Speaking to the graduating class

Author: Marty Katz

Recently I wrote a commencement speech for the graduating class for a local police academy. Here, I would like to share excerpts of that speech. Just before I spoke to the class I turned to the audience and advised them that I would be talking directly to the class, a private conversation, but if they wanted to they could listen in. This piqued their interest.

Congratulations, you have completed the transformation from citizen to law enforcement officer. You have passed all the hiring segments, survived the physical and mental training of academy life, sacrificed a lot over the last 20 plus weeks and successfully arrived at this moment in your life. You have worked hard, through personal and family hardships and now the launching of a new career. Don’t throw it all away by forgetting the rules and your sworn oath. From this point forward, until the day you retire, you will be in the public eye, subject to constant Monday morning quarterbacking; every action you take or don’t take, will be subject to intense scrutiny. It is just a fact of life from now on.

Remember this is a service profession. It is your responsibility to protect and serve. Never take action based on emotion. What you do will have lifelong consequences to the citizens you deal with. Never allow a victim to be victimized a second time due to poor police practices.

Do not get complacent. I have seen officers that had one year experience 20 times over. This is an exciting career with many pitfalls and stumbling blocks: learn what to avoid. Seek out motivated co-workers as mentors and remember this, even teachers have teachers. Law enforcement is a perishable skill that must be cultivated frequently. Stay sharp by doing crisis rehearsal in your down time, and on your own time.

You are the next generation of urban warriors. I have retired and the torch as been passed to you. I, like all retired officers, must now depend on you to respond properly when we call. Please don’t let us down.

You must always be inquisitive, suspicious and thorough, if not, you are unfit for duty. The first line of defense for your community lies with you. It is a fine line you walk. It is not us against them. While the public might take it personal, we should not. Police officers follow the path of truth. We investigate and follow the trail of evidence to the truth. It is about helping those that need help and arresting those who prey on society. And always, always remember this, right is right, even if no one else is doing it. Wrong is wrong, even if everyone else is doing it.

Paul Whitesel, a leading authority in officer survival, often asks this question of new officers. Have you ever been to a circus? Why you might ask? At a circus, the lion tamer is in the ring before the lions enter. The reason is to establish dominance, if not; you would be seeing a different show. As law enforcement officers, we must enter the home, the safe haven of others. We are the only animal that must do that. Because of this, we must hone our survival skills and always be aware or as we call it situation awareness. From the moment you leave the safety of your homes until you arrive back after your shift, you are in uniform, you are on the streets, you must never let your guard down and you must forever be totally focused.

Take time to remember your family. They were here before you attended the academy, they were by your side as you trained here and they will be with you long after you hang up your guns. This is an awesome and great profession, but remember, while you are out there on the streets, your family is home worrying and concerned about you. Relax their worries and assure them of your professionalism by your proper actions. To do this never let the job consume you and find time for them.

Also, leave your family concerns at home and for another time. A distracted officer is one that is needlessly put in harm’s way and as a result, places others in harm’s way.

Every shift is new. Prepare for each shift by making sure all your equipment is working properly and you are thinking properly. Go home safe after each shift. That is rule number one.

I could talk about officer survival for a number of hours — and from this day forward, you will be hearing about this subject daily — but for now, congratulations of an outstanding performance. Welcome to the greatest profession in the world. You have a unique opportunity because you can dramatically change someone’s life for the better by taking the time to care and to truly protect and service. Welcome to the family of law enforcement. Stay safe. Now if you don’t mind, I would like to address the audience that has patiently waited for me to get back to them.

At this point, I turned and readdressed the audience.

I saw out of the corner of my eye that most of you were actively listening. I hope you bring some of my advice back to your individual departments. Law enforcement must return to the basics; ownership of one’s patrol area, partnerships with the citizen and business communities, equality for all under the law and taking responsibility for one’s actions. Times have changed and continue to change. What has not changed is our role in society. Protect and serve. We are the 24/7 help line and defense for our streets and neighborhoods.

With that in mind, let’s welcome our new officers to our family, congratulate them on a job well done and assist them into becoming officers we would want as our backups and future leaders.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak here tonight and let’s be careful out there.

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