Duty Amid Challenges
By Irick “T.J.” Geary, M.C.J.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, ...” Many of you recognize the opening lines of the Charles Dickens classic A Tale of Two Cities.1 It would be easy to try to frame my speech in these terms, but I’d like to take a different path that recognizes the challenges of today in a realistic way but at the same time charts a path forward in optimistic terms.
Before I speak to that, please indulge me for a minute while I recognize some important people. First, I want to thank my family: my wife, my daughters, and my parents, who made the trip up for my swearing in. Also, my brothers and sisters from the University of South Carolina — my other family, who also came up. I have been blessed with both and have enjoyed a tremendous amount of support throughout my life and career. I’d like to thank and recognize my officers and our professional staff back home who could not make the trip because they are doing the truly essential work. Finally, I would like to thank all of you — the members, officers, deputies, troopers, and agents who continue to make up the thin blue line.
Now, back to these times we are in. There is no doubt that the last 18 months have strained our resources as agencies and our resilience as individuals. I admit they have been tough, but I would argue that maybe they are not actually the worst of times. The civil unrest that we saw across South Carolina in the summer of 2020 and that continues to plague other areas of the country is not the first civil unrest with which we have dealt. This is also not the first time that anti‐law enforcement sentiment has been popular opinion among a vocal minority. This is not even the first time that we have faced a pandemic or a public health crisis.
Major Geary of the University of South Carolina Division of Law Enforcement and Safety, a graduate of NA Session 251, delivered this speech in Myrtle Beach on November 20, 2021, at his induction as president of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Officers’ Association.
What is new and novel these days? Well, we have never in our history had the technology that we currently have at our disposal. We have never in our history had the base of knowledge, the level of training, and the tools and tactics currently available to us. And, as we have suffered a mass exodus from the profession, we have perhaps never had such an opportunity to build back with such a strong, committed, and tested base as our foundation.
As others have left, who remains? Us. The people who are in it for the right reasons. The people who have had the resilience to withstand all the challenges thrown our way. Those of us who bent but did not break. Those of us who are bruised but not beaten. Who will lead our profession into the future? Us. Maybe in some ways these times could be framed as some of the best. I think it all depends on your perspective. As we head into a new year, as we face new and continued challenges, we do so as those who faced the adversity of the last 18 months and remain, still standing, still ready and willing to serve.
It is a fortunate thing that we remain. Plato said, “It does not matter if the cobblers and the masons fail to do their jobs well, but if the Guardians fail, the democracy will crumble.”2 I don’t think that Plato’s words are hyperbolic. Our existence, our perseverance, our success as a profession will literally determine the future of our democracy. It is our duty. What does duty compel us to do?
First, it compels us to remember our “why.” What is our unshakable belief that keeps us grounded and focused? When we must dig deep, from where do we draw the inspiration? I look out in the crowd at my daughters and am reminded of my own why. I know that the oath that I live by today will set an example for them. I know that the Constitution that we preserve, protect, and defend today will, in turn, protect them as adults. I know that our actions today as police officers will form and determine what kind of world they live in tomorrow.
Second, our duty compels us to serve. The motto “To Protect and to Serve” was adopted by the Los Angeles Police Department in 1963 and has since become a general motto for all of law enforcement.3 Those who follow me on social media know that I like to use the hashtag #ProtectAndSERVE, where I capitalize “serve” to emphasize the importance of that fundamental duty. We are the South Carolina Law Enforcement Officers Association (SCLEOA), but we are not simply in the business of enforcement. We are in the business of policing. The complex, taxing, rewarding, and essential business of policing. We must serve in such a way as to attract new recruits, justify higher pay and better benefits, and, most important, to be deserving of the trust of our communities.
“Our existence, our perseverance, our success as a profession will literally determine the future of our democracy.”
Duty also compels us to defend and advance the profession. We get a lot of things right, and it would be easy to rest on our laurels. But, we must continue to evolve, to continue to hold and even raise standards. The best defense against both negative outside forces who seek to dismantle policing as we know it and negative internal forces who would poison us from within is to embrace accountability by policing ourselves. As we struggle with recruiting and retention, it might be tempting to lower standards or to overlook problem officers. But, it is the responsibility of every chief and sheriff, every HR manager, every patrol sergeant, and every field training officer to serve as gatekeepers. We must ensure that those who do not deserve to wear the badge aren’t able to infiltrate us and those who dishonor the badge are removed from our ranks.
We must also continue to push for higher training standards. We must address the real and present dangers to our lives. COVID-19, suicide, vehicle-related incidents, felonious assaults, and heart attacks are the big killers of law enforcement. This is a dangerous business, and some things are outside of our control, but we must embrace evidence‐based mitigation strategies and leverage every tool at our disposal to keep names off that wall in Washington, D.C.4 That means we must have the courage to confront each other when we see our brother or sister engaging in unnecessary risk. None of us would hesitate to run toward gunfire if we heard “10‐78, officer needs assistance” over the radio. We must recognize that officers are quietly and subtly calling 10‐78 for mental and emotional reasons too. We must have the same courage to watch each other’s backs in career-survival situations and embrace bystander intervention as part of our culture.
“[W]e must continue to evolve, to continue to hold and even raise standards.”
SCLEOA is committed to being the voice of South Carolina law enforcement. This year, I plan to build on the proud legacy that paved the way here. We will continue to advocate for you at the statehouse and in Washington. We will fight for much-needed changes to the retirement system. We will fight for common sense reforms to strengthen, elevate, and evolve our profession. We will fight for protections for officers who are injured — physically or mentally — in the line of duty. We will hold the line against efforts to degrade our justice system. We will continue to offer and facilitate training for officers to ensure that they are as prepared for duty as they can be. We will continue to support officers and their families in their times of need. We will work to strengthen our association regarding our roster and our financial ledgers. We will continue to nurture the much-needed sense of brotherhood and sisterhood that is so vital for our profession to thrive. We will do all this with integrity and accountability to our membership and the law.
This has been a difficult year, and soon there will be other new and difficult challenges that we encounter both individually and collectively. We will greet those challenges with courage, resilience, and honor. The challenges of today have only made us stronger to face the challenges of tomorrow. The challenges of tomorrow will only further prepare us for what comes next. Remember the words of Marcus Aurelius, the Stoic philosopher and the last of the good Roman emperors: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”5 Whatever those next challenges are, we will not face them alone. We are stronger together.
May God bless you and keep you safe.
“The challenges of today have only made us stronger to face the challenges of tomorrow.”
Major Geary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 “Charles Dickens,” Goodreads, accessed March 30, 2022, https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/341391-it-was-the-best-of-times-it-was-the-worst.
2 Quoted in Louis Forst, “Newark: In This Together,” Equal Justice USA, March 18, 2021, https://ejusa.org/newark-in-this-together/.
3 “LAPD Motto,” Los Angeles Police Foundation and the LAPD, accessed March 23, 2022, https://www.lapdonline.org/lapd-motto/.
4 National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, accessed March 23, 2022, https://nleomf.org/.
5 Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, trans. Martin Hammond (New York: Penguin Books, 2006).