What Will Your Legacy Be?
By Randall A. Liberty, M.A.
Without wise leadership, a nation fails; with many counselors, there is safety.1
Good morning. On behalf of all 16 sheriffs throughout the state of Maine, I would like to congratulate all graduating cadets. As we begin the Memorial Day weekend and pause to thank members of the military for their service, I think that it also is important that we remember the sacrifice of the law enforcement fallen.
Last week many of us attended the Maine Law Enforcement Memorial Service in Augusta. We paid tribute to all of Maine’s fallen law enforcement officers from many agencies. At the National Law Enforcement Memorial this year, 286 new names have been added to the number of fallen. Just two weeks ago, New Hampshire Police Officer Steve Arkell was fatally wounded by a firearm during a domestic dispute.
Yesterday many of us attended the memorial service for Washington County, Maine, Chief Deputy Shawn Donahue. For those of you unaware, Chief Donahue died at age 41 of heart failure this weekend.
During these times of tragedy, I believe that it is important to reflect on our own mortality. We should ask ourselves, "Do I do what truly is important? Do I accomplish those things which are meaningful and worthy of the time that I have been blessed with?" This concept can be extended to both our professional and personal lives. "Did I take care of the people around me, did I love and nurture them the way that I should? Did I pursue meaningful employment that allowed me to make the world a better place?" These are the questions I ask myself. What about you? What will your legacy be? Will it be one of selfless service, integrity, compassion, and thoughtfulness? Or, will it be something else?
Today finishes just one chapter in the long journey that started many years ago. Most of you have been dreaming of becoming a law enforcement officer for a long time. You all have taken different paths to get here today. Some of you come from a long line of law enforcement officers. Others of you come from a military background, serving in combat, and this is the next chapter in the service to our nation. Some of you have come from college, and others of you have been working the road for some time on a part-time basis.
Sheriff Liberty serves with the Kennebec County, Maine, Sheriff’s Office and is president of the Maine Sheriffs Association.
I began my law enforcement career 32 years ago this August. During that time I have been honored to serve as a military policeman in the Army and as a municipal police officer. I have been at the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office for 25 years. During that time I have been blessed with many great assignments and have had many meaningful experiences. Few of life’s experiences could be as meaningful as finding a lost child, recovering a drowning victim, or arresting a heroin trafficker.
Much has changed over the years. As some of you old timers can attest, when we started our careers, we used typewriters and pay phones, carried revolvers (which we fought to keep), and worked for departments that had their own lock up.
While many things have changed over the last 30 years, many things have not. I would like to offer several observations that have stood the test of time and that may be of value to you as you journey through your career.
- Conduct yourself with honor. Your integrity is the single-most important possession that you have. There will be many times throughout your career that you will face an opportunity to make the right or wrong decision. Remember that each of those decisions, whether right or wrong, will, in part, become your legacy.
- Have a purpose-driven career. Know what is important to the leadership of your agency and to your community. Put yourself to work in those efforts. Have a deliberate priority of work. As your career grows, and if you are properly prepared when opportunities arise, you will have more influence to address these issues.
- Prepare yourself for the next opportunity. If you do not have a college degree, get one. I have presided over many oral boards with police officers desiring the next promotion, but lacking the appropriate education and training to make the next move. Remember that leaders are lifelong learners. Education does not make an ideal police officer, but it makes any police officer better.
- Remember that you work for the people, and you are entrusted with much responsibility. As a law enforcement officer, you will have the power of arrest, taking freedom away from citizens in a free nation. You will have the power to use deadly force, which includes not only the use of firearms but also vehicles. Drive with great discretion.
- Be victim focused. Do not lose sight of the fact that it is all about maintaining public safety and ensuring that victims are the center of your efforts. Do not get caught up in taking reports and moving on to the next complaint. Take the time and effort to solve crimes, care for the victims, and have compassion for all who have been affected by crime.
- Surround yourself with positive-thinking people of excellence. If you wish to be a problem-solving, innovative officer, surround yourself with like-minded officers. Be the change agent of your organization. Many people will identify problems in your department, but few will have constructive ideas to resolve problems.
- Seek out a mentor. The advice of wise counsel can be priceless. Very few problems or situations in your career will be unique to you. The advice of a tenured law enforcement professional is critically important when trying to avoid making the same predictable mistakes others have made. Learn from the success and mistakes of others.
Graduating cadets, I wish you and your families well. Stay safe, and congratulations in this most recent accomplishment.