First, let me wish the members of Class 2000-4 and their families and loved ones a very happy holiday season. This is a time of year when most of us take a moment to stop and count our blessings—the blessings of family and friends and the love and support they provide us, the blessings of happiness and good health, the blessings of work—in your cases, the blessing of not just a new job, but a new, exciting and rewarding career. But this year, as we think about our blessings, let us not forget one other blessing that all of us enjoy. And that is the blessing of democracy.
As you well know, our nation has just been through one of the closest, most hotly contested Presidential elections in our history. And whether you happened to support the winning candidate or not, all of us are the beneficiaries of one important victory: the victory of democracy and the rule of law. In many countries around the globe, an election this close and this controversial easily could have resulted in mass protests and unilateral government intervention. That our nation worked through this election contest peacefully, according to the rule of law, is truly a testament to the strength of our people and our democracy.
No one works harder—day in and day out—to protect our democratic rights and freedoms than our police officers. And nowhere is this unique role of the police more obvious, more public and more critical than right here, in our Nation’s Capital.
As a member of this profession and this Department, each of you has taken an oath to "serve and protect the public. But just what are we sworn to protect as police officers? Our oath certainly requires that we work to protect individuals’ lives and property. That is clearly a core part of our mission. But our oath demands much more of us. Our oath as police officers also compels us to do everything in our power to protect the very freedoms that all of us enjoy as Americans—freedoms which we remember and celebrate this holiday season, the freedoms of speech, of religion, of assembly, of petitioning our government, of being secure in our homes and our beliefs.
In many ways, it is these bedrock freedoms that define us as Americans—that set us apart from so many other people on this planet. And now, beginning today, each of you takes on the unique and truly awesome role of protecting and safeguarding those freedoms for the people of this, our Nation’s Capital.
During your training, each of you spent a day at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. This is a one-day course that I began requiring for all new recruits in our Department—and now, for veteran officers as well, as part of their in-service training. The purpose of this course is to remind you—to remind all of us—hat, in a free and democratic society, the police do indeed play a critical role in safeguarding individual rights and liberties.
In Nazi Germany, we saw the terrible atrocities that took place when not only the police, but also doctors, lawyers and other service professionals, abandoned their traditional roles as defenders of freedom and protectors of individual rights. The vast majority of the police officers in the Weimar Republic that preceded Hitler’s Germany probably took an oath—a pledge—similar to the one you will take in a few moments, when I swear you in. But between the time they took that oath and the height of the Nazi atrocities in the early 1940s, something went terribly, terribly wrong. And not just individual police officers, but the policing profession as a whole in Germany, turned its back on the very ideals and principles and values that define all police officers, serving the public, and protecting their lives, property and human rights.
You know, for decades people have referred to the police in the United States as the "thin blue line"—as a fragile, but necessary demarcation between "good" and "evil" in our communities. The Holocaust teaches us that in Nazi Germany, the police did become a line—and, eventually, a not very thin line—between what Hitler and his political allies defined as "good" and "evil."
The problem with being a "line" is that you have to put each and every individual you encounter on one side or the other of that line—either the good side or the evil side. It requires police officers to make snap judgments about people, based not always on their behavior but sometimes on their appearances, their attitudes, where they live, who they associate with, and other factors. In essence, it is "profiling" at its very worst. In the Holocaust, we saw political leaders and the police turn profiling into a cruel and systematic science, gauging everything from peoples’ eye color to hair texture to facial features. And today, in communities across America, we see accusations almost every day of profiling by the police based on race and ethnicity. Much of the tension around this issue stems, I think, from this "thin blue line" metaphor.
True community policing does not define police officers as a line—thin, blue or otherwise. We are not now, nor should we ever be, seen as something that divides and separates communities. Instead, I like to think of the police as a thread, a thread that is woven throughout our communities—indeed, a thread that holds together the very fabric of democracy. That, I think, is the true role of the police in a free society. And that is the role each and every one of you assumes today, as members of the Metropolitan Police Department.
As I mentioned earlier, being that "thread" is a unique and truly awesome responsibility that the community has entrusted with us. But it is a responsibility that I know each of you is now ready and able to take on. You have the motivation it takes to do the job—I saw that when you entered this auditorium. You have the pride in yourself and in your Department. You have the devotion to the principles and values that define community policing. And you have the courage, not just to go into a dangerous situation when someone calls for help, but also the courage to stand up and defend the rights we enjoy as Americans.
Most people tend to overlook this unique role of the police in a free and democratic society. And even fewer people probably ever to stop to thank police officers for all that we do to safeguard their Constitutional rights and liberties. But this holiday season in particular, all of us can be very proud of our unique contributions—not just to the safety of our communities, but also to the strength of our democracy.
In closing, let me just congratulate each of you once again, and welcome you to the best profession and the best police department in the world. This is clearly a hectic time of year for everyone -- and especially for you and your families, as you embark on a new career, while celebrating the holidays. But whether you celebrate Christmas or Kwanza, Hanukkah or Ramadan: I sincerely hope that this holiday season will bring you and your loved ones happiness and peace. And I sincerely hope that this Department and this career will bring you as much challenge and satisfaction as it has brought me over the last 33 years.
Thank you, and God bless each of you.
Charles H. Ramsey
Chief of Police