Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority's Metro Transit Police Graduation Ceremony
Thank you, Captain Pavlik for that kind introduction. I did not know my introduction would be so long, as I did not see it in advance. For me, it was too long an introduction. I’m not sure if you know this, but in Washington, DC the more important you are, the shorter the introduction. Have you noticed when the President is introduced, all that is said is, “The President of the United States.” In other words, the length of your introduction is inversely proportional to your importance. When I get back to the office I will shorten my bio just a bit!
It is a great honor to be here. Before I begin with my prepared remarks, I want to say that I took a look at the program and read something in the program that stated, “Strictly Business, Nothing Personal.” I know it is a line in a movie and I had to wonder what it was doing in the program. Then, I found out that each graduating class forms their own motto. I would like to tell you what “Strictly Business, Nothing Personal” is about. I like really great movies. You may have heard of the movie “The Godfather.” Michael Corleone, who is played by Al Pacino is sitting in a room with his brother, Sonny, played by James Caan. Their father had just been shot by some bad people (gangsters) and the murder was connected to a police captain who was corrupt and Michael Corleone suggested they make a hit; in other words murder, the police captain. Upon hearing this, Sonny stated, “That is personal, you can’t do that.” Michael replied, “No, it’s strictly business, nothing personal.” This group of police graduates is one group I would not want to tangle with!
On a more serious note, I was looking at all of the bios of the graduating class and there is a common thread that runs through the class, one of shared values: values that you get from your family, values that are instilled in you over a long period of time. In each one of these graduates, there is a shared culture of public service. I am just going to take a moment to go through each of the graduates’ bios. Enroll Avant worked as Assistant Director of a program to meet the needs of children with disabilities. There is just one thing I pulled out from each that is the common thread to all of them. Clinton Burns was a math teacher and worked for the Drug Enforcement Agency. Robert Edenberg worked for the Transportation Security Administration. Ryan Harris graduated with a BA degree in government and politics. When you are in government and politics you are serving others. Denis Henley Jr. served in the U.S. Army for 8 years and was involved in combat operations in Iraq. His mother, Mary Henley, was the first female police officer in Prince Georges County, MD. James Nance served in the U.S. Army for 4 years. Reginald Russell served in the U.S. Navy for 8 years. Zachary Welch graduated with a BS degree in Criminal Justice.
What all these folks have in common is a higher calling for the greater good of society. You don’t see that much today in the newspapers and on television. You do not see what real America is about or what real leadership is about, the moral fiber that holds this country together. You do see that today in these graduates. As written in the Book of Luke, to serve others is true leadership. We should take a moment and applaud the families of these individuals. These are the people that helped create this great group.
It is truly an honor for me to be here today, on behalf of President Bush and Secretary Peters, speaking before you. Throughout my career in transportation, I have been continually impressed by the dedication, service, bravery, and professionalism displayed by transit police officers. WMATA transit police, under the leadership of Chief Polly Hansen, stands out as a leader in the elite community of law enforcement. As America’s only tri state police department, WMATA - MTP does an exemplary job of ensuring the safety and protection of all of those who rely on them each day.
Since Metro Transit Police was created by the late President Ford on June 4, 1976, the department has been the first on the scene when there is any kind of accident or emergency. They have been “on the job” when cars have derailed, when patrons have been injured, when there has been a collision, and more recently, during 9/11. No matter what happens, it is the transit police officers that are running towards the scene, not away from it. It takes a special person to do that. Many times officers have put their lives on the line and unfortunately a few of these brave individuals have lost their lives in the line of duty.
Before 9/11, transit security was about preventing slips, falls, and crime. After 9/11, transit security came to the forefront of everyone’s minds and the roles of transit police officers began to change. Public transportation is a vulnerable target due to the openness of the system design and the volume of passengers transported. Given the vulnerabilities and threats facing transit, transit police officers have become one of our nation’s most important assets in protecting the riding public. Transit police are the eyes and ears of the transit agency and are the first and last responders.
Our amazing team at FTA collaborates regularly with transit agencies from throughout the country and around the world to strengthen security and emergency preparedness. We are grateful to have three former members of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority within our office of Safety and Security. I know that you are not thinking of retirement as you just made it to legal age, but someday you may want to do something else. We have some of the finest working in FTA that worked here.
Two retired captains from this great Police Department head up our Safety and Security Office. Anthony Tisdale is FTA’s Emergency Management Team Leader. If you go up to the Chief Hanson’s office, there is a big photograph of him in the Color Guard and he looks like he just walked out of GQ magazine. He receives and shares information with transit police and security chiefs, as well as other Federal, state and local police and emergency agencies in the United States and internationally.
Michael Taborn is the Director of the Office of Safety and Security and keeps me, the Secretary of Transportation and our President, aware of all transit related incidents that have significant safety or security implications.
We recently brought Ruth Lyons on board from the WMATA Safety Office. She is the FTA Safety and Security Training Program Manager. They all do a tremendous job in ensuring the safety and security of our nation’s transit systems. I was told that if we steal any more employees from WMATA, we will not be welcomed back here.
I want to take a moment to discuss history. If you want to know what to do when going forward, looking back really helps. The more things change, the more they remain the same. There is an incredible book NYPD: It’s city and it’s police, written by two cops, James Lardner and Thomas Repetto. Dr. Tom Repetto has a PhD, but was a cop with the NYPD and worked his way up through the ranks. James Lardner was a member of the Washington DC Police force. I want you to think about the journey you folks are on and the role of policing in society.
In the book, there is a quote from Robert Wagner (1954-1965), the Mayor of the City of New York with the largest police force on Earth. “When I go to bed at night I say a special prayer for the safety of the city. Then I say another special prayer of thanks that nothing bad happened in the police department.” The reason for that is that we hold the police in such high regard. They have integrity, they never break the law, they are not even human beings. Yet, they are human beings. I think the following passage sheds some light on this:
The book continues that, “the Police are a law-enforcement agency, after all, and one organized along military lines and subject to a host of rules and procedures. Underneath the bureaucratic rigmarole, however, lies a level of discretion and improvisation and just plain uncertainty that, to judge by its persistence, seems to have suited the convenience of people outside as well as inside the police profession. From the beginnings, their democratically elected masters have been reluctant to tell the police just which laws to enforce, against whom, or by what means. Whether we’re talking about gambling and prostitution in the nineteenth century or the stop-and-search practices of the early twenty-first, the police have been left to sort out many of the most difficult questions for themselves. More than other municipal agencies, then, they are governed by unwritten and, in some cases, even unarticulated rules.
A police station “is a great place for traditions,” Lincoln Steffens wrote.
Given the power that the police wield, the idea of their behavior being ruled, to any large extent, by hidden ideas and emotions is one that modern leaders must abhor; so they place their faith in orders, policies, and the official chain of command.”
A badge and a weapon and the responsibility associated with it is a serious matter, and one that cannot be taken lightly. The combination of experience and what is passed on to you through the chain of command is what will make you a great officer. Consider your new career in law enforcement a license to learn. You are now the thread that helps keep the fabric of society together. Wherever and whenever someone is in trouble the first person they call for is a cop. Everyone in society counts on you.
Every organization has a mission. The mission of the Metro Transit Police Department is to provide protection for Metro patrons, personnel, transit facilities, and revenue. Your vision, which starts and the top and goes all the way to the bottom, is to protect and serve our customers and employees with dignity and respect, through innovative ideas, new technologies, teamwork, integrity, a commitment to our mission and the oath of office.
Lastly, you have an oath of office. The most important thing you can take with you is your oath of office. It is very similar to the oath the President or any elected official takes. The oath calls for a higher standard, a higher calling. Though the role of the Metro Transit Police has changed dramatically over the years, your oath of office and the quality of the agency you support always remains the same. Your oath is:
On your honor, you will never betray your badge and the public trust bestowed upon you.
You will support and defend the Constitution of the United States, and conduct your duties in a lawful manner, with integrity, total dedication and impartiality.
As a Metro Transit Police Officer you will always obey the laws and will conduct your professional and private life so as to avoid bringing discredit or the appearance of discredit upon yourself or the Department you serve.
The NYPD had something called the Honor Legion. It talks about three qualities that all of you espouse.
- Courage: mental or moral strength to venture and withstand danger.
- LOYALTY: faithful in allegiance to one’s lawful sovereign or government.
- Fidelity: exactness and accuracy in details.
I want to close with one last story from “NYPD: It’s City and It’s Police” that reflects how difficult your job is and the theme that the more things change, the more they remain the same.
“Police use of force was accepted as a fact of life, even by some of those on the receiving end. Jacob Riis was at the scene of a fire in midtown Manhattan on day as police tried to hold back a group of bystanders. Riis was a reporter for the Tribune. As he watched an older man in an Ulster coat, his head buried deep in his collar and a cigar sticking out of his mouth, emerged from a nearby hotel and walked toward the fire. Suddenly a policeman grabbed him by the collar, swung him about, and gave him a resounding whack across the back with his club. “What’s the matter with you?” the cop shouted. “Don’t you see the fire lines? Chase yourself out here, and be quick about it.” Meekly the man retreated. Riis strolled over and casually asked the cop if he was aware of the identity of his victim. He didn’t know, he said-or care. Riis calmly dropped the bomb. It was Ulysses S. Grant, who following his presidency, had settled in New York. Riis supposed that the cop didn’t sleep for a week. Disgrace, dismissal, even jail loomed ahead in his imagination. But the axe never fell. Perhaps Grant did not expect too much from Americans in uniform; perhaps he considered the officer’s actions justified. As the Harper’s Magazine article observed, “the ideal policeman is only and ideal. The actual is but an approximation to the imaginary archetype because he is only a man under all the limitations of the common place American citizen.”
Citizens forget at the end of the day that Police are mere mortal human beings.
In conclusion, Machiavelli said “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”
On behalf of President Bush, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, God Bless all of you that keep us safe and secure! Congratulations!