Law Enforcement: Do It J-U-S-T-I-C-E
By G.B. Jones, M.A.P.A., M.A.
Congratulations, graduates, and thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. Thank you, family, friends, instructors, and law enforcement colleagues, for your presence here today. Your support helped get these graduates through their training, and your support will keep them grounded as they face the challenges of policing our neighborhoods and communities. What a great honor and opportunity to address you on this, the kickoff night of your new careers. Thank you, WCTC Fall Class of 2011, for your commitment to the cause of justice.
President Calvin Coolidge once said, “No one is compelled to choose the profession of a police officer, but having chosen it, everyone is obliged to live up to the standard of its requirements.”1 A commitment to the vocation of law enforcement is a commitment to justice. I’m talking about justice: J-U-S-T-I-C-E. Not all people are cut out for police work, and not all people read those letters the same way. But, to those of us who have answered the call to become police professionals, those letters represent a commitment that is central to who we are, how we act, and what we represent.
Justice is an essential component of the democratic rule of law, and it is a fundamental responsibility of government. In fact, our system of laws, law enforcement, and courts is called the justice system.
- I work for and represent today the FBI—a component of the U.S. Department of Justice.
- Not surprisingly, The Pledge of Allegiance ends with “and justice for all.”
- Finally, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aqua Man, and all the other Superfriends were headquartered at the Hall of Justice. Coincidence? I think not.
Those of you in this class have chosen to pursue the most noble of all professions and, in so doing, have dedicated yourselves to the service of justice.
Nearly 20 years ago, I met someone who had a very strong sense of justice and dreamed of one day becoming a police officer. When we met, I was a rookie cop working the evening shift on a very cold Minnesota December night. It was so cold, the fashion police took the night off. In fact, it was so cold, I was wearing one of those furry cold weather caps made famous in the movie Fargo. You know the one—fuzzy ear flaps with a badge on the forehead. But, as I walked into the police department with my field training officer (FTO), I noticed a striking blonde police reservist talking with several other officers. I never had met her before, but I’ll never forget the first words she ever spoke to me: “Nice dork hat.” Of course, my reply to my FTO was “Who’s the loudmouth in the corner?” I didn’t yet understand that loudmouth was to be my wife. A year later, I pulled her over on a traffic stop and proposed to her. We celebrated our 18th anniversary this year. That is justice. Just seven months ago, and 20 years after she set her sights on becoming a police officer, she was sworn in as a rookie patrol officer in the Town of Beloit. Winter on the night shift is quickly approaching, and I just bought her a fuzzy hat with ear flaps. Now that truly is justice.
Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jones of the FBI's Milwaukee office delivered this speech at the fall 2011 graduation ceremony of the Waukesha County Technical College Law Enforcement Recruit Academy in Pewaukee on December 8, 2011.
Graduates, as you start your law enforcement careers, I ask that you keep justice at the forefront of your mind: J-U-S-T-I-C-E.
- J: Be just. Be fair and open-minded. Be evenhanded and professional in your dealings with everyone. Honor your family, your partners, your bosses, and your public. Respect the Constitution, and protect civil rights. Demonstrate your commitment to others by treating them fairly, without bowing to pressure, bias, or prejudice. Being just means not being judgmental. Your job is to introduce others to the justice system. It is not to judge them or convict them. Be just.
- U: Be understanding. People do stupid things. You will do stupid things. Stupid things will happen. Look for the motives and the motivations. Work to understand them. Be even tempered. Give the benefit of the doubt when it is warranted. Be empathetic. If you can’t walk a mile, take at least a few steps in someone else’s shoes. It is not us versus them. We are them. Be understanding.
- S: Be service-minded. You have committed yourself to a calling that is greater than yourself. Don’t forget that. You understand now that this is a service business. But, with the long hours, late shifts, missed holidays, poor diets, and stress, you may be tempted to forget that. Your jobs exist because there are people who need your service. Not all of them will thank you for it. In fact, most will not. But, many will, and the silent majority is behind you and will remain so if you work to keep them there. Be service-minded.
- T: Be trustworthy. Your word is your honor. Your actions are your currency. It has taken you a lifetime to build your character. It will take you a minute to destroy it. Be trustworthy, and people will trust you. Work to earn and maintain that trust. Respect your ethical compass. You know the difference between right and wrong. Trust your instincts, and do the right thing. Be trustworthy in all you do—your family, your partners, and your public expect it. Your leaders, lawmakers, and the courts demand it. Set the example; don’t become the example. Be trustworthy.
- I: Be intelligent. That means more than just being smart and being willing to learn. It means identifying and using intelligence to inform your decision-making and your policing strategies. You are entering law enforcement in the post-9/11 world, and intelligence is a part of that culture. What you see and what you learn on the street can inform and impact you and your department, but it also can impact our national security. You have access to more information and intelligence networks than ever before. Use that access. Talk to people, not at people, and you will develop a human intelligence network. Leverage that network. Share that human intelligence. Use it to contribute to the homeland security intelligence apparatus. The security of our families, our communities, and our nation demands it. Be intelligent.
- C: Be collaborative. There was a time when law enforcement was not considered a team sport. One riot, one ranger. You and your squad car, alone against the world. Sure, you had partners out there, but they were to meet for coffee, not to drag around with you to your good calls. Firefighting, by contrast, always has been a team sport. Four firefighters respond to a fire in one truck. They work together to put the wet stuff on the red stuff, then they go back to the station and polish the truck. In the post-9/11 world, police officers have to be collaborative. You have to be a team player. Police officers today are asked to be part doctor, part lawyer, part psychiatrist, part teacher, part garbage collector, and at least part law enforcer. You’ve met some great friends and had some great instructors during the last 13 weeks. Build and maintain those networks. But, expand your networks through collaboration. Meet firefighters, teachers, emergency professionals, public health officials, military and National Guard members, and, yes, even federal agents. Work to understand who they are and what they do. Look for the gaps and the seams in our nation’s security and work together to close them. Be collaborative.
- E: Be enthusiastic. You’ve been given the opportunity to do the greatest job in the world. Appreciate it. Work hard in whatever you do, and have fun while you are doing it. As a police officer, you are a role model. Be a positive one. Be busy—stop lots of cars and make lots of contacts. But, make them positive contacts. That traffic stop may be 1 of 10 or 12 for you that day. But, the person you encounter will remember that one stop forever. Be respectful with your enthusiasm. Never, ever forget that nearly every crime has a victim. Protect the weak, but don’t be afraid to challenge those who are strong when they are wrong. With the great days, you’re going to have some bad days. You’ll have some trying days and some scary days. But, as a professional, you can control what that looks like on the outside. Be enthusiastic.
Congratulations on your graduation, and good luck as you move forward with your careers. Be just, understanding, service-minded, trustworthy, intelligent, collaborative, and enthusiastic. That is the practice of justice. Use what you’ve learned, and keep on learning. Practice your skills. Be safe. Law enforcement is not a job. It is a calling. You’ve committed yourself to that responsibility. Now, go do it justice!