I have the privilege to teach a regular semester on community policing at a local college as well as provide instruction to police officers through the Northcoast Polytechnic Institute on a variety of topics including leadership and media relations. It allows me the opportunity to reach young students interested in a career in law enforcement as well as officers looking to better themselves through on-going training. My goal is to provide them with insight on how best to serve others as well as survive the challenges they will face from this special calling.
It is difficult to specifically sum up all they will encounter and how best to deal with things. Books could and have been written on this. But as a society, we tend to want things bundled and easy to digest. And brevity does have its advantages as a lot can be said in a short amount of space. With that in mind, the following are seven police tenets to live by and they are all wrapped up in exactly 21 words.
- Serve with honour
- Stay safe and healthy
- Keep the community safe
- Catch troublemakers
- Build trust and relationships
- Make friends
- Have fun
Serve with honour
This one is really the most critical and can be accomplished in any range of service time. It is applicable whether an officer makes it to retirement or is stopped short due to a line of duty death or debilitating injury. Serving with honour is valued on Earth and into the unknown beyond, in my opinion. Honour is what makes our “service” to others so much more than just “service.” It is the life blood of policing and should be our strongest motivator.
Stay safe and healthy
We do ourselves no good if we don’t make our health and safety a priority. It means taking our training seriously, staying in shape through good diets and exercise, and keeping our heads clear. Rotating shifts, risks due to dangerous situations, exposure to infectious diseases and witnessing the suffering of others, combined with the overall psychological strain associated with police work, will take their toll and are factors in why cops die about a dozen years sooner than the average American.
Keep the community safe
This is why the public pays us — even if we can only do so much with limited resources. For any real long-term success though, we need to find ways to get our community members more involved. We need to make them true “partners” if we are to be successful in the goal of making their neighbourhoods safe places to live and thrive. We also need to find new strategies in crime prevention and develop bold blueprints for how best to serve our communities and keep them safe.
This tenet blends closely with No. 3, as catching troublemakers is vital to making a community safer. We should never tire in trying to ferret out those who cause suffering and pain to others from criminal activity.
Build trust and relationships
Without having a solid level of trust among those we serve, we will be “handcuffed” in our policing efforts. With trust comes better relationships, which then allows the “server” and the “served” to have a symbiotic collaboration in the well-being of a community.
This one piggybacks off No. 5 as relationships can become friendships. American actor James Garner summed it up nicely when he is quoted saying, “You can never have too many friends.” There will be plenty of times in your career when you’re going to need them to help you cope and make sense of things.
We see and experience too much crazy stuff in this line of work. Having a sense of humour and trying to have some fun when we’re able to will go a long way in keeping us grounded and controlling stress.
Having some solid principles to live by can be the difference between a rewarding life experience as a police officer or one that drains the life out of you. These seven tenets summed up in just a few words are an excellent guide to having an enriching career while protecting and serving.
Tom Wetzel is the chief of police in Richmond Heights, Ohio, a Northeast Ohio suburban police lieutenant and former SWAT commander. He is also a certified law enforcement executive, adjunct professor in community policing and internationally published author on police topics.
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