June 19, 2019
Good morning. First of all, I want to thank the Board of Safety for the role you play in this community. The oversight you provide is among the most vital and valuable functions in public service, and it can never be acknowledged enough.
Let me begin by congratulating the newest members of our Police Department. Whether you are a new recruit or one of our members transferring in, you have reached this point as a result of countless hours of training, and you are among a very few who made the cut to bring you to this day.
You are taking up the service of South Bend at a remarkable period in the life of our community—a stage in the history of our city that will be remembered as a season of growth and renewal, innovation and change.
As you know, you are also joining this police department at a very challenging moment here in South Bend. We gather in the wake of a shooting that has left family members grieving the loss of someone they love, and leaves an officer and his family dealing with the consequences of a lethal encounter.
There is a lot that we still don’t know. But what we do know, as the Chief said on Sunday, is that a resident of our city—a member of our South Bend family—died at the hand of another member of our family.
As we work to find answers, what is clear today is that all of us must be as transparent as possible, that we must deliver accountability with fairness, and that we will maintain the highest standards.
I stand before you saddened and concerned. We’ve spent years working to build trust between city leaders, public safety officers and members of the community we are charged to serve.
Today those same relationships we’ve worked so hard to build are in jeopardy. It’s a reminder to all of us how fragile our work can be.
Seeking to get this right is why the Board of Safety exists, to administer accountability from discipline to accolades. It’s why we have a community roundtable, and urge officers to walk neighborhoods. It’s why we sponsor athletic events, and community outreach. It’s why we’ve instituted bias trainings, implemented body cameras, and used the Internet to increase transparency around policies, data on the use of force, and other information.
Still, the journey is incomplete. The justified anger over why our system of body-worn cameras did not lead to a clear picture of Sunday’s events is just one reminder of how much work is yet to be done. How much it will take to reinforce trust. How far we will have to go before the day when no community member or officer would hesitate to trust one another’s word—and ultimately, how far we have to go before we live in a society where none of the circumstances leading to Sunday morning’s death could have happened in the first place.
All of this sets a sober tone around what should be a congratulatory occasion, but we also must face it, because it presents an opportunity to reflect on what is at stake in the extremely important jobs you have agreed to undertake.
Your decision to serve our community is to be commended. You have learned a great deal about procedures and policies, tactics and techniques. I have nothing to add to your technical education today. But I do want to emphasize some of the values that are involved: safety, justice, humanity.
You are the stewards of the foundation on which everything else in this community rests. The hundred thousand people of this city are only free to go about our daily lives when they are not constantly thinking about physical safety; the idea of policing is to require a small number of men and women to worry about this every day—to worry about this for a living, so that everyone else doesn’t have to.
That alone makes your jobs important, sensitive, and meaningful, but there’s more: the fact that you are entrusted with police powers, ranging from the power of arrest to the means of lethal self-defense. And whenever you use those powers, you act in the name of an entire population.
That is why it is inexpressibly important that you do so not only with competence but also with wisdom, not only with restraint but also with equity, that your performance of your duties be fair and impartial. Your city needs you to be instruments not only of safety but also of justice.
You are not taking up this work in a vacuum. You are choosing this line of work at a moment when our nation is facing the long shadow of a complex history around policing.
We are facing the consequences not just of distant historical wrongs, but of things happening in our present—a seemingly constant series of stories and videos from around the country showing abuses that tarnish the badge, and fuel mistrust. And we are dealing with a culture that still sometimes speaks of officers as if you were soldiers on a battlefield rather than members of the same community that you patrol.
We cannot pretend that this is unrelated to race and racism. In our past and present, we have seen innumerable moments in which racial injustice came at the hands of those trusted with being instruments of justice. This fact burdens everyone, all of us, no matter who we are.
You may think to yourself—how is this my fault? How is this my responsibility? If you are already deeply committed to fairness and justice, you might ask why you would be expected to account in some way for a country’s worth of harms and wrongs, past and present.
It may not seem fair, as you prepare for your first day on the job, but you are burdened with this. We all are. Not only in terms of biases and weaknesses we all bear (which you will learn more about in implicit bias training if you haven’t already) but because the uniform has a history, and even if a perfect human being were to exist and become an officer, putting on the uniform means taking on this burden.
What I want you to remember is not just to be conscious of the heightened expectations that come with these burdens, but to recognize that with them comes an opportunity.
By your very choice of career, you are part of a national crisis in the relationship of officers to those they protect. It also means you are an indispensable part of the solution. You have the power to help make this, the time in which you and I live and work, the era in which a new kind of trust and healing, unknown before our years, finally came about.
This is not happy talk. This is a statement of urgency and a reminder of your own ability to make change.
By performing your duties impartially, by equipping yourself against any effects of bias and by understanding the centuries of pain that affect the way you are viewed by people who know nothing of you as a person except by the uniform you wear, you will be an instrument not just of safety and justice but of healing at a time when we need healing.
Understand that while our culture celebrates the heroism of the dramatic save or the decisive high-stakes action, there is great heroism in the quiet miracle of guiding a tense moment into a nonviolent resolution. It will not make headlines, but a career worth of brilliant, skillful de-escalation will do more than anything else to make our community safer.
I also want to speak to the concept of humanity. In this work, you will be encountering people in their most vulnerable moments. You will be dealing with innocent people in extreme pain, and you will be dealing with other human beings displaying what is worst within them. And, more than is fair to ask of you, you will all too often be dealing with mental health. You will be dealing with the full range of humanity, in all its complications, all its extremes.
So much depends on your ability to see the humanity in everyone you encounter. Between the procedures and protocols, the reports and the calls, you will have countless opportunities to show regard for the humanity of a victim, a survivor. Of a fellow officer. Or, indeed, of a suspect or an offender.
And a vital element of humanity you must consider is your own. Take good care of yourself and each other. Not just physically, at a time when police culture still puts most emphasis on your fitness from the neck down, too little on the importance of your emotional and mental health. You must recognize the effects of highly stressful work and take steps to stay balanced, to offer and seek support when needed.
The City will support you in this. And so will your families, your loved ones. I want to recognize them, since by caring about you they are also serving this city. And we all owe them a debt of gratitude for sharing you with us. Make them proud, and let them be your rock of support.
As sobering as much of this is, I want to recognize that an excellent police officer is a community leader of incredible value, playing a role not unlike an elected official when it comes to engagement and listening, sensitivity and initiative. Doing this job well is extremely rewarding as only public service can be.
Remember the opportunities you will have daily to do and spread good in this community. Every day you will have chances to earn respect for yourself and the department, from starting a conversation at a picnic or parade to learn about what someone needs for their neighborhood, to making time for a child who looks up to the uniform you wear. We count on you to help lift up those around you and the City you serve in countless quiet ways, far from the stuff of television drama, day by day across our city.
Do this well, and you will not only earn your paycheck but also validate the fact of being among the very few who wear the name of our city itself stitched to your sleeve. I invite you to look at that patch now and at the beginning of every shift, and remember that, with your badge, it represents the expectations of a community that works through you, that counts on you, and that will support you in doing the right thing, always.