Are police officers enforcers or peacemakers, warriors or guardians? Mark I. Singer, PhD, Leonard W. Mayo Professor in Family and Child Welfare at the Mandel School and Deputy Director of the Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research & Education, and his co-author, former Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority Police Chief Bernard Buckner, urge us to go back to the future with community policing in this timely and important op-ed in Sunday’s Plain Dealer.
Dr. Singer and his co-author Bernard Buckner believe that the police are the community and the community’s citizens are the police. This belief mirrors the roots of modern policing, which began in 1829 in London, England, with Sir Robert Peel, who established the first professional police force there.
Over the years, law enforcement in the United States increasingly saw a shift towards police officers serving as warriors and enforcers resulting in equipping officers with significant military armament and establishing highly aggressive specialized units. The op-ed also points out the new awareness of the mental health issues facing society; often officers take on the role of first social-responders. While we tend to focus on “the Police,” it is society that must come to terms with its expectations of the differing functions of warrior versus guardian, which exposes our protectors to unmanageable situations due to this role confusion.
Due to current focus on police actions, Singer and Buckner claim that we are now seeing the beginnings of a shift and an opportunity to revisit the roots of modern policing. With continued public and media attention, the possibility of change grows with each new event. Singer and Buckner also state the importance of wanting our officers safe, and wanting them to be part of the community and not seen as an occupying force.