Be a Lion
By Steven R. Casstevens
Over 34 years ago, I made a critical choice in my life. I chose a profession in law enforcement. It is a choice that I did not take lightly. It also is a choice that I have not regretted one single day of my career. I have been lucky enough to rise through the ranks and have been honored to work for and with extraordinary groups of people. I have been blessed with many years of satisfaction in a lifelong commitment to public service. I would like to share some tidbits of advice for you that I have learned over these years of service.
Throughout these years, I have seen great joy, deep sorrow, and every imaginable emotion in between. I have saved the lives of gunshot victims and people crushed in vehicle crashes. I have had the satisfaction of arresting many people who were just plain evil.
However, these encounters have been offset by the many more wonderful members of our society whom I have met. I have had to deliver the difficult message to family members that a loved one was killed. I also have delivered the message of life. I have searched for hours for a lost child and have searched for years for the answer as to why bad things happen to good people. I have done my best to be the best, and, hopefully, along the way, I have made a difference in this world.
While I always have taken this job seriously, I have been smart enough to not take myself too seriously. Laughter is extremely important in life. Enjoy it. Do not let frustrations of the job come home with you.
You will meet many people in your career. While safety always should be priority one, not everyone is out to hurt you. There are many people who like and respect the police. Remember to treat people as you would want your wife, mother, son, or daughter treated by the police. It is easy to become frustrated when people do not treat you with respect and, instead, ask you the age-old question, Don’t you have anything better to do? Do not fall into that trap—there are a lot of good people out there.
Chief Casstevens of the Cary, Illinois, Police Department delivered this keynote speech to the graduating recruit officer class at the Suburban Law Enforcement Academy, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, Illinois, on September 23, 2011.
A colleague of mine once shared with me, “We don’t believe in the old adage that the customer is always right. We believe that sometimes the customer is wrong. However, we believe they are allowed to be wrong with dignity.” Motorists you stop might be wrong, but they should be allowed to be wrong with dignity.
Take the time to smile and enjoy the job. Remember that time is like a fine wine—enjoy every drop because it is finite and, once consumed, never can be returned to the bottle. Always be prepared for your job. Every day.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “If you give me six hours to chop down a tree, I will spend the first four sharpening my axe.” Never stop learning; law enforcement and court decisions affecting the way we do business change almost daily. Learn from the mistakes of others. You cannot live long enough to make them all yourself. Continue to train and add “tools” to your law enforcement “toolbox” because if the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail. Learn from your training officer and your supervisors. They have learned a great deal that cannot be found in a book or training manual from their years of experience.
They also will tell you to be careful, not only in dangerous situations but in the everyday decisions that you make. If you think that something you are about to do might get you into trouble, it probably will. Remember that if there is any doubt, then there is no doubt.
You are now entering a turning point in your lives. You have an opportunity to make a difference in this world. You are going forward to carry the torch for what I believe to be the most noble profession on earth. You have just opened a large door to a long-lasting career as one of America’s finest. There are many hallways to enter that will lead you in many directions as you walk through that door. Choose your hallway carefully. Look to the future—not just a year from now, but 5, 10, 20 years ahead. Contemplate wisely where you wish to be when you are considered a veteran.
Remember that you will wear numerous hats in your career, not always those of a police officer, detective, or undercover officer but those of a problem solver, preacher, negotiator, teacher, parent, medic, mediator, and marriage counselor. You will be expected to solve everyone’s problems within an 8-hour shift while oftentimes barely having enough time to deal with your own.
Be safe in your daily charge. Protect those whom you are sworn to protect. Remember that crime does not recognize jurisdictional boundaries, political pressures, or departmental policies. Always remember the Law Enforcement Oath of Honor, which says:
On my honor, I will never betray my badge, my integrity, my character, or the public trust. I will always have the courage to hold myself and others accountable for our actions. I will always uphold the Constitution, my community, and the agency I serve.
So, be fair and impartial, but, above all, remember to be human.
Wear your uniform proudly, and do not dishonor it for there are over 19,000 names of men and women who gave their lives for it etched in granite on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial (NLEOM) wall in Washington, D.C. Remember always to wear your seat belt! More police officers are killed every year in traffic crashes than by any other means.
Be a professional. Remember that character, integrity, and respect are not your right to possess—they must be earned. Remember that character often is revealed in the little things, like who you are and how you conduct yourself when no one is watching. In describing officers in the preface to her book Brave Hearts, author Cynthia Brown said:
They share a passion for their work and a conviction that they are doing something important with their lives. Despite the constant exposure to America’s dark side, they all view their work as a privilege and a job they are lucky to have.1
Do not be swayed by the cynicism of others in your mission. While we cannot change the direction of the wind, we can adjust our sails. Do not become pessimistic. Walk proudly and with dignity, for pessimism is for the faint of heart, and dignity is not negotiable.
By your presence here you have joined hands with the largest brother- and sisterhood on earth, with a bond that cannot be broken. You most likely are familiar with the Thin Blue Line, a symbol for law enforcement everywhere. The blue represents officers and the courage we find when faced with insurmountable odds.
The black represents a constant reminder of our fallen brother and sister officers. And, The Line is what law enforcement protects—the barrier between order and chaos, between decency and lawlessness. This symbol represents the camaraderie that law enforcement officers all share, a brotherhood like no other.
As stated in the Bible in Proverbs 28:1 and also on the wall at the NLEOM: “The wicked flee, when no man pursueth, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” So, I challenge you to be a lion. Go forward from here and become proud new members of the Thin Blue Line. Thank you.
1 Cynthia Brown, Brave Hearts: Extraordinary Stories of Pride, Pain, and Courage (Bloomington, IN: Xlibris, 2010).