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The X-factor in policing.

It is my honor to be here with you today to share in this most important event in the career of a law enforcement officer--academy graduation. When asked if I would speak at this graduation, I started thinking about what it must be like to be a young law enforcement officer beginning a new career. How is it different today than when I graduated from the academy many years ago, seemingly, in another century? Certainly, the differences are many. The problems and concerns these new officers will confront are far different from those my generation of police officers faced. Their watches will revolve around issues like terrorism, technology, diversity, and problem solving.

Today, law enforcement is on the front line in a war on terrorism, both foreign and domestic, in a way that I never would have imagined. It is a global war, which stretches from Oklahoma to the far reaches of the earth. And, it is a war these men and women will be fighting throughout their careers. The fight will require special skills, knowledge, and equipment. Homeland security is now a basic requirement of the job.


There is also the challenge of diversity. Our society is far more diverse than it was 30, or even 20, years ago. This fact creates new hurdles for law enforcement in terms of language and culture. We will have to bridge these gaps to provide service to everyone equally. And, then, there is the ever-expanding role of law enforcement in this age of community policing. Certainly, our communities expect much more from a police officer today than when I first pinned on the badge. It's not as simple as putting the bad guys in jail anymore. Citizens expect us to communicate and collaborate. They expect openness and access. They expect us to solve problems and form partnerships. Police work always has involved much more than enforcing the law. But, today, the social aspects of policing are center stage. It is certainly a much more complex job we are asking these officers to perform.

Of all the differences between my day and theirs, technology represents the greatest contrast and the supreme challenge. Consider this: when I began my career as an officer, technology was a 1977 Plymouth Fury with a 400-cubic inch, 4 bbl V-8, an old hickory nightstick, and a .357 revolver. Now, compare that with the fact that these officers will drive a police car with more sophisticated electronics than the first Apollo moon shot--cars fully equipped with state-of-the-art mobile data computers, digital video cameras, and 800 megahertz radios. They will wear lightweight ballistic vests made of space-age material that provide incredible new levels of protection. They will carry high-capacity, .40-caliber semiautomatic pistols, pepper spray, and electronic impulse Tasers capable of stopping even the meanest and most determined attacker. They will have access to infrared and thermal-imaging devices to help them see into the darkness. They will use lasers to catch speeding motorists, and they will swipe a digital driver's license to produce an electronic ticket. They will use DNA to identify violent offenders and GPS tracking devices to follow drug dealers, and crime mapping will help them predict where the next burglary will occur.

Theirs is, indeed, "Brave New World," as Aldous Huxley termed it nearly 70 years ago in his classic science fiction novel. However, just as Huxley warned, there is danger in our overreliance on technology. Technology tends to lull us into complacency. Yet, technology cannot change one basic aspect of policing--the human element. It is that element that continues to be the critical factor in our collective success or failure. I am talking about the human element in these men and women who wear the badge, as well as the human element in those we serve.

This is the X-factor in policing. It exerts itself in the form of officer discretion, decision making, and interpersonal communications; it can be found in the human behind the wheel of the police car or in whose hands the technology is grasped. And, it is evident in the victims of crime, even in the perpetrators of crime. We must be attentive to the X-factor to be successful. It will not be our technology that spares us from the next horrific act of terrorism--it will be one human whispering an important piece of information into the ear of another and that person knowing what to do with it. Technology is a great tool for making cases, but it is the hard work and the communication between individuals that really solve crime. The cop on the beat, the detective beating the bushes, relationships between people--these are the tried and true techniques of police work. If we are going to be successful in building bridges with our diverse constituents, engaging our communities, combating terrorism, and solving the complicated problems of this era, it is this X-factor, the human side of police work, that will get the job done.

If there is one piece of advice I can offer to the graduates, it would be that in this brave new world of yours, do not forget the X-factor as you embark on your law enforcement careers. Remember that it will be your sound decision-making human relations skills, perseverance, compassion, and courage that will see us through. No matter the nature of the problem or the trappings of the profession, the human element always has been and always will be the critical factor.

Chief Wuestewald heads the Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, Police Department.

By Todd Wuestewald, M.S.

Chief Wuestewald delivered this speech on December 17, 2003, at the graduation ceremony of the Oklahoma Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET).
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Title Annotation:Notable Speech
Author:Wuestewald, Todd
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2004
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