To the members of Class 99-5, I say "congratulations" and welcome to the finest profession there is and to the best police department there is—the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia. To the family members and friends, thank you also for being here today, and welcome to the MPDC family as well.
Today is a day filled with a lot of emotions for you, the members of Class 99-5. There is joy, a good measure of relief, excitement and a tremendous sense of personal achievement.
Through your hard work, your persistence, your dedication to duty—each of you has demonstrated that you have what it takes to be a member of this profession and this Department. That is a tremendous accomplishment that very few people can ever claim.
Remember that accomplishment—treasure it—every day of your career. And remember the look of pride and joy on the face of the loved one who will pin your badge on in just a few minutes. Remember that, and you will never, ever, do anything to tarnish that badge or bring discredit upon yourself or your Department.
Yes, this is a day of joy and hope and satisfaction for all of you. But I ask you to also remember that for many of the communities you will serve, today is a day of sorrow, a day of fear, a day of hoping for a better and safer day tomorrow.
Nowhere is that sense of fear and sorrow and hope stronger than on the 3400 block of 10th Place, SE, in the 7th District. That block, of course, is where 76-year-old Grace Edwards was shot and killed early Monday morning as she was taking her daily walk. A grandmother, a fixture in her community, a strong supporter and friend of 7D officers, Ms. Edwards was caught in the crossfire of some people—some mad-men—who somehow thought it appropriate to settle a dispute with gunfire on one of our streets on Grace Edwards' street.
When inexplicable tragedies such as these occur, people sometimes comment that the victim was "in the wrong place, at the wrong time." Well, Grace Edwards was not in the "wrong place." She was in the "right place" - her own block, her own street, in her community. And she was not there at the "wrong time;" 6:30 in the morning should be the "right time" to enjoy some exercise, some peace and tranquility.
It was the gunmen who were in the wrong place, at the wrong time. They are the ones who had no business being there. And they certainly had no business exchanging gunfire on Grace Edwards's street. It is this "culture of violence" which these individuals have bought into—like so many others—that has robbed the residents of 10th Place, SE, and so many other communities of their sense of safety and security.
So the question is what do we, as a Police Department and as a society, do about this culture of violence - a culture that has been developing for a number of years now, and which is now ingrained in far too many of our communities? What do we do to ensure that no more Grace Edwards or Helen Foster-Els or other innocent victims must die? What do we do to stop our young people from killing one another - to ensure that the Natasha Marshes and the Andre Wallaces and all the other school-aged children who have been gunned down this year can graduate high school and lead healthy and productive lives? What do we do? These are complex questions that, unfortunately, defy easy answers.
In the wake of these violent tragedies, people naturally turn to the police for answers, and that is appropriate. After all, we have a unique role in protecting our citizens. We have been given the unique authority to enforce the law, to make arrests, and to use force - up to, and including, deadly force, when necessary - to carry out that authority. It is a truly awesome responsibility that each of you now has. Use your authority wisely, effectively and courageously. For when you do, you can make a real difference in the safety of our neighborhoods.
The fact that the District's homicide rate today is half of what it was a decade ago - and our robbery and burglary rates have declined even more significantly - is at least partly the result of more effective policing. Your mission, now, is to help us continue this record of progress by doing everything you can—every day, in every call you handle, in every contact you have with the community—to prevent crime and serve the public. Never settle for anything less than the best from yourself. The community expects the best from you. And I will demand the best from you, just as I demand it from every member of the Department.
But while the police clearly play a central role in addressing violence in our communities, solving the problem of violence - doing something more than applying a temporary band-aid—will require much more than law enforcement. The culture of violence that exists today is a complex issue. And as much as we all would like there to be a simple solution to this problem—"more officers" or "stepped-up patrols"—we all know that those things alone will not achieve our goal of safe and healthy neighborhoods.
Reversing the culture of violence will take more than the police acting alone. It will take the entire community coming together—and working together—to address the bigger picture the causes and conditions that allow crime and violence to take hold in the first place in far too many of our communities.
In the Academy, you learned about our strategy of community policing - what we call "Policing for Prevention." And you learned that this strategy involves three separate, yet complementary approaches to preventing crime: focused law enforcement, neighborhood partnerships and problem solving, and systemic prevention. You also learned that we, the police, play the lead role in focused law enforcement. But we are just one of many players who must be active in neighborhood partnerships and systemic prevention strategies.
For community policing to succeed, we must have the involvement of residents, civic organizations, businesses, other government agencies, our elected leaders and many, many others. And together, we must take a stand. We must declare a "collective intolerance" for crime and violence in our communities.
Each and every one of us—police officers and citizens alike—must wake up each day, look in the mirror, and figure out what we are doing—individually and collectively—to stop the violence and strengthen our communities. Am I perpetuating the culture of violence—in the entertainment I support in the video games I allow my children to play, in the way I talk, the way I drive, the way I treat others. Or am I doing something positive and proactive to change this culture—by turning off the TV and reading to my child, by volunteering at a Boys and Girls Club, by turning in an unwanted weapon to the police, or by attending a PSA or other community meeting?
What am I doing—as a police officer and as a citizen of this community—to make a difference? All of us need to ask ourselves those questions, and to act on them every day with conviction and determination.
All of you have studied community policing. Now is the time for you to put what you have learned into practice. As police officers, you must be prepared to step to the plate and take on a leadership role in the communities you serve. Each of you will now be a beacon of hope in the community—someone who residents turn to for protection and for leadership.
But recognize that part of your leadership role is to bring other people and other resources into the process. Part of your job is to give the residents on your PSA the confidence that, by working with their neighbors and with the police, they can help build the type of safe communities we all want for ourselves and our families. It's a big job. It's a critically important job. But it's job you are now uniquely qualified to carry out.
Congratulations once again. Good luck. And may God bless each of you.
Charles H. Ramsey
Chief of Police