Words Have Meaning – So Do Definitions: Discussion




I’d love to hear from folks, whether sworn officers or not, to provide explanations and definitions why our police organizations refer to the citizenry as ‘civilians’ and why they don’t believe they themselves are ‘civilians.’  As a retired military Senior NCO, still subject to recall as part of the ‘total military force,’  as are all retired military members receiving their retainer (aka, ‘pension’), I can decidedly say, with confidence, that I’m not a ‘civilian’; rather, I’m a military member separated from active service…..for now.

I know police officers (and most other civil servants) take an Oath, but I am not sure if it equals the requirements of the Oaths taken by both enlisted and commissioned members of the US military.  I am also unsure if the civil servants’ Oath has an expiration date on it; the military Oath removing us from ‘civilian status’ does not, even after discharge (if one is enlisted).

So…in the quest for knowledge, are our police organizations part of the US Military Total Force Concept which would separate them from ‘civilian’ status, or are they  ‘civil servants’ with powers of arrest to keep the peace and apprehend criminals?   HUGE difference in classification, so I really would like to know.

The questions stem from the more and more common labels our police and citizens place on them as ‘operators’ and ‘para-military.’

Another question on definitions comes from the terms, “Law Enforcement” versus, “Police Officer.”  I’ve actually heard “Law Enforcement” officers refer to themselves as, “Operators,” a decidedly military, Special Operations Forces term.  Even SWAT members, no matter how well trained by US military organizations, unless something goes on in SWAT training that changes them from civil servants to military members, are still police officers sworn to protect those they serve.  Right?

Asking because, simply put, military ‘operators’ are trained to bring death and fear to the enemy during a war, or clandestine operation supporting a war, or lead up to a war (they are usually special forces or special operations forces, hence the colloquial, “Operator” handle).  Hopefully, declared so by Congress, as per the Constitution.  “Police Officers” are the guardians of our communities, who cannot function or survive without the support of those they protect (and serve, if they’re doing it right.)  Police officers are integral to thousands of communities, they know their citizens as best as they can, and rely on them for support and back up in emergencies.  A great example of this is the Texas Bell Tower incident in 1966 where Charles Whitman killed 14 and wounded 31.  Until he was killed, every day citizens brought their hunting rifles to help put the bad guy down.  Here’s a couple quotes from an article describing the incident.

Allen Crum, a 40-year-old retired Air Force tail gunner,[27] was a manager at the University Book Store Co-Op. Across the street he saw a 17-year-old newspaper boy being dragged and went to break up what he thought was a fight. Learning the boy had been shot, and hearing more shots, Crum rerouted street traffic out of harm’s way.[27] Unable to make his way back to the store safely, he then made his way to the tower, where he offered to help the police. Inside the tower, he accompanied Department of Public Safety Agent Dub Cowan and Austin Police Officer Jerry Day up the elevator; Cowan provided Crum with a rifle.”

“Officers and several civilians [meaning not active military and non-police actors] provided suppressive fire from the ground with small weapons and hunting rifles, forcing Whitman to stay low and fire through storm drains at the foot of the observation deck’s wall.”


Emphasis and clarification added.  There are more examples, but this short one makes the point.

The overarching point is that words form mindset, and mindset helps to channel actions and interactions.

So, let’s define the terms.  Words have meaning, and from meaning comes action, and from action, comes results, good or bad.

What are your thoughts?

3 thoughts on “Words Have Meaning – So Do Definitions: Discussion

  1. Notwende

    To me the use of the term „civilian“ by LEO‘s is a clear sign for the ongoing militarization of Police forces.

  2. Jon

    Interesting question.

    civilians don’t benefit from qualified immunity or sovereign immunity in use of force cases, nor do they have an obligation to the law beyond submission to it. LEOs and Military have both the former within their own realms of authority.

    As to the distinction between LEO, Policing, and Peace Officer. That’s largely within the policy of the agency and the culture of the officers immediate command.

    Operators operate equipment. Earthmovers, telephones, computers, crew served and individual weapons. I always expected my soldiers to be more than equipment operators. They were expected to think and apply appropriate tactical solutions. I expect much more from our local peace officers.

    I no longer know anyone in active SFOD service. I doubt they refer to one another as operators unless the culture has change dramatically since I retired.

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