ORLANDO — On Sunday, October 7, 2018, more than two hundred law enforcement and public safety leaders from the United States and abroad joined together for the National Police Foundation Annual Dinner & Meeting at the IACP Conference.
Amongst the leaders in the room was Congresswoman Val Demings, who previously served as the 36th Chief of Police of the Orlando Police Department. Congresswoman Demings represents Florida’s 10th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Congresswoman delivered the keynote address, “A Higher Calling,” to a room full of police executives and public safety leaders, after being introduced by Foundation executives and recognized for her long career in law enforcement and for “working across the aisle” to obtain bipartisan support for legislation related to protecting law enforcement officers, which was met with applause from the audience. .
While Demings addressed the current challenging state of law enforcement in America, she says she prefers to talk about policing as a “higher calling.”
As a police officer, police chief, and Congresswoman — while each are different positions with different assignments — Demings has taken the oath three separate times to “protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
Demings then said police work is a higher calling.
The constitution, that document that was written for, “we the people.” That document that is the guiding light for everything that we do in our official and sometimes unofficial capacity as public servants and community leaders.
Although I retired from police work seven years ago, I am still in awe at the men and women who are willing to do the job. Brothers and sisters who go to work every day, not knowing if they will survive the night; make it back home; kiss their spouse again; hug their children again. I am still amazed at the willingness to live and die to protect and defend, ‘we the people.’
It must be a higher calling. I am still amazed at the thousands of young men and women who press their way to sign up and join the ranks of the men and women in blue. In spite of all the negative stories; in spite of the generalizations; the dangerous streets; being outgunned and still outmanned.
It must be a higher calling.
We thank God for them, but how do we protect the integrity of the profession that we hold dear; how do we maintain and in some instances restore public trust and take care of the men and women who risk their lives to take care of us?
Let’s go back to basics. We must still hire those with the highest ethical and moral standards. we must be careful about who we let in the door. It’s a lot easier to hire than to fire.
We must continue to recruit a diverse workforce, a force that reflects the community you serve. And then we must work with local, state, and federal governments, to make sure that communities have the resources to handle issues that should not require a police response.
In other words, we must stop calling the police for everything.
I believe former Dallas Police Chief David Brown, after five Dallas police officers were shot and killed, said it best:
“We’re asking cops to do too much in this country. Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it. Here in Dallas, we got a loose dog problem; let’s have the cops chase loose dogs. Schools fail; let’s give it to the cops. That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”
We must work hard to give each officer the best chance to survive physically, emotionally, and mentally. We must make sure they understand that we are just as concerned about their invisible wounds as we are about their visible wounds.
That’s why I was proud to sponsor, along with Representative Susan Brooks from Indiana, the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act, which directs the Department of Justice to work with the Department of Veteran Affairs to identify mental health programs that can be adopted by police agencies, including funding through the COPS program for mentoring, hotlines, and services from mental health professionals specially trained to work with law enforcement officers.
We can never talk enough about the importance of training, especially when mass shootings are all too familiar in all too familiar places: church, movie theatre, concert, at the mall, at a nightclub, in our schools. And let me say this regardless of your politics, we have got to work harder to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, felons, and terrorists.
So, when we accept a higher calling, when we raise our hand and talk the oath of office, we must always remember that everybody counts but everybody is accountable–including us.
We must practice what we preach by holding ourselves to the highest ethical and moral standards.
We must fall in love again with the community we serve.
Law enforcement officers must work hard to be the best, most inspiring role models for our youth.
We must not let the naysayers control the narrative. We must tell our own story.
When we mess up; we must fess up.
There is no job quite like that of a law enforcement officer because when people are alone, afraid, in crisis, they call the cops believing that things will get better.
How do we get better? How do we bring much needed change? Everybody in this room has a role to play. I leave you with this quote from the 44th President of the United States (President Obama):
“Change will not come, waiting for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek.”
Again, thank you and may God continue to bless the work of the Foundation.
“It was an honor to have Congresswoman Demings deliver the keynote address at this year’s dinner,” said Chief (Ret.) Jim Bueermann, President of the National Police Foundation. “Her speech was inspiring and moving. We commend Congresswoman Demings for her leadership, service, and commitment to law enforcement for the betterment of our country.” Having Demings as the keynote speaker provided an opportunity for the National Police Foundation to also recognize and applaud all women in law enforcement and public safety, including those who work in non-sworn capacities and places like academia.
In addition to Demings’ remarks, The National Police Foundation announced its partnership with Mark43 to improve near-miss reporting through Mark43’s Records Management System. Officers who experience a near miss, an incident in which they are almost seriously injured or killed while on duty, will now be able to seamlessly submit these reports to the National Police Foundation LEO Near Miss database, which collects and analyzes these reports to provide officer safety insights to departments which can be used to inform training and policy. For more information, please see the article featured on GovTech.