The Champion—A Positive Force Within the Community
By Jeffrey S. Miller
“We can do better, and when the community we serve sees that we sincerely want to, then the walls will begin to fall.”1
Law enforcement professionals strive for better relationships with their communities. Some find themselves wavering between the two historical ideologies that have helped personnel establish their mindset and perhaps even their professional self-identity—the “warrior” and the “guardian.”2
The hypervigilant warrior, poised for battle and aggressively pursuing the adversary, commonly is viewed as overly hostile and threatening. Likewise, the ever-watchful guardian, dutifully protecting the community while maintaining operational distance, receives criticism for functioning more like a guard.
Researchers and professionals debate which ideology better serves the safety and emotional wellness of law enforcement and the community. Both are needed, but the heart and soul of selfless service must accompany the ideology that drives our performance. Even if the assertiveness and vigilance of the warrior or the stoic resolve of the guardian is required, there must exist another factor, a stronger guiding philosophy that hones the purpose of these two ideologies.
Lieutenant Miller serves with the Gresham, Oregon, Police Department and is a graduate of FBI National Academy Session 279.
This new ideology is just as duty ready and mentally prepares officers to protect the safety of self, others, and the community. It moves beyond short-term solutions, seeking to improve and sustain quality of life while striving to serve with dignity and respect. After restoring calm, it will humbly return to the community for respite and care, shedding light on past and future trials and tribulations. From this belief in more humanistic policing and with a goal of weaving together community and law enforcement until little distinction remains between the two, the “champion” ideology emerges.
A champion can be defined as “a person who enthusiastically supports, defends, or fights for a person, belief, right, or principle.”3 This definition alone lends itself to a more engaging and humanizing mindset for the men and women of law enforcement. To embrace the ideology of a champion, officers should sincerely navigate themselves to opportunities where they can serve others. Instead of only addressing calls, our professionals should aspire to use the totality of community and government resources in their arsenal to tackle quality-of-life challenges impacting those they serve.
This work already has begun around the nation. Police agencies have paired efforts such as behavioral and mental health units, neighborhood response teams, and youth outreach programs with licensed clinicians, social workers, and nonprofit organizations to provide a higher level of service and accomplish long-term solutions. The wrap-around service includes networking and collaborating with caseworkers, service providers, educators, parents and guardians, business owners, or other relevant individuals with whom law enforcement officers historically have struggled to find time to engage in problem-solving efforts.
If agencies build from these foundational programs, use their well-established relationships to declare their intentions, and further uphold the community, more successful outcomes can arise. Fractured deployments of small teams or individuals likely will yield diminished results or, worse, create an air of mistrust because marginalized communities may perceive these details as half-hearted efforts.
Instead, a comprehensive, top-down commitment to a champion culture should begin. This is not merely “checking a box” or resolving something after a training cycle. It involves a complete dedication to what can be referred to as servant policing in a community.
Those transitioning into the champion mindset may have the most difficulty grasping not what they are doing, but why. What our law enforcement professionals do will be innovatively different and organically change over time. What should not vary is the dedication of champions to enhance the quality of life for their people, going beyond arrest totals and citation counts. They need to seek thoughtful discussions when the community is experiencing peace, raising concerns, or facing peril. Champions strive to not only preserve the identity of a community but enhance it, draw attention to its accomplishments, and defend it from those who seek to destroy it.
As champions, officers should seek a more approachable, open, and engaging self. Because the warrior remains within, ready if called into action, officer safety remains intact. A friendly demeanor and professional conduct likely will build better trust than judgmental tones and accusatory behavior. Champions easily can explain and justify the bladed stances, distrustful reactions, or pat-down searches done for safety if they take the time to do so without a sharp rebuke. Rarely will law enforcement professionals find themselves unable to verbally convey their actions to people they encounter. Even if after the fact, a thoughtful explanation of intent and actions frequently meets the amount of decency most hope for.
Champions seek deep involvement in the community. They strive to go beyond familiarity with crime patterns and statistical trends and seek early on to know specific “fixtures” in the area. These may be religious leaders, directors of nonprofit organizations, popular business owners, well-respected neighborhood residents, school officials, or other individuals.
“To embrace the ideology of a champion, officers should sincerely navigate themselves to opportunities where they can serve others.”
As the champion becomes familiar with the community and establishes honest and transparent dialogue, the increased trust should lead to more sincere and meaningful conversations. Red dots and jagged lines on spreadsheets further can be enhanced by the cultural experiences of community leaders, business owners, and residents who dwell in areas focused on by data predictions.
Agencies embracing the champion ideology should strive to keep patrol districts or zones reasonably sized and appropriately staffed to allow personnel to interact proactively with their communities. Crime reports and statistical data should be given to personnel within their respective districts or areas of focus.
Champions should interact directly with their community members regarding case status and quality of service. To be clear, the champion should not necessarily inherit a case and the remaining workload but offer to aid community members as they progress through the criminal justice system. With thoughtfulness and empathy, champions can become the voice of the victimized, placing inquiries with investigators, caseworkers, or prosecutors on behalf of community members overwhelmed by a complicated judicial system or struggling with communication barriers.
The champion ideology could move the pendulum of emotional wellness and satisfaction for both law enforcement personnel and the community. Likely to have a more sustained and personal relationship with the people they serve, champions hopefully attain the balance our professionals seek.
A parallel goal would be that more of the community understands the law enforcement perspective. Professional, fair, and honest champions could display a more significant amount of discretionary power because they likely will possess a heightened connection and relation with their people. They probably will know who has fallen on hard times and who needs to be held accountable, making decisions levied with dignity and proper empathy.
Champions seek every opportunity to serve their community, even at times of failure or crisis. They want to be the first name uttered when their people struggle with an event or are burdened by a critical incident. Such officers are eager to serve their community, attain the best outcome they can, and improve the quality of life for the families they protect. This work is done through the steadfast honesty of word and action. Law enforcement professionals who humbly honor these virtues will proudly be on the path of the champion.
“As the champion becomes familiar with the community and establishes honest and transparent dialogue, the increased trust should lead to more sincere and meaningful conversations.”
Lieutenant Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 Spoken by Chief Mark Dunbar of the Millington, Tennessee, Police Department on February 3, 2020, during FBI National Academy Session 279.
2 John Harrelson, “Neither Warrior nor Guardian: Why We Need a Hybrid Officer,” Police1, August 31, 2020, accessed September 9, 2020, https://www.police1.com/police-training/articles/neither-warrior-nor-guardian-why-we-need-a-hybrid-officer-Oon3Fbk4uwYdfDQV/.
3 Cambridge Dictionary, s.v. “champion,” accessed August 14, 2020, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/champion.