Keynote Address

On Jan. 17, NJ State PBA President Pat Colligan gave the keynote address at the graduation of the Cape May County Police Academy 41st Basic Course for Police Officers. Here are some excerpts from that address:

The NJ State PBA publishes New Jersey Cops Magazine and the director was kind enough to allow NJ Cops complete access from the very first day that these recruits arrived in August until their graduation today. It was an honor and a privilege to follow these recruits. The police academy provides extraordinary training for these recruits, and they are well prepared for policing in 2017 and beyond. The training will prepare them for just about anything that they will encounter.

What I would like to tell you first, in the audience, is what the Academy has done for you. I don’t think the officers are going to want us to talk about it, but you deserve it after watching them all leave every Sunday or Monday morning. This academy has taught them how to iron. They can make their beds. They learned how to use a washing machine. Unfortunately, it’s only khakis and whites, but I assume you can let them know how to use colors when you get home. Most importantly, they can shower, shave and do all of their other business and get out of the bathroom in 30 seconds. That’s what the academy has done for you.
Things have changed slightly since I graduated from a similar academy in 1992. Most of these recruits hadn’t been born yet. Yahoo was something you said when you were excited. Gas was $1.05 and you paid the toll on the Parkway with something called a token. So we can agree that times have changed since 1992. The technology has certainly changed, and much of the police training has changed. But the core principles of policing have not.

The members of the very first municipal police department from Boston reported for duty in 1838, as these officers are responding in 2017. What has not changed, and will never change, are the core values of law enforcement: professionalism, compassion, respect, integrity and dedication. Whether you respond on horseback or in a car, whether you respond with a lantern or a flashlight, the call was answered the same way in 1838 as it was in 1992, and will be tomorrow for some of you.

You will respond with professionalism, compassion, respect, integrity and dedication. Bring those values to every call. Treat every victim and even every suspect like you would want your family to be treated. And you will enjoy a very long, healthy and rewarding career. The technology may be vastly different 25 or 30 years from now. The training will change. But those core values will remain exactly the same – I guarantee it.

Regardless of the size of your agency or part of the state where you will be working, you will witness the very best and the very worst society has to offer. You will witness the first breaths of life and the last gasps before death. You will make the death notification to a family and feel like the loneliest person on the planet. You will arrive first on the call and feel like backup will never arrive. You will be honored and praised. You will be criticized, unfairly judged and vilified. But you will get to the finish line in this career, look back and realize that you really did make a difference and never wonder if you made the right choice. It’s been said countless times and I’ll say it again: You have the front-row seat to the greatest show on earth.
These are not easy times to wear a badge, as our country wrestles with issues of race and inequality. Our profession has experienced more changes in the past few years than we have in the history of modern policing. Some of it is deserved, but much of it is not. Regardless, it is the cards we have been dealt. You have the incredible opportunity to leave here today and prove the critics wrong. I hope that you do.

Finally, and most importantly, is a message I’ll leave for your well-being. This vocation that we’ve chosen is not an easy one. We put this uniform on every day. We are the heroes and the knights in shining armor. Eventually, we forget to take the uniform off and take care of ourselves. The pressures can mount and feel overwhelming. Cops didn’t ask for help years ago; they feared for their jobs. Thankfully, that is no longer the case. There are an incredible number of resources out there for us if some day you find that you might need them. Please take advantage of them. You will never have to deal with those issues alone. There are some incredible people out there who want to help us.

To my newest brothers and sisters of law enforcement: Good luck to you, your friends and your families that are joining you here today. You’ve been well prepared by this Academy. May you be blessed with a long, healthy and, most important, safe career.