Tonight we will send eighteen men and women into the streets of St. Louis as newly appointed police officers.
These men and women who woke up civilian recruits in training this morning, will go to sleep commissioned police officers tonight.
They will wake up tomorrow with the power to arrest law breakers.
At least as important, if not more so, they will wake up tomorrow with the power to not arrest law breakers too. They will have discretion, and learning to use it wisely will make them better officers.
They will wake up tomorrow as people who others depend on for answers and solutions, when those people can’t fix problems themselves.
Will these new officers have the answers those people need?
No, not all of them. Not right away. They won’t remember everything they learned in the academy; it’s impossible.
That will come with time and continued training and some trial and error.
What will they remember when they wake up though?
Will they appreciate that they were given an oath and a gun and a bullet resistant vest for a reason?
Do they understand that they’ve been tasked with the unenviable job of running to people in their times of crisis and that they will be expected to make the right decisions, and quickly, when they get there?
Do they appreciate that they are allowed to take a life, when the circumstances are such that it’s necessary? Will they make sure that it’s absolutely necessary and be able to explain that?
Will they have the courage to pull the trigger to save another person’s life, if that’s what has to be done?
To save another officer’s life?
To save their own life?
I hope they never find out, but the odds are stacked against all eighteen of them going through even a short career without at least one of them having to use deadly force, or being the victim of somebody else’s use of deadly force upon them.
This is especially true in today’s climate of policing.
This class of recruits signed up for the job knowing full well of the events in Ferguson and Baltimore and all the other places we’ve seen on the news.
They know of the animosity.
They know of the anger and the hatred.
They know of the mistrust and the violence and the danger, but still…
But still, they signed up.
Maybe they signed up to make a difference, to change things.
I don’t know that. I just know they signed up.
They signed up and sat in a classroom with others who signed up as well.
This class of recruits was diverse. There were men and women. There were gays and straights and blacks and whites and several recruits born in foreign lands. Most were young, in their twenties. Others were in their thirties, and even forties. All of them ended up together and supported one another, in spite of their differences, through the arduous task of graduating from the police academy.
They did their seven months of learning and training and role-playing, and they are all excited to move on to the next stage of their lives.
They have been preached to and yelled at and scolded and encouraged and they got through a course of training that not everyone can endure, mentally or physically.
Eight of their own classmates didn’t make the cut for one reason or another.
But eighteen did.
This was my first time teaching an academy class. I taught them Constitutional and statutory law.
I’m sure they hated it.
It’s not as fun as target shooting or learning arm bar holds and all that, but it is important, and I hope they will remember some of what we talked about.
Being a new police officer is tough.
There’s so much to learn, and the people on the street, especially the life-long criminals, know when they’re dealing with a “rookie.”
They will try to push their buttons.
They will be called racists and killers and hicks and crackers and Uncle Toms by people who don’t have a clue.
I hope they’re able to ignore the hate and not let it get them down.
I hope that they will never turn down a handshake or a hug, no matter how unclean the person offering either may be.
I hope they walk with their heads high and smile at people they pass on the streets.
I hope they remember that every time they step out of their car, they are onstage.
The uniform demands attention.
I hope they wear it with pride.
I hope they dry clean or iron their shirts and make sure their shoes and brass shine.
Looking their best is the least they can do to send a message that, “Hey, I’m a person who takes pride in my work.”
I hope they do what they can to bring respect to the police department.
I hope they demand justice and truth and don’t allow anybody to be mistreated in their presence,
even especially by another police officer.
I hope when they see police officers caught on video doing something, good, bad or otherwise, that they remember it could be them next time, and learn from what they see.
Get involved in the community where you patrol.
Meet the business owners and the church pastors.
Talk to the people at the neighborhood meetings.
Talk to that guy you arrested last week, sometimes he’ll surprise you.
A man arrested on a Saturday night isn’t necessarily a bad person the next Tuesday. We all have bad days. He may thank you for arresting him. He may tell you he needed it, and that he appreciates that you treated him with kindness and respect.
People remember being treated with kindness and respect, so do that first.
If it reaches the point where you have to put your hands on a person, then do that too, but only do what needs to be done to make sure that you are safe.
Don’t kick a man in handcuffs. Don’t slap him or drag him or throw him down to the ground.
Don’t call people names.
Be the better person and set the example.
Not just tomorrow when you wake up, but every time you put that badge on your shirt to go to work.
I hope that at the end of every day, you can be proud of the person you see in the mirror before you go to bed.