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Chief Ramsey Welcomes New Officers to the MPDC and Introduces the Holocaust as a New Topic for Recruit Training

Thursday, January 28, 1999
Statement from the Metropolitan Police Department

Chief Charles H. Ramsey
Metropolitan Police Department, Washington, DC

To each of the new members of the Metropolitan Police Department, let me say congratulations. You have worked hard. You have trained hard. You have demonstrated—to yourselves, to your peers, and to this Department—that you have what it takes to be a police officer. You should all be very, very proud of what you have accomplished by being here today.

But today is not about endings. It is about beginnings ... new beginnings for each of you ... and for the Metropolitan Police Department and the communities we serve. Today, you become members of the finest, the most fulfilling and, yes, the most important profession that I know of ... the profession of policing.

I have had the privilege of serving in this profession for more than 30 years now. And throughout my career, there have been certain moments that stand out in my mind as reminders of just how important ... how noble ... it is to be a police officer.

One of those moments occurred just a few weeks after I became chief last spring. It came during a visit to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. To see up close—in such a vivid and powerful way—the atrocities of Nazi Germany ... the suspension of basic human and civil rights ... and the manner in which the madness of that time developed so rapidly and became so commonplace—it really got me thinking all over again about the role that we, as police officers, play in a free and democratic society. It was also during that visit that I decided all future recruit classes would spend a day at the Holocaust Museum as part of the regular recruit curriculum. I am pleased that yours was the first class to take part in this program. I know it was a valuable experience for you, as it will be for all future recruits in the MPDC.

Earlier this month, I held my monthly Command Staff meeting at the Holocaust Museum as well, because I want our commanders and other leaders to be thinking about these issues too. During our meeting, one of the Museum staff members told us a story about a group of high school students who were touring the Museum some time ago, as part of a pilot education program involving DC public schools.

Throughout the tour and the discussion time that followed, Museum staff were having a difficult time getting the teenagers to open up ... to ask questions ... to discuss their feelings. And it was only after a pretty long period of time that one of the high schoolers finally stepped forward and asked a question.

Her question was simple, but profoundly perceptive: "Where were the police in all of this?," she asked.

Where were the police? Aren’t they the ones who are supposed to stop this kind of thing from happening?

It is these questions, from the mouth of a teenager, that really get to the heart of my message to you today.

As police officers, we fill many roles. We, of course, fill the role of protecting lives and property—of enforcing the law and bringing to justice those who break it. A great deal of your recruit training focused on how to carry out this unique and difficult and often dangerous function. But as police officers, we have an equally unique and important role—the role of defending the Constitution and protecting the individual rights of others. I know from experience that in the press of the day-to-day business of fighting crime and enforcing the law, it is sometimes easy to lose sight of this other and larger role we play. Let me remind you today—and encourage you never to forget throughout your careers—that defending the rights of others is central to being a police officer.

I grew up in an era in which the police were often described as the "thin blue line." It’s a catchy phrase. And for the longest time, I thought it was a pretty good description of what we do—and what our role in society is all about. But the more I thought about that concept, the more I began to question its validity. After visiting the Holocaust Museum on several occasions now ... I am convinced that it’s time we put the idea of the "thin blue line" behind us once and for all.

As police officers, we are not a line of demarcation in the community—separating good from evil or protecting one segment of society from another. We are not a line of any type—thin, blue or otherwise, in my opinion. No ... we are more like a thread that is woven throughout the communities we serve. And in some communities—especially communities suffering from crime, poverty and despair—we may be one of the only threads that holds the community together. Indeed, we are the thread that holds together the very fabric of democracy in our society. If we begin to unravel in any way, then democracy itself begins to unravel.

Fortunately, we are living in a time when crime in our nation and in our city is on the decline. And much of the credit for that decline must rightfully go to police officers, other public servants and community members working together. But there have also been times in recent history when crime levels were on the rise in our nation. And during such times, it was not uncommon for some people to call for the suspension of the exclusionary rule, Miranda warnings, search and seizure protections and other Constitutional rights—as a way of addressing the crime problem. If history tells us anything, it tells us that if calls for these types of actions should occur in the future—we, the police, must be the first ... and the loudest ... to speak out.

In enforcing the law, we must always be prepared to uphold the law—and the basic civil and individual rights that our democracy guarantees. It’s an awesome responsibility that this Department, this city, and this community have entrusted to each and every one of us. Fulfill that responsibility with motivation ... pride ... devotion ... and courage. These are the values of the MPDC—motivation, pride, devotion, courage. Make them your values ... and live these values every day you are a police officer.

Congratulations once again. Good luck, and may God bless all of you.