The police academy commencement speech every cop should read
Editor’s Note: This week’s PoliceOne First Person essay is from Dr. Kathy Platoni, who is a Clinical Psychologist who currently serves as the Dayton (Ohio) SWAT Psychologist and Mental Health Advisor to the Dayton Hostage Negotiation Team. Her essay below is the text of her commencement speech to the graduating class #103 of the Dayton Police Academy.
By Kathy Platoni, Psy.D., DAAPM. FAIS
PoliceOne Special Contributor
Mayor Whaley, commissioners of the City of Dayton, Chief Biehl, command staff of the Dayton Police Department, families, distinguished guests, and most importantly, members of Dayton Police Academy Recruit Graduating Class #103... It is a privilege of rather grand proportions to be asked to speak at your commencement ceremony today and I thank you profusely for this prized opportunity.
I do not take this honor lightly, as a survivor of the Fort Hood Massacre on 5 November of 2009, I know full well that there are angels among us who do what you have been called to do. It was Sergeant Kimberly Munley and Sergeant Mark Todd of the Fort Hood Police Department that opened fire on the shooter and ended his bloody rampage. Thirteen people, including one pregnant woman, tragically lost their lives that day.
It was shortly after one o’clock on that fateful day, outside Building 42003 at Fort Hood, Texas, where Major Hasan had waged this brief but deadly massacre with two laser-equipped semiautomatic pistols. Sergeant Munley was one of the 32 people who were injured, but survived several gunshot wounds. The last time Sergeant Kimberly D. Munley faced Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, they stood about eight feet apart, each of them holding a firearm. Sergeant Munley was a member of Fort Hood’s civilian police force and was about to wash her car when she received a report of gunfire at the building. She shot him, but he remained standing. He shot her in her right hand, left thigh and left knee — and then her weapon jammed.
The shooter was then fired on by Sergeant Todd several times, paralyzing him from the upper chest on down, ending the confrontation and the massacre.
There are hundreds of us who probably owe our very lives to these civilian police officers. I was marked for death by the shooter himself, as his direct supervisor on the way to our deployment to Afghanistan. These are heroes of legendary proportions. I will never forget this or the fact that I had the opportunity to shake their hands and thank them in person.
The essential point to be made here is that as a law enforcement officer, you will — at some time or time and time again — be called upon to do the unthinkable. Though you probably will never believe so or perceive yourselves in such a light, you will be heroes in your own right and be called upon to perform deeds that few will ever understand, appreciate, or ever be able to perform themselves. You have entered an elite class of humanity to which few are called.
The Dayton community is so very blessed to have you standing in place as newly minted members of the Dayton Police Department.
This is your day to shine. Do not tarnish what you have accomplished by losing sight of who you are when you don your uniform. What you have chosen to do is a mission, a calling, no less, as guardians of the public safety. Do not take the tasks inherent in this noble and distinguished undertaking lightly.
Every day of your life in uniform, you will be referred to as law enforcement officers, though likely only a small portion of what you will be doing on the job is enforce the law.
You will be there to witness the horrific and final moments of those who have taken their own lives. And then you will have to make notice to their next of kin, no doubt the more devastating of these two grave tasks, and then to try to help them come to terms with the senselessness of their losses. You will be first on scene to initiate CPR, to stop the bleeding from those under attack in the throes of domestic violence, to separate the not-so-loving partners of dissolving partnerships who have come to feel downright hatred and homicidal feelings for one another, or to pull the lifeless from the half frozen Stillwater River. You will tend to broken bodies on the highway in the dark of night and the futile, crushed victims of hit and run accidents splayed over the streets of our fair city.
You will help the elderly across the street and remove babies and children from homes unfit for rodents. And speaking of the elderly, sometimes out of sheer loneliness and family abandonment, all they desire is a few precious moments of your time and a listening ear to tell you about the meaning of the framed photographs on their walls of loved ones long gone.
And sometime during your career, you will save a life — or many lives for that matter — by putting your own on the line, because this is what you have been called to do. You have been entrusted to respond to those crises that encompass the very worst moments of the lives our local citizenry. And many times and on many days, you will be called upon to accomplish what exceeds the bounds of what any human being should bear witness to with regard to man’s inhumanity to man and this will sear your soul with all that is wrong and terrible and unpalatable within our society.
And yet, you will react with the utmost professionalism, as that is part and parcel of what your mission entails. So much of what you will do exceeds the bounds of what involves enforcement of the law, but is nevertheless very much, an unequivocal aspect of the duties of a law enforcement officer. Serve your community with all the pride you can muster and recognize that so many facets of your commitment to the law enforcement profession calls for being the wonderful sons and daughters and family members and friends and neighbors within the community you serve.
Abide by the Golden Rule, to always treat those you are called to assist as you would wish to be treated; and just as well, treat the subjects of your calls as you would want your family to be treated and offer them the same protections you would tender to your own flesh and blood. Always remember to do what right looks like and never forget that evil is perpetrated when we look the other way — and then, do nothing.
Never overlook or take for granted your own family in the equation of what it is that you do in the line of duty. Most importantly, never fail to remember that your families, which many times includes the brotherhood/sisterhood of your fellow law enforcement officers, will be and will remain your greatest assets of all. They will be there through the best of times and the worst of times. Treat them as the gems they are, as there will surely be bad times and even terrible times ahead. Seek solace and respite from them, as such connectedness is the best prescription for the psyche and for that which may become a plague upon the soul.
Do not carry your burdens like a bag of boulders on your back. We are social creatures, for whom isolation and alienation will be a death sentence, as these are unnatural states. This is especially and absolutely true for high stress and high demand professions like law enforcement. The stigma of seeking support, whether from peers or those entrusted with assisting us in finding our way, is only in the minds of those who cannot muster the courage to delve into their innermost. That which is swept under the mats and stuffed in the trunks of your cruisers will eventually return to haunt and eat away at your spirit from the inside out. Once an incident has concluded, it’s never really over.
It lingers in images and smells and sounds. Do not be a stranger to the mental health arena or to peer support, as that very universal shared support with those who wear the same boots is pure sustenance.
Be the kind of law enforcement officer who is available to aid and to validate — not to malign, not to judge, but to listen with the third ear. Turning to one another with a caring heart will surely sustain the life force for those assigned with the guardianship of public safety. And just as vital is the fact that most law enforcement officers will remember, long past the conclusion of any traumatic event, and there will be numerous of them, the conduct of every member of their chain of command, their squad, their team, their POD, and their precinct in the face of human tragedy, who called, who cared, who showed up. Everyone’s day to be on the giving and receiving end of this will come. Decide now where you will be standing.
God bless each of you for the courage you will display in the taking of the solemn oath as sworn officers of the law and as members of Dayton’s finest on this very evening and for the extraordinary services you will provide and sacrifices you will make on behalf of this, our beloved community.
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