Galveston Police Department Chief Henry Porretto and I both sit on the advisory board for the Galveston College Law Enforcement Academy. Last week we both had the honor to speak to the graduating class. Chief Porretto did an excellent talk about the core values of a peace officer, so I chose to focus on the idea of compassion through public safety work. In light of last week’s drowning of a 12 year old girl, excerpts of this seem especially poignant and I’d like to share them with you.
“…there’s something special about each of you that put you in this room today. You want to- you need to- make a difference.
A peace officer is entrusted with unbelievable power. The ability to take away someone’s freedom should never be taken lightly. You have trained and will continue to train on how to do that responsibly and professionally while protecting you, the public, and fellow officers as much as possible. But that isn’t the most powerful tool in your tool belt. Nor is your weapons and self-defense training, or even all that information crammed in your head right now…
…You have chosen a career that will put you with people on the worst day of their entire lives. It is one of the most intimate moments that humans experience. It is during these moments- these horrible times- that our lives fork. There are few moments in all of our lives where we knowingly or unknowingly choose a path that becomes destiny. You will be with people as they go through this. And it’s not like in the movies with fuzzy light and perfect skin and sparkly backgrounds. Normally reasonable people will be bleeding, spitting, cussing, fighting, and they may focus all their hate on you during this time. They will at these times be at their most… unlovable. And you have the horrible responsibility and unbelievable privilege of sharing these moments with them. Your actions in these brief moments can determine the course of their lives- and those of everyone they’re connected to.
Most of what emergency responders do, particularly peace officers, isn’t black and white. It is in this grey area that you can use the most powerful tool in your possession. It’s in this grey area that your power is the greatest, you’re integrity shines brightest, and your choices the most critical. Officer discretion. Some people need to go to jail. Others don’t need any help from you. But a large percentage of your calls are in that grey zone. Use your power of discretion to do what good cops do best. Solve problems and show compassion. The choices you make during these moments will affect the rest of their lives- and the lives of people they are close to or even who they encounter.
In those intimate moments you share with complete strangers your compassion can be the drop that causes the ripple that makes the difference.”…