JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. –
In 1962, President John F. Kennedy designated May 15th as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the week in which that date falls as Police Week. I believe this designation is important for many reasons, both from the historical context and how it relates to contemporary policing issues.
First, I see it as a way to recognize commitment and service to the communities in which they live, as they have a vested interest in taking care of their homes, their fellow citizens, and the local institutions where their families grow.
Moreover, I believe it was as an acknowledgment of something deeply embedded within an individual who takes on the burden of service in law enforcement; it pays tribute to a profound hope within that they can make a positive difference in the lives of people who are experiencing the worst possible things. It is this hope that led me to seek a career in law enforcement.
I grew up in a broken home with a virtual minefield of bad opportunities all around me. My birth father was abusive. He ended up in prison for horrible acts he committed when I was young. He ultimately passed away, having been completely estranged from my life.
Later, my step family carried plenty of baggage into my world: prison time, drugs, alcoholism, robbery, and other forms of criminal behavior were present and persistent. Had it not been for my mother, who instilled in me a rock-solid sense of right and wrong, I very well could have followed the plethora of bad examples of conduct that surrounded me.
Fast-forward to my time in college; I ended up working to get my degree in Criminal Justice at the same time I competed to get my commission through AFROTC. It was during my last year in college when I landed an opportunity to get my first taste of work in law enforcement. I was hired to be a Detention Officer in the county jail.
As I was finishing my degree and competing for a career field in the Air Force, my time as a Detention Officer set the foundation of the hope I found in working law enforcement.
Yes, I know it sounds odd to say I found hope while working in a county jail, but the point is that it helped me see humanity in its most raw and vulnerable form. That experience of witnessing behavior solidified my belief that people can change for the better, so why would I not want to position myself to be an agent of change who can provide hope and opportunity?
Since I commissioned nearly 22 years ago, I have had the honor and privilege of trying to provide hope and opportunity to so many people who have found themselves in terrible situations. While I never shirked my duties and responsibilities as a law enforcement professional to hold people accountable for their actions, I always tried to help them find some level of solace in the situation.
I worked hard to see if there were opportunities to help them bounce back, develop additional skills, and grow from the experience. Instead of black-listing an individual, I continue to try and find prospects for rehabilitation.
Much like falling off a bike and getting back on until you can fully balance, hope in desperate situations can most definitely serve as a catalyst for people to grow to be resilient and productive; but I believe it requires someone to help find that hope, stoke the fire, and simply have some grace.
In one particular instance, an Airman under my command was found using cocaine. He was charged and found guilty under a Court-Martial action, and ultimately separated from service with an unfavorable discharge characterization.
On the eve of his discharge and, arguably in his darkest hour, this young man looked me in the eye and thanked me for holding him accountable. He told me I saved his life. Today, he can be found providing substance abuse counseling and rehabilitation services to inmates in the civilian system. He turned his life around through hope that he could save others.
Like everyone else, those in law enforcement are human beings and are, of course, fallible and are not perfect. Perhaps no bigger highlight to this is the tragic and inexcusable killing of George Floyd at the hands of those expected to be above reproach.
Law enforcement demands that we who wear the shield do better, be better, and continually work to get better every single day. As I look around my organization, I see we are doing exactly that. I see hope for our future and for my career field.
Our brave women and men in uniform continue to dedicate themselves to forcing positive change, demonstrate fruitful growth, and push for meaningful acculturation of community service. They are the future, they have tremendous hope, and I am confident we are in good hands.
My more than two decades of law enforcement experience has been filled with so many interactions with people who have faced hardship and tragedy, people who have committed crimes and brought disgrace upon themselves, and people who have seemingly lost their way. Yet, seeing the tremendous displays of hope on the other side of these extremely difficult experiences brings me back to work every single day.
The hope I see in people who might self-destruct without it reinforces the hope I have for my fellow human beings, my fellow Airmen, and our families.
The hope inside of me is something I continue to see in others in law enforcement. What I believe President Kennedy saw in this profession is certainly present today; hope drove me to seek a career in law enforcement and hope continues to bring people into this profession who seek to bring opportunity to our fellow citizens.
Our future remains bright even in the darkest of hours, where law enforcement professionals continue to bring hope to us all. Let us remember National Police Week and those who gave their all to ensure hope continues to thrive in our communities.