2006b). Psychological perspectives on legitimacy and legitimacy. Annual Review of Psychology, 57(1), 375-400

Tyler, T. R., & Fagan. J. (2008). Legitimacy and cooperation: Why do people help the police fight crime in their communities? Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, 6(1), 231–75.

Tyler, T. R. & Huo, Y.J. (2002). Trust in the Law: Encouraging public cooperation with the police and courts. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Tyler, T.R., & Wakslak, C.J. (2004). Profiling and police legitimacy: Procedural justice, attributions of motive, and acceptance of police authority. Criminology, 42(2), 253-281.

van Rijnsoever, F. J. (2015). (I can’t get no) saturation: A simulation and guidelines for minimum sample sizes in qualitative research. Innovation Studies Utrecht (ISU) Working Paper Series, 15(05), 1-25.

Warren, P. (2011). Perceptions of police disrespect during vehicle stops: A race-based analysis. Crime & Delinquency, 57(3), 356-376.

Weitzer, R., & Tuch, S. (2005). Determinants of public satisfaction with the police. Police Quarterly, 8(3), 279-297.

Werth, E. P. (2011). Scenario training in police academies: Developing students’ higher-level thinking skills. Police Practice and Research, 12(4), 325-340.


Jacqueline B. Helfgott, Ph.D. is Professor and Chair of the Seattle University Department of Criminal Justice has published works including Criminal Behavior: Theories, Typologies, and Criminal Justice, Criminal Psychology, Volumes 1-4, and Offender Reentry: Beyond Crime and Punishment and has published journal articles in the areas of criminal behavior, offender reentry, restorative and community justice, and crisis intervention in law enforcement. She has conducted applied research with the Seattle Police Department, the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, and the Washington State Department of Corrections, is co-editor of the journal Criminology, Criminal Justice, Law & Society, and has consulted as an expert witness on cases involving correctional supervision and the prediction of dangerousness.

Joycelyn M. Pollock, Ph.D./J.D. is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus, School of Criminal Justice, Texas State University, has published works which include Ethical Dilemmas and Decisions in Criminal Justice, 10th ed., and, with B. Owen and J. Wells, In Search of Safety Confronting Inequality in Women's Imprisonment. Journal articles include works on prosecutorial misconduct, gender disparity in arrest, gender and the law, and examining political shifts in sentencing reform. In addition to the evaluation of guardian policing with co-authors, recent research includes analyzing wrongful convictions with Dr. Kim Rossmo.

Beck Strah, M.A. is a Doctoral Candidate in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University. Beck holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from University of Alaska Anchorage (2008) and a master’s in Criminal Justice from Seattle University (2010). Prior to his doctoral work, Beck was employed as a Corrections Deputy in Snohomish County, Washington. Beck’s research has largely centered on corrections, masculinity, risk assessment, and training outcomes.

Loren T. Atherley holds a Master's degree in Criminal Justice from Seattle University, where he completed a thesis on behavioral profiling and serial sexual homicide, the Green River Killer and the offender Gary L. Ridgway. Currently leading the Performance, Analytics and Research unit for the Seattle Police Department, Loren is principally responsible for the design and execution of original qualitative, quantitative and mixed-methods research in support of federally mandated reform efforts. Additionally, Loren has conducted program evaluations and consults in the areas of criminology and criminal justice, specifically: police and criminal behavior, threat assessment and threat management, use of force, and organization for law enforcement agencies, across the United States.

John Vinson, Ph.D. is the Chief of Police for the University of Washington Police Department. He holds a Ph.D. in Public Administration from Western Michigan University and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy. Along with his extensive varied law enforcement experiences, Dr. Vinson is an adjunct faculty in the Masters of Public Administration Program for Central Michigan University and in the Seattle University Department of Criminal Justice. Dr. Vinson has conducted numerous leadership and related law enforcement seminars and workshops for management, supervisory, support staff and customer service employees. Other experience includes being directly responsible for and working with other public and private agencies in the areas of strategic planning, organizational analysis and efficiency studies, leadership development, team building and change facilitation.


This study was funded by the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission as part of a pilot evaluation of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission’s “Warriors to Guardians” Cultural Shift and Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Training: Final Report. J. Helfgott, L. Atherley, J. Pollock, J. Vinson. Available: Seattle University, Department of Criminal Justice at: Thanks to WSCJTC Executive Director Sue Rahr, WSCJTC staff, and TAC officers who participated in the study and made this research possible.

No comments here
Why not start the discussion?