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Qualities and traits of the professional law enforcement officer.

Welcome graduates, families, POST staff, colleagues, and guests. It is a privilege to stand before you today as you complete one of the first milestones in your careers. The past weeks have been difficult, but they have prepared you for your chosen profession. It is one that is honorable, rewarding, and the most stressful you ever will experience. It is the only occupation on domestic soil that has the authority to take a human life not based on fact but perception (e.g., a toy gun) and to restrict the most fundamental of civil rights--the right to freedom.

I also want to talk about heroes and ethics. A hero has been defined as having "strength, courage, and daring." But who are our heroes? We know what our soldiers are doing in Iraq and the courage and sacrifices they are making for our freedom. We have heard about the unfortunate death of Pat Tillman, the professional football player while in service to his country. Now, your friends and neighbors in the Idaho National Guard have been called to serve.

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Crime does not distinguish one person from another, as demonstrated in a recent case where Supreme Court Justice David Souter was assaulted while jogging in Washington, D.C. There are approximately 957,500 sworn law enforcement officers now serving in the United States, one of the highest figures ever. In 2002, there were more than 1.4 million violent crimes committed in the United States. The annual number of violent crimes has declined since a peak in 1993; however, it has taken its toll. A total of 1,658 law enforcement officers have died in the line of duty during the last 10 years. Who are our heroes? They are you--the men and women of the 142nd class of the POST Basic Patrol Academy. You have volunteered to serve your community and country. Never take your training, or anything, for granted, and always remember that complacency has no room in this job. Your actions that occur within a few seconds will be judged by many who have several months to review what you did. I often think of a quote by Theodore Roosevelt on this issue:
 It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the
 strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them
 better .... There is little use for the being whose soul knows
 nothing of the great pride or the stern belief of the men who quell
 the storm and ride the thunder.


Do not dwell on what you may have done, but did not, as long as you did your best. Stay focused on your goals in life.

The good news is that I have been in law enforcement for over 29 years and still love going to work everyday. There is not a more rewarding occupation than ours. Remember, no one calls the police department because they are having a nice day, and always remember why you raised your right hand. Your job is to protect and serve--never forget that. This is emphasized even more with the events of September 11, 2001. This was the greatest loss of life experienced in our country in modern times. Over 50 police officers and 300 firefighters were lost. This unfortunate terrorist act has shed new light on the dangers of law enforcement and public service. There is renewed honor, pride, and recognition of the job you do. Take your oath seriously, and do not let those who have served and sacrificed to have done so in vain.

This leads into another area of concern and a discussion of values. You will not be entering this job for the money. Your reward will be public service, which is founded in integrity and character--the two most important traits you can have in your personal and professional lives. They take a lifetime to build, but, once compromised, they cannot be restored.

* Integrity: derived from the Latin word integritas, means "wholeness." It is further defined as "the group of values an organization or individual uses to achieve their goals."

* Character: the qualities that distinguish an individual. It is a set of dispositions to behave systematically in one way or another. It is developed and ingrained; solidified by practice or habit; a lifelong process; and a sense of duty to our departments and profession.

There are two other things to remember. First, public trust: a charge of duty imposed in faith. You are trusted to uphold the law without prejudice or partiality. Second, accountability: you and you alone are answerable to withstand unethical pressure, fear, or danger; we are responsible for our own actions and conduct. What are the qualities the public expects in law enforcement officers?

* Higher education and training (Today is only the beginning; continue the journey of your education and professional training.)

* The ability to cope with a myriad of problems and apply discretion

* Serving and protecting

* Impartiality

* Honesty

These are only a few, but law enforcement is a way of life, not something that you can turn on and off. You may be walking through the local shopping mall and somewhere there is someone saying, "There's Officer Harris, he handled our accident ...." You won't even know they saw you.

Finally, I would like to close with a couple of quotes. In 1919, Woodrow Wilson said, "In my judgment, the obligation of a police officer is as sacred as the obligation of a soldier. He is a public servant, not a private employee, and the whole honor of the community is in his hands. He has no right to prefer any private advantage to public safety." In his book, Character and Cops, Edwin J. Delattre wrote, "... bad cops do not fear detection by other bad cops, but they are afraid of good cops." He further stated that at an academy graduation such as yours, where he was speaking, their motto stayed with him--"Integrity is not negotiable."

As you leave today to return to your agencies and communities, remember the lessons you have learned. And, always remember the men and women who have passed before you and carry on the tradition of the most honorable and trusted profession--a law enforcement officer.

By Edward L. Guthrie, Ed.D.

Chief Guthrie heads the Pocatello, Idaho, Police Department. He delivered this speech to the 142nd graduating class of the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Basic Academy on June 11, 2004.
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Title Annotation:Notable Speech
Author:Guthrie, Edward L.
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2004
Words:1077
Previous Article:Supreme Court cases 2003-2004 term.
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