Everyone has a legacy, rooted in their character. Your legacy is the sum total of your life, and it is what people remember when they think of you, when they hear your name. It is that to which your children turn in remembrance of you through their own memories, what others tell them. It is what you leave behind, beyond estates, wealth, or possessions. Your legacy is what you are building right now, and it reflects your core values. You alone determine what it will be by the choices you make daily.
“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” – Dale Carnegie
So what is your legacy? After you leave law enforcement, when you go to the FOP lodge or see former law enforcement associates, what do they remember? When they fold that flag and hand it to your family, what will the preacher have to say, and will anyone be there to hear? That is your legacy, and it sticks with you like glue. The mental images people remember – work ethic, antics, relationships, character, level of integrity—all can bring back fond (or for some, not so fond) memories. Having worked in law enforcement, both civilian and military, and having met officers from local, state, and federal agencies across the nation, to a man, those departmental staff reflect very favorable character.
Very few I have known evoke memories of being violent, abusive, reckless, or worse. Unfortunately the bad examples grab the headlines far too often. Good officers doing kind deeds, showing appropriate compassion to victims, or maintaining the highest standards of integrity somehow miss the six o’clock lead. Rather, the headline is about the officer who killed his wife (or three), traded sex for a traffic violation oversight, or acted without restraint—now those fill the news.
I know the good side that the media often ignores. My goal is to fight for the good guys and take a stand when media paints law enforcement with a single brush tainted by a bad role model – at the expense of so many of you with a great legacy.
Every person’s name evokes a response for what we remember about them – the good – the bad – and the ugly. Some officers are remembered for their prowess on the street, investigative skills, people skills, their contributions to the community, and the life they live off the streets as friends a family members. Some who were once known for their outstanding career, at the end of the day, created a legacy that is now compromised by their actions that taint the good they may have done for years. The choices you make today may well live with you forever, and those choices are at the core of your character. Alcohol abuse, spousal abuse, excessive force, abuse of authority – each have the ability to destroy your legacy and portray a history of bad choices, overwhelming the good of the past. Ask Michael Vick. Different profession, but same principal. Your reputation is based on opinions looking at your history, but your character, your legacy, is the true evidence of who you really are, when no one is around. So, who are you?
What will people remember about you? Amazing officer, person of integrity, dedicated to justice, destined for greatness – – – or party animal, drank me under the table, wasted days and wasted nights, violent, reckless and abusive. One thing for certain, your nameWILL evoke a memory. You decide now what the memory will be then. You craft your legacy with each day, each shift, each encounter with friends, family, citizens, and the world around you. I have vivid memories of my Detective Bureau Sergeant
Bobby Wash, and partner Drew Grant. Drew and I are still close. Both Bobby and Drew were—and are today men of character, integrity, service to all. But I also remember Jimmy and Bernie, one involved in questionable shootings, the other brutal and antagonistic, provoking violent incidents. Sadly I remember an old partner Jack, now serving life for double homicide. He started off a servant of the people, but through the years, alcohol abuse and three divorces evidenced his decline.
Recently I had the opportunity to attend the funeral of Trinity Steagall, son of Officer Rose Steagall with Franklin, TN PD. The pastor had no problem speaking highly of the young man praising his character, and commented on the amazingly large crowd attending the service. Trinity is a reflection of Rose, and though I never met him, it is clear, observing Rose, his mother’s legacy lived in him, and his legacy now carries on in her. Case in point, Rose was just honored by FOP Lodge 41 for all she has done for other officers and their families. Now that is a legacy, and I am better for knowing Rose.
My old Chief of Police, Charles Grant, is one of the finest men I know. Excellent officer, brilliant detective, leader of men, admired by all who know him—a man whose legacy still impacts Norfolk officers today. His legacy also lives in his son Drew, a partner of partners, a man of enduring character. Honestly, Drew challenged me one night when I was overreacting in an arrest. Had he not confronted me, I assure you I would not be writing this today, because my legacy would have stained the badge I carried, and tarnished the department I respect. I would have been yet another bad example.
To that end, I offer this challenge: Be the example Drew was to me when the opportunity arises. Listen to those who speak wisdom into your life as he did for me. Honor your department and the memory of all those who have pinned on the badge and served faithfully, as well as those who serve today.
Perhaps Jack, Bernie, or Jimmy might have been different if one of us had the courage Drew displayed with me. My brothers, we must care for each other, not just with the blue wall, but with a blue heart, pledged to the willingness to get involved and help a brother in trouble personally, emotionally. Protect and serve must not only extend to the public, but also to our brotherhood. It is just as important to have your brothers back in a fight for integrity and character as it is to have his or her back in a fight on the street, or officer down. Certainly be strong and willing to risk your life to protect and support officers, but be just as willing to be strong and offer encouragement, wise counsel, or personal counsel when an officer is struggling to keep it together.
Enjoy law enforcement – serve well, honor the badge, and as you do, leave a legacy that will not embarrass you or your associates later.When I left the Norfolk PD, I was challenged by Officer Gary Falls—”just don’t embarrass us man.” Because I still respect my brothers in blue, those words continue as to do all I can to honor God, Country, and my brothers. What will people remember when they hear your name? It is up to you. But rest assured, your character IS your legacy.
If you roll with the wise, You become wise
But if you hang with fools, You will get hurt
King Solomon (paraphrase)