The Most Important Profession
By Bob Prout, Ph.D.
It is an honor to be the guest speaker for the first graduating class from the new Law Enforcement Training Building. Three weeks ago, I had the privilege of teaching the ethics section to law enforcement students in St. Cloud. I asked them to name the most important job in the United States. Forty-five percent of the students listed law enforcement. Forty-five percent got it right. Today, my hope is the 140 law enforcement students in this Alexandria Technical College graduating class believe that law enforcement is the most important job in the United States.
|Dr. Prout, a former Ohio state trooper, currently is department chair and director of the Criminal Justice Graduate Program at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minnesota. He delivered this speech on July 24, 2009, at the Alexandria Technical College Peace Officer Graduation.|
Why is law enforcement the most important profession in the United States? Ask yourself this question, What happens if a large group of police officers don’t report for duty? History has answered that for us. In 1919, the Boston police strike lasted only one day. The city of Boston was plunged into civil chaos. President Wilson branded the walkout “a crime against civilization.” In 1969, Montreal police went on strike, and anarchy took place. During the first day, eight banks were robbed, 100 shops were looted, and there were sniper attacks and rioting resulting in 3 million dollars of property damage. Thirty-five years ago this month, Baltimore police went on strike, and the results were similar to what happened in Boston and Montreal. When law enforcement stops, civilized society stops. Other professions are of limited significance when civilized society stops. This is why I believe law enforcement is the most important profession in the United States.
You’ll be working for the people, and you will be entrusted with great responsibility. The Michigan State Police recognizes this, and its maxim is, “You must constantly stop to consider how your decisions will influence people.” You’ll have the power to protect people; you will have the power to kill people. You’ll have the power to help people; you will have the power to injure people. You’ll have the power to take away the freedom of the very people you work for. I know of no greater responsibility. You will be on the front lines. You will be the most visible representative of government.
Another very important profession is the United States Armed Forces. When law enforcement and the military do not function, many people revert to their primitive natures. Sir Winston Churchill’s view was correct when he stated that the story of the human race is war. History shows us that civilized society crumbles without strong law enforcement and without a strong military.
You’ve had some excellent instruction at Alexandria Technical College that has prepared you to enter the profession of law enforcement. Remember, I said, “You have had some excellent instruction that has prepared you to enter the profession of law enforcement.” At this point, you should have the feeling of how little you know. This is normal because the more we know, the more we realize how little we know. Be hard on yourself, or you won’t learn and improve. Remember, you’ll never have all of the answers; you will never be perfect, and you will make mistakes. See your law enforcement license as a license to learn. A good police officer loves learning.
However, a few years of experience will create a dangerous time for you. Once you do a job year after year, it tends to get commonplace. This happens in most professions, and it’s no different in law enforcement. But, in police work, becoming lackadaisical can get you or someone else seriously injured or killed. However, you can get injured in another way, too. You’ll see so much of the seamy side of life that your spirit can get injured. If you feel cynicism creeping in, don’t you forget that you have the most important job in the United States.
Last week, I talked with several former law enforcement officers. I asked them how they felt after they left police work. They said that they felt as if they had dropped off the face of the earth. One said, “One day I was ‘in the know,’ and the day after I left police work, I felt like I was a ‘nobody.’”
Many of my former students who were police officers and resigned or retired too soon tried to get back into law enforcement. They told me to tell you to not lose sight of how important your work is. They said to tell you that the fact that you can retire doesn’t mean that you should. They said, “Tell them not to retire too soon. Tell them that they have the most important job in this country.”
We don’t recognize the most important things that happen in our lives as they are happening.
We tend to think that more important things will happen. But, many times, more important things don’t happen. You may feel that after you leave police work that police work was the most important thing that you ever did in your life. If you leave too soon, you will regret that decision until the day you die.
I commend you for choosing the profession of law enforcement. You will be part of that “thin blue line” that protects us and our way of life. Remember that you have the most important job in the United States. Remember that the more you know, the more you know how much you don’t know. Remember that good police officers love to learn. Remember that most police officers who quit law enforcement or who retired too soon regretted their decision. You remember these things because these are important things to remember.
I congratulate you on your decision to be a law enforcement officer. You are entering a calling that protects our way of life. I thank you for your upcoming service to the most important profession in the United States.