I, __________ __________, do solemnly swear or affirm that I will faithfully execute the duties of the office of police officer of the State of _____________ and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the constitution and laws of the United States and of this state, so help me God.
I had to pull my oath of office back out today. A couple of years ago my chief gave me and every sworn officer in our department a laminated copy of our oath bearing our signature. I pulled it back out because, for a few moments recently, I forgot the oath I took. I first took that oath over 26 years ago. It means something different now than it did when I was a 23-year-old rookie. Today it means something different than it did just one week ago.
Like many of you, when I heard of the deaths of NYPD’s Officer Wenjian Liu and Officer Rafael Ramos I went through the grief we go through when we learn of another fallen officer. When I learned of the motivation behind the gutless killer’s actions my grief turned to rage. The mental list of names I made of the people who I felt had “blood on their hands” grew in length with every passing moment. From the politicians who made irresponsible and inflammatory statements to the “leaders” whose rhetoric reeked of hate-fueled racial strife, the list became lengthy and included the prestigious.
This anger blended seamlessly with the anger I have felt for months while witnessing the injustices faced by Officer Darren Wilson and the ongoing madness surrounding his no-bill by a grand jury. As a result, I too uttered the words “I’m DONE!” And I meant it. Until today. Today I read that oath I took so many years ago. And then I read it again.
It reminded me that the oath meant that I gave my word; gave my word to faithfully execute my duties as a police officer. I promised that I would, with my very best effort, preserve the laws, protect the freedoms and defend our constitution with my life if necessary. Finally, I was reminded that it wasn’t just men and women who heard me take that oath. God heard me and I asked Him to help me have the strength and fortitude to fulfill that oath no matter my reactive emotions and present disappointment.
When I finished reading my oath I found no “fine print.” There were no caveats. There were no exceptions or excuses that allowed me to disregard my duties. That oath was not conditional on the people I serve giving me thanks or gratitude for the job I would be doing. There was nothing that said I could suspend my promise if I was mistreated or misrepresented in the press. After searching long and hard I could see no wording that would relieve me of my responsibility to keep my oath if there was a general sense of disdain for officers in general. Not one word about false allegations of excessive force, being accused unjustly of racism or any other vile denunciation. Nothing.
All I saw was what has been in my heart for 26-plus years and is in the hearts of most every police officer I have ever met: Duty, honor, and service. I saw an oath that said we protect and preserve life and liberty. I saw all the reasons I made that promise in the first place. I was reminded that as a police officer I carry a burden and responsibility that few will know and I do so with a tremendous sense of pride and am honored that the people of the great city I serve have given me the privilege to put on this uniform every day.
Over the past year our profession has been vilified in the media like I have never seen before. I suspect it resembles what our predecessors in the 60s and 70s experienced. Regardless, it seems that in the current climate we can do nothing right. My perception is that no matter the choices we make in carrying out our duties someone will see them as being wrong and will immediately assign evil to our motives. But you and I know better, and we will continue to serve.
I love the community I serve! The people are wonderful. The town. I am willing to put my life in jeopardy to protect the citizens here without hesitation, as are all the men and women of this department. It’s not the pay that brings us back every day. It’s sure not the prestige that calls us into action. The benefits provided by the city are good but are not near enough to motivate the average citizen to do what it is we do.
So what does? Why do we come back day after day and year after year and face the messes we see every day? It’s the oath and everything that oath represents. We are the oath we took. It lives inside of me, you and almost all police officers who have raised their right hand, taken that oath and with joy and pride beaming from within, watched that badge being pinned onto their chest.
So I offer this reminder. Read your oath again. Examine the signature and remind yourself that we serve regardless of conditions. Be active in your communities. Make a difference in your little corner of the world! Be noble, be honorable and above all be safe my brothers and sisters. We are the thin blue line and we’ve got the watch from here and forever.