The characteristics of an effective law enforcement officer.
Perhaps the most valuable commodity a police officer can possess today is integrity. Integrity must be maintained at all cost. Police officers are in a position of public trust--a trust that if broken, will create an atmosphere of hostility between the police and the public. Our success depends upon the trust and confidence of the citizens in our respective communities. We must remain professional in all that we do and forever be committed to the highest level of standards within the law enforcement profession.
As police officers, our first sworn duty and allegiance are to the community and the police or sheriff's department's mission. We must maintain a high degree of loyalty to successfully serve our communities. As police officers, you will be called upon to meet many challenges, adversities, and every level of danger. This requires courage. You will be called upon to display this courage with recognition of the high standards for which you will be held accountable. You must support your fellow officers at all times for the common safety of everyone concerned.
While there is a time to be meek, there also is a time to stand and protect yourselves, your fellow officers, and your loved ones. You will be called upon to resolve conflicts of many types; this must be done through impartial enforcement of the law, not through imposition of judgment or punishment. Victims, witnesses, and all others deserve to be treated with dignity and compassion.
I was touched by a quote I heard several years ago from a fellow police officer: "At times when taking a person to jail, the main difference between me and the guy in the back seat is not much more than the screen between us." A person may be your prisoner, but he or she still is a person; I encourage you to treat that person as such. This requires compassion.
You must be aware of the limit of your authority and never overstep those boundaries. In your endeavor to enforce the law, remember to uphold the spirit of the law as opposed to merely enforcing the letter of the law. Treat everyone with fairness and equality.
Work together with fellow officers and the community. Promote pride within the law enforcement profession and in the city or county where you live and work. This requires a spirit of cooperation, also known as teamwork.
Develop a keen sense of humor--yes, humor. I believe a genuine sense of humor will allow you to get past the hard times. I am not telling you to laugh at a traffic violator when you issue a citation nor think it humorous at the scene of a fatal accident. You must not let the hard times get you down. As for me, I recognize how brief this life can be; we must not allow our lives to be shortened by taking it too seriously.
Last, don't forget what is most important to you--your faith, your spouse, your family, and fellowship with friends and relatives. Do not sacrifice what is most vital in your life for the thrill of policing--set priorities. If you fall apart at home, you will not be of help to your fellow officers at work.
Mr. Knight, former chief of the Coos Bay, Oregon, Police Department, currently serves as the city manager. He delivered this speech at the Oregon Police Academy's graduation ceremony in Monmouth, Oregon.