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May 12, 2008

Always There When Needed

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

A consequence of political service is speeches. They run the gamut in both topics and the diversity of organizations before which the speech is given.


By the time you read this, I will have spoken at the Washington County Law Enforcement Awards ceremony at the Kepler Theater at Hagerstown Community College. Since the topic seems both timely and fitting, I thought I'd share those remarks here.


I could just as easily have given this speech to the men and women of the law enforcement community in Frederick County. These sentiments apply equally, regardless of the uniform being worn.


When we really need you, you're always there. Typically, that need comes at the worst possible time. Certainly the worst time for us, but often at the worst time for you. We might need you on your anniversary, or your child's birthday, or even a major national holiday. Doesn't really matter to us, though; see, we just need you.


It might be because someone has broken into our home, threatened us, or run into the back of our car. It might be worse than that, though. We might be lying by the side of the road, facing the barrel of a gun, or cradling a loved one as the life bleeds out of them. It might be just because none of us is capable of protecting our society from the people who some of you are charged with supervising.


Sometimes we might not even acknowledge our need for your help. That harried Mom, letting her kids hop around inside her car, unrestrained and unsafe, might not fully appreciate that the car stop you make will save her kids life. That guy, late for work, speeding down the Dual Highway, may not understand how being a few minutes late for work is better than not getting there at all. That partygoer, having sacrificed good judgment for another cocktail, may not readily embrace your DUI stop, ignorant of the fact that without your intervention, they might never have made it home that night. That inmate, flush with his own flawed confidence and interpretation of the law, will rarely acknowledge that your faithful stewardship is keeping him alive.


You see, we take a lot for granted. Your elected leaders at the federal, state, and local levels wrestle with budget shortages, resource constraints, and ideological battles over controversial issues, but you're always there when we need you.


Parents get caught up in soccer games, scout meetings, and PTA. But you're always there when we need you.


Business professionals are focused on the next big deal, the bottom line, and the org chart. But you're always there when we need you.


Healthcare workers, researchers, and scientists are focused on the next big breakthrough. Union leaders fight for that great contract, and teachers strive for tenure and student achievement, but you're always there when we need you.


Whether you staff a patrol shift or maintain facility security in corrections, you have proven an old adage to be true. The best aspects of human nature are revealed in the direst situations.


Unfortunately, that moment when we need you the most has us at our worst. We scream at you, we make demands of you, and we barely hear your words of recommendation and relief. We remind you that we are taxpayers, that we pay your salaries, and that by interacting with us, you're missing the REAL criminals out there. In the corrections facilities, we're quite happy to forget what happens behind the wall, leaving it up to you to deal with all of the stress, trauma, and frustration.


Through it all, you stand tall. You are unfazed by this uncontrolled behavior, because you've been blessed with the patience of Mother Teresa, the psychological awareness of Sigmund Freud, and the peace-building skills of Mahatma Gandhi.


You give much and ask for little in return. Fair wages and benefits, reasonably safe working conditions, and an occasional thank-you doesn't seem like too much to ask. Why is it that we wait until a funeral to show the kind of broad societal respect and appreciation for a dangerous job done with great humility and honor?


I recall like it was yesterday (IT WAS 16 years ago) when my youngest brother started his career as a police officer in New Castle County, Delaware. I remember my parents putting a scanner in their bedroom, just to hear his voice on the radio. I often wondered, but never had the guts to ask: what would happen if they heard him in trouble? Thankfully, we never had to suffer the agony that faced the families of Smithsburg Officer Christopher Nicholson or Corrections Officer Jeffery Wroten.


And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what amazes me most about the fact that you're always there. Regardless of the circumstance, you stand your post and serve your shift; you sacrifice family events and personal enrichment in a cause that is just and crucial to the orderly function of a free society.


My son is 17 years old. He has made it clear to his Mother and me that he wants to stand with you, that he believes a career in law enforcement is his calling. To that I say; I could not be prouder. To consider my son a member of your ranks means more to me than if he had decided to pursue any other career field. I can only hope that he will demonstrate the bravery, judgment, and dignity that each of you has shown, and that he understands that he stands in the company of heroes, heroes because you're there when we need you.

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