Lessons from Yesterday’s Warriors

By Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D

In a day of unprecedented ignorance and rewriting of American history we can look to the War of Independence for lessons on the importance of morale on those who serve. Despite our mythological view of a unified citizenry and stoic minutemen, there were perilous and fragile episodes in the seven-year Revolutionary War. The circumstances that put our first freedom at risk are similar to those putting our peace and safety at risk today.

Aside from the political debates over funding, raising, and sustaining an army, the state of the military fluctuated from the early enthusiasm of the citizen soldier to discouragement and exhaustion. While none of the travails overshadows the courage and tenacity of the soldiers who won our independence, their trials serve as reminders of the human needs that must be addressed in a military effort and in today’s armed government servants – our police officers

Inconsistent leadership from turnover of commanders created confusion and uncertainty among the troops until General George Washington established some stability. Today’s high turnover of police executives, especially in major urban areas plagued by rising violent crime, is stalling the effectiveness of both conventional policing and those agencies working hard on reasonable reform measures.

Lack of success was terribly demoralizing to the troops after the initial successes of early skirmishes. Sustaining proper equipment and training was another set of severe setbacks, notably recorded in the accounts of the Valley Forge winter. The troops began to believe that the citizens lacked commitment to the war effort and had little concern for the soldiers’ welfare. Our modern police are seeing dramatic increases not only in violent crime in many areas, but an appalling lack of respect and compliance even on the most routine contacts. With increasing criticism, restraints, and liabilities our police officers are facing similar doubts and trials. Only General Washington’s influence and pleadings wrung resources from the Continental Congress that restored hope and capacity to the Revolution. We need that kind of voice today for the police.

The kind of resolve that Washington showed in making his case to the political leaders of the day seems to be lacking in response to the current anti-police campaigns. The critical shortages in recruiting and retaining police officers has created an economic and political uncertainty among those would enter or remain in law enforcement. The career, already demanding and exacting a toll on its servants, is at risk of being wholly unattractive to the persons of quality and dedication necessary to keep our citizenry safe. Many who are leaving the profession do so with great regret, but the calculation of risk versus reward is increasingly landing in the negative reward column.

Today’s uncertainty about the future of the existence of the policing mirrors a concern about the existence of a standing army in the colonies. The British had established a constant presence with troops and Navy patrols which were sometimes an annoyance to the colonists. In addition, the colonists were taxed by Parliament to pay for the troops, giving rise to the cry of taxation without representation. Since the cost of police budgets has been a major point of contention for the police abolitionists, the echo of history remains. The notion that law enforcement is an unnecessary and expensive presence must be examined in the light of reality.

Even after the raising of the Continental Army there was no assurance that a fully staffed army would remain after the war. It eventually became clear that reliance on citizen-soldiers was not a reliable way to guard the new nation. Today’s American military, serving under civilian leadership, has been critical to our continued freedom and independence. Our modern American policing, under civilian leadership and comprised of local agencies, has served well. Reverting to reliance on some other, yet unknown system of law and order, remains the goal of anti-police influences. The political strength of these influences continues to create career uncertainty within the law enforcement profession. America must regain its resolve to ensure quality law enforcement.

When our forefathers in leadership, both military and civilian, realized that those who serve must be respected, enabled, and cared for our victory in the War of Independence was assured. Restoration of hope is once again a necessary ingredient for the American way of life. In our modern America, our resolve to sustain quality law enforcement must be restored and not allowed to founder under the weight of rancor and debate. `

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