Photo Mark Ide
FEATURED IN LEADERSHIP
Editor’s Note: We’ve all been to academy graduations and heard the speeches. Some are thought provoking and some are quickly forgotten. We came across this speech presented by Capt. Gary Hoelzer and thought it was so profound and meaningful that we wanted to share it with all of you.
I have to go back 34 years, where I’m standing in the foyer of a church—in a crowd, yet alone in my thoughts grappling with a career choice. My only criteria was that when I looked back on a career, I wanted to measure my success by how much I gave, not by how much I received. So I asked myself, “If I could do anything with my life, what would it be?” As my mind sifted through the possibilities, I soon considered policing. I’d been reading a Bible paraphrase popular in the 60s and 70s in Paul’s letter to the Romans in the thirteenth chapter. It actually used the term “police officer” when it stated, “The police officer is God’s agent to commend those who do good, and to strike fear in the heart of those who would do evil.”
That’s a rough definition of the word “justice.” To me, justice is the standard of societies and is a valuable two-sided coin. On one side, to do justice is to bring down those who’d victimize and oppress others. On the other side of the same coin, justice is to lift up those who have been victimized and oppressed, as well as those who need a helping hand and to restore them to a meaningful place in society. Justice—criminal justice—is a high calling for a noble cause.
The Cost of the Calling
As glamorous as foot pursuits across a crowded parking lot can be, confronting certain elements of society alone at midnight isn’t so glamorous. The first time could be terrifying.
During my first time, I was still in my rookie year and in a low-speed vehicle pursuit with a subject with a warrant out for his arrest. It was around midnight and my nearest assist officer was about four miles (felt like 400 miles) away.
Apparently, the driver didn’t want to go to jail that night, so I followed him as he meandered through neighborhood streets until finally he swerved into a residential driveway. His door swung open and he made a run for the front door of the house. ... I caught him before he entered the house and was in for the fight of my life. Bottom line: We both went to the hospital for minor injuries, but afterward he went to jail and I kept my badge.
I was confronted that night with the real cost that may have to be paid in the struggle for this noble calling. ... What strikes me most about police officers is how abnormal it is to human survival for them to rush toward a life-threatening scene. … That’s why I appreciate going to work every day, because I work with common, ordinary heroes.
Staying True to the Call: Moral Courage
My final point is that some officers are willing to die for the call, but are unable or unwilling to live for the call. The best of departments are still comprised of fallible human beings, who at times stray down the wrong path. Some of those individuals could be veterans or supervisors who attempt to lead you down that path of moral compromise.
Refuse to go there with them. Unnecessary use of force, falsifying police reports, cheating on a time sheet—I’ve seen it all. The badge doesn’t excuse immoral, even unlawful behavior. One of the hardest days of my 30-year career was looking my sergeant in the face and telling him, “I will not do that.”
At times your own human weakness will be apparent as you’re tempted. Beware of the big three that have damaged or ended many a good career: Anger, greed and lust. I’ve seen careers thrown away for a gallon of gasoline and a parking space. Don’t throw all of your hard work—and pride—away for a moment’s gratification or advantage.
A plaque hangs in the St. Charles City Police Department and it reads, “Wisdom is knowing the right path to take. Integrity is taking it.” May you choose that path that brings honor to your badge, to your department, to your family and to this noble profession of law enforcement.