Misinterpreted Motto | Spencer Coursen

Photo Spencer Coursen President Coursen Security Group


In 1963, “To Protect and to Serve” first adorned west coast patrol cars and soon became synonymous with the ethos of our nation’s police.  Fifty years later, no motto has done more to improperly frame the expectations of the American Public about the realistic role of police when it comes to our personal safety.

The primary focus of police activity is public safety, not personal safety. 

Law enforcement agencies and personnel have no duty to protect individuals from the criminal acts of others; instead their duty is to preserve the peace and arrest law breakers for the protection of the general public.”  Lynch v. N.C. Dept. of Justice, 376 S.E. 2nd 247 (N.C. App. 1989)  

In most cases, a crime is either in progress or has already been committed before the police are called. Something has already happened when they arrive on the scene.  This is the nature of their beast, and it has conditioned their outlook to one of reaction, rather than one of prevention. All too often, when writing an emergency response plan, police trained authors focus on what would make their job easier if they were a responding officer, instead of what would prevent them from being called in the first place.

For the most part, local and state police are are not security experts, they are policing experts. Aside from an aspect of deterrence, police do not prevent crime, they respond to crime.  This is one of the primary reasons for their demand of better communications equipment and tactical response gear in the wake of active shooters.  Today’s local police respond to an active shooter with better protective and tactical gear than many of our military units use in combat. Police understand the reaction approach very well; but better gear and bigger guns won’t prevent the incident from happening in the first place.  The focus of our finances and resources should be on PREVENTION.

For the hundreds of thousands of public tax dollars provided to local police departments to support their responsibility to react to these violent threats, almost NO dollars are provided to establishing effective access control and threat assessment.  Almost no training is provided to the everyday professionals in schools and other public facilities on what a pre-incident indicator looks like, much less have a known threat assessor to use as a resource.  We must understand that it is the everyday teacher, guidance counselor, human resources manager, and threat assessment professional who is the first line of defense to our personal safety – Not the police.   Pre-incident indicators must be taught, known, identified and reported for safety to be achieved.

Pre-incident indicators or “leakage” occurs when individuals intentionally or unintentionally reveals clues to feelings, thoughts, fantasies, or intentions about an impending violent act. They may even involve efforts to get friends, classmates or coworkers to help them prepare.  More often than not, these violent offenders leave hints, like puzzle pieces. They are all but begging to be stopped.  When identified, these pieces paint a picture of the emerging threat on the horizon allowing for that threat to be managed away from violent outcome.  

Safety is the bi-product of awareness and preparation.  It requires a preventative approach supported by reactive measure – not in lieu of – but working together, tomorrow’s safety can be made certain.

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Spencer Coursen of Coursen Security Group Bio Photo
Spencer Coursen


Spencer Coursen helps manage unfavorable circumstance toward favorable resolve. He is a security advisor, analyst, consultant, and strategist who is dedicated to reducing risk and preventing violence. His systems and strategies help corporations, non-profit organizations, private individuals, schools, and at-risk public figures ensure the certainty of safety for all involved.



 @SpencerCoursen / @CoursenSecurity