Professor’s New Research Shines Empirical Light on Warrior/Guardian Policing

January 23, 2019

Filed Under: Faculty, News, Research

Assistant Professor, Dr. Kyle McLean’s research addressing the validity of the debate over Warrior and Guardian mentalities in policing was recently published in Justice Quarterly.

The debate over Warrior or Guardian mindsets among police officers has been a topic of considerable interest to policing experts following the final report from The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The report, released in May 2015, encouraged a shift in officer mentalities away from that of a warrior (an officer who sees oneself as a fighter battling evil) to that of a guardian (an officer who protects citizens through partnerships with the community).

The Task Force suggested that officers who shift to a guardian mindset are more likely to partner with the community, emphasize communication rather than physical control during officer-citizen encounters, and view their authority as based on the consent of the public. All of these are key components to the ultimate goal of community-oriented and procedurally just policing.

Though the Task Force report and recommendations are valuable to improving police-community relations, all discussions related to the Warrior/Guardian framework up to this point have been philosophical in nature and based only on anecdotal evidence.

Recognizing that there was no empirical research on this topic, Dr. McLean, along with his colleagues, examined survey data to determine whether warrior and guardian orientations can be measured and if they are distinct or overlapping concepts. Additionally, they considered whether officers oriented toward being a warrior or guardian held different attitudes or engaged in different behaviors than their counterparts.

Dr. McLean and his colleagues ultimately determined that the warrior and guardian mindsets exist, but it is possible for an officer to hold both. They further found that while some officers in the sample could hold both warrior and guardian orientations towards policing, those with a more guardian orientation tended to have attitudes conducive to producing favorable behaviors and generating positive citizen encounters.

Dr. McLean and his colleagues seek to use this empirical evidence to aid with effective police training, reform and community relations.

“My hope is that this research will inform the debate and shift the focus to how the system can be changed,” said Dr. McLean. “As we come to understand these officer mentalities, we can better improve officer training and police-citizen encounters in the field, which ultimately provides better police-community relations.”

Dr. McLean received his Ph.D. in Criminology and Criminal Justice from the University of South Carolina. His research interests include policing, criminological theory, and social psychology. In addition to Justice Quarterly, Dr. McLean’s research has appeared in the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, Criminal Justice and BehaviorThe British Journal of Criminology, and Crime & Delinquency.