Notable Speech

What Does It Take to Excel?

By Wyn Lohner

It is with great honor that I stand before you today. For 16 of the past 19 weeks, you have had the opportunity to train under some excellent instructors at this academy. What they have taught you are the mechanics of police work, the knowledge and skills you will need to function as police officers. During the next 16 weeks, most of you will add to and refine that knowledge and those skills with training officers at your agencies, and, then, you will begin serving your communities. If you carry that training forward, continue to train, work hard, and adhere to policies, you all should have successful careers and meet the standards in each of your agencies.

But, how do you exceed those standards? What does it take to be the best of the best—a “5 percenter”? To be the officer that every other officer wants as backup when things are going south? To be the officer that every citizen wants to show up at their house when they are in need?

Well, through the years, I have read many articles written by experts from around the world regarding what they believe to be the characteristics of officers and deputies who excel. I have yet to find a list that I feel is comprehensive. So, today, I would like to share with you my list, what I feel are the nine characteristics of police officers who rise above others whether they are striving for that or not.

1) Pursue Integrity

If you are not an officer who can be trusted, one that can be counted upon to get the job done, whether it’s 2:00 in the afternoon, 2:00 in the morning, or whether there is a supervisor on duty, you not only will fail to excel but you will not meet standards and most likely will have a short career. Everything in law enforcement works outward and upward from the foundation of integrity. Integrity is much more than just honesty. It is much more than just being a good person who tries to do what is right. Without integrity you never will be able to excel in an operational capacity, in a training situation, or in a service function. Essentially, integrity is crucial in all areas of police service and your life.

2) Remain Mentally Prepared

Chief Lohner of the Baker City, Oregon, Police Department delivered this commencement speech to the 322nd basic police class of the Oregon Public Safety Academy on January 28, 2011.
Chief Lohner of the Baker City, Oregon, Police Department delivered this commencement speech to the 322nd basic police class of the Oregon Public Safety Academy on January 28, 2011.

One thing that I can guarantee you is that you never will receive all the training that you desire, your agency wants you to have, or that you truly need. However, each day will present you with multiple training opportunities. Every situation you handle throughout your career can be dissected in your mind and, with other officers, provide you with an opportunity to learn and do it better next time. Every idle moment that you have can be used to mentally process any situation imaginable, from tactical to investigatory. You mentally can respond to an active shooter at the local high school, a barricaded subject in the courthouse, an assault in progress at a residence, or a silent alarm at a bank. You mentally can process your response to a driver with a gun getting out of a vehicle during a traffic stop or your safe approach to respond to a report of shots fired. Ask the tactical experts in your agencies for the best techniques in these situations and continually prepare for them.

3) Strive to Do the Most

When you arrive at a call for service, whether it is the homicide of the most important person in your community or, simply, a homeless person sleeping in the bushes, you can choose to do either what is minimally required, or you can ask yourself, “What is the most I can do?” If you choose the latter, it means you will take every step possible to resolve the situation and help those in need. Some may call this community policing, some may call this problem-oriented policing, but I just call it doing what is right—providing the service that citizens want and deserve from their police officers. This same attitude also should carry over into training. Whether it is on the mats, at the range, or in a classroom, you will decide how much effort you are going to put into the training. Do not cheat yourself, your department, or your community; you will get the most by giving the most.

4) Do Not Judge Others

The one thing you will learn in life, especially when providing police services, is that everyone has a story. I am not talking about the nonsense many people will try to make you believe, but the story behind what has happened in peoples’ lives that truly defines them. Now, do not confuse this with assessing people because properly assessing people you contact by their actions and your knowledge is an officer safety must. I am talking about making a decision about someone based on looks and lifestyles. Always remember that unless you have walked in their shoes and faced their life trials, you never should judge them. The old saying “Never judge a book by its cover” holds true in law enforcement. In my career, I have found true American heroes hiding inside of shells that many would consider gutter trash. You never will know everyone’s story, but if you treat everyone with the respect and dignity each human being deserves, you will go far.

5) Actively Listen

Listen, listen, and listen some more. Listen to your trainers as they will inform you of the skills necessary to succeed and survive. Listen to your peers as they will tell you what has worked and not worked for them. Listen to your supervisors as they will give you guidance in your careers. Listen to your community as they will tell you what is important to them. Listen to the witnesses, victims, and suspects as there are always, always at least two sides to every issue you will face. And, most important, listen to your family and your non-law enforcement friends as they will tell you when you are going off course in your life and heading for disaster.

6) Set Priorities at Work

Aside from officer safety, which always has to be the priority, there are three areas of focus when you put on that uniform: you, your agency, and the community you serve. Properly prioritizing them is paramount to your ability to excel. Many officers put themselves at the top of that list as they strive for glory and self-satisfaction. Generally, these officers put themselves at the front of every list in their lives, which commonly has a reverse effect and only ensures they never will meet their full potential. Some officers put their agency at the top of the list. On my list, I put the community first because those are the people I was hired to serve. Your primary mission in police work is to protect the citizens in your jurisdiction and create the safest environment possible. That means the community and its needs come first.

7) Set Priorities in Your Life

To be the best of the best in police work, you have to have a balanced life. You always have to remember what is most important in your life and work hard at not losing sight of that. Look out into this audience: Most of you will see what really is important in your lives. It is not the men and women in uniforms, wearing the badges and patches representing your agencies. What is important out there are your husbands and wives, your children, your moms and dads, your aunts and uncles, your grandparents, all of the family you hold dear. Today, after being separated from them for so many months, it probably is pretty easy to see their importance in your lives. But, 5, 10, and 15 years into your career when you are and have been spending the majority of your waking hours with other cops, it most likely will become increasingly more difficult. Please, do not ever forget that your family is more important than your career and that law enforcement is only your profession, not your life. You must set priorities and ask your family and friends to hold you accountable. And, when they try to hold you accountable, listen to them.

8) Take Care of Yourself

Emotional health is one of the most overlooked and neglected aspects of a police officer’s life. Sadly, you are going to see things and deal with situations that will have a negative impact on your life. You cannot tell a parent that their son or daughter never is coming home again or stare into the eyes of a lifeless child and not have it affect you. These mental traumas in police work have a cumulative effect, and every person has a breaking point. When you think about it, it becomes easier to understand why men and women in police services abuse alcohol, get divorced, and commit suicide at over twice the rate of most people in other professions. You must find ways to productively release those traumas. Physical exercise by any method you choose is a wonderful way to positively release some of your anxieties. But, the best way is simply to talk about it. Police chaplains, church leaders, grief counselors, and trusted friends are great choices as confidants you can talk with. Open up about the situations you have faced and express to them how you feel. Believe me, being cynical and making jokes about the situations with other cops is not a healthy release. And, although venting to your spouse may relieve your burdens, they, unfortunately, will start accruing them because of their love for you. Find a trusted person outside of your inner circle who really is good at listening and lean on them. If you do not take care of yourself, and if you let those traumas build, it will slowly tear you down and tear down your family.

9) Develop and Maintain a Heart for Service

If you want to excel at work and in life, this trait is one of the most important ones you can possess. The problem, though, is that there are no training programs to teach you how to care about others. It has to come from within you. To have a passion, an overwhelming desire, to help others is an amazing trait in a police officer and in any human being. Some people choose police work as a career simply because it is an occupation with decent pay, health insurance, and a retirement. They do not really care if they are making a difference in peoples’ lives. Do they make bad police officers? Not necessarily, but it will limit their ability to truly make a positive impact in their communities, and it will keep them from excelling. Fortunately, there are many people who are drawn to police work because they feel the calling—to help others by protecting and serving them. It takes a very special person who is willing to get up each day and go to work, knowing that what they are truly getting paid for is what they may have to do. Other than being an American soldier, police work is the only other profession where every day you know that you may have to give up your life to protect others. That is the greatest sacrifice of all and the greatest demonstration of love.


As you leave here today and go back to your communities, please take this thought with you and carry it through your careers: Every single one of you already has received the greatest sanction anyone can receive in any profession. You will find it in Scripture: Matthew 5:9 says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Thank you for your service, good luck, and may each of you reach your full potential and truly become the best of the best.

“Every single one of you already has received the greatest sanction anyone can receive in any profession.”