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Warriors to Guardians

March 12, 2015

The state police academy is teaching a unique philosophy to new recruits. It’s the guardian philosophy, the idea that police officers embrace a community rather than conquer it. Executive Director Sue Rahr ordered the philosophy change when she came to the academy two years ago.

Instead of a warrior mentality, recruits are taught that a guardian can help diffuse escalating conflicts with words instead of weapons. Rahr stresses that cops are still taught warriors skills, but by dropping the warrior mindset, it might help law enforcement better protect the community and themselves.

Sabrina Registar: Last fall all eyes were on Ferguson, Missouri, after the controversial police shooting death of Michael Brown led to protests that erupted into riots.

Donnell Tanksley, Assistant Chief, Western Washington University: Certainly there is a distrust in the community for law enforcement in general.

Registar: Western Washington University Assistant Police Chief Donnell Tanksley knows that well. When the Ferguson protests broke out, he was working as a police commander in St.Louis.

Tanksley: I believe that distrust was started many many years ago.

The riots in Ferguson played out on-air and online throughout the U-S. Executive Directive Sue Rahr at the police academy believes relations between law enforcement and the Ferguson community were strained long before the verdict was issued in the Michael Brown shooting.

Registar: Ferguson played out as new recruit Molly McCormack entered the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission in Burien, the State’s Police Academy.

Molly McCormack, Police Recruit: Now were getting into a field where it’s very possible, well, not very possible, we are targeted, we are a targeted community and that gets your blood boiling because out of fear.

Registar: Learning how to handle that fear is part of the five months of intensive training at the academy.

Much of the instruction is traditional, such as this simulated high risk vehicle stop that focuses on how to handle a potentially dangerous situation. And defensive tactics training, standard instruction in police academies across the country. But along with the physical…

High-risk vehicle stops at the academy teach new recruits warrior skills. After 5 months at the academy, recruits undergo additional field training at their new police departments.

Sue Rahr, Executive Director, Wa. State Criminal Justice Training Commission: The community wants to be protected by us. They don’t want to be conquered by us

Registar: There is a new way of thinking here. It started two years ago when Sue Rahr became the academy’s executive director.

Rahr: How many of you have heard about this new Guardian philosophy at the Academy before coming here?

Executive Director Sue Rahr teaches a guardian philosophy to recruits. She says it strikes the right balance with teaching warrior skills that an officer needs to master in order to protect the community and themselves.

Registar: The guardian philosophy is part of a police training course called Blue Courage that focuses on respect, trust and professional conduct in the community.

Rahr: When I first came to the academy, I would describe the model as military boot camp model. Recruits were treated like soldiers coming into boot camp, there was a lot of screaming and yelling and humiliating on the first day. Coming from 33 years in the field, I just found that odd, not a helpful training methodology because they don’t do that out on the street with the community

Registar: So Rahr changed the approach, blending the old warrior mentality with the new guardian philosophy.

Rahr: The problem that many officers have had in the past is that they bring the warrior mindset along with the warrior skills and a conflict that may not otherwise have gotten physical will escalate.

Defensive tactics training is an important part of basic training at the police academy. New recruits may be coming straight from high school, the military, or another career.

Registar: Not all of the rank and file officers welcomed the guardian philosophy. It is, after all, change. But policing is becoming more complex and acceptance is growing among veterans, like Myron Travis of the Detroit Police Department.

Myron Travis, 29-year veteran of Detroit Police Dept.: You have options. You don’t always have to assert that authority 13:43 sometimes to listen and talk and when you’re dealing with people with emotions and problems and sort through that and have a compassionate element to how you resolve issues

Registar: The warrior mentality is still part of the training.

McCormack: We’re going to get the whole story and then go from there, ok?

Registar: But now, new recruits like Molly McCormack, as well as veteran officers who have come from outside Washington State, are required to take the Blue Courage course before they can work in Washington here.

McCormack: I couldn’t have come in at a better time. The Guardian aspect really speaks to me because that’s what law enforcement is, that’s what a police officer truly is, is a guardian in our community.


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Sabrina Register

Sabrina Register is an award-winning journalist who has been covering stories that are relevant and matter to the people of the Northwest for close to 20 years. A graduate of Vanderbilt University with a concentration in political science, Sabrina began her television career in Mississippi. After spending two years reporting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Sabrina moved to Seattle in the mid-1990’s to cover news of the Northwest. Sabrina’s awards include top recognition from the Associated Press and the prestigious Edward R. Murrow award for investigating reporting.

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