Blue for Good
It’s More Than A Job
By Sgt. Anthony Espino
In our busy modern world, many parents are hard workers, always striving to support their children, while providing a home that’s filled will love. Children with this upbringing are blessed with parents, who teach them to be respectful, civic-minded, and responsible.
However, there are many children who are less fortunate and are raised by parents who have alcohol, drug, emotional, and or mental problems. In this difficult environment, children can become less receptive to being respectful and responsible. But, let me be clear, I have met children who have come from broken homes, who were good and respectful kids, whereas children that came from loving homes were mean and disrespectful. Yet, the law of averages dictates otherwise. My point is that many children do not have the fortune of being surrounded by positive role models, and this is where police officers can bridge the divide.
Police officers are peacemakers, law-abiding citizens who enforce the laws to keep society safe. Whether we realize it or not, police officers are put in a position to model healthy traits, such as self-esteem, physical wellness, safety, and respect. These are the traits that we were taught at the police academy. Police officers are supposed to be the model citizens who respect and enforce laws. Unfortunately, not every child responds positively to an officer’s modeling. Many are being taught disrespectful attitudes by friends and family, but that shouldn’t stop us from being a model officer.
As a police officer, it’s very important to interact with children in a positive manner. As a juvenile officer, I spend a lot of time at my local schools talking to children on topics such as bullying, stranger danger, saying no to drugs, and being respectful to their peers. This type of interaction can make a difference in a child’s life. Connecting with children is an important part of good policing. Officers who are open and interact with kids stand out in their minds and help develop opinions of those who wear a uniform. Being approachable and answering questions about what you do and how you do it, could be the beginning of a child’s desire to one day want to protect and serve. It’s also the time when a child starts to form favorable and admirable opinions of law enforcement officers.
However, this type of interaction should not only be geared toward juveniles. Police officers need to interact in a positive manner with adults, as well. A simple hello or thank you for opening a door, or letting you enter a lane of traffic, can go a long way to bringing everyone together. Engage in conversation when you’re standing in line at your local coffee shop.
Let people know we are human beings just like them, and not the lunatics the media has lately portrayed us to be.
Police officers are viewed as authority figures–someone who has all the answers and makes problems go away. It’s important that we behave in the manner we represent. Police officers enforce the laws; therefore, we must follow those laws. Remember, with great responsibility and power, comes being held to a higher standard.
Over the years, teachers, parents, and friends have told me that children watch and admire me, and many want to be just like me. Think about that for a second. I am not a celebrity, nor am I a professional athlete. Yet, I have the ability to make an impact in a similar way and on a personal level.
Here are some tips to become the best possible role model as an officer in the community.
1. Be Respectful – As the old saying goes, “Respect is not given, it’s earned.” Respect has always been a two-way street—those who give respect, more often than not, are treated with respect. At times we as officers can feel that nobody respects us, and can fall into a cynical and negativity trap. As a role model we have to rise above this and make sure we are modeling the appropriate behavior. Even in the most difficult of times, being respectful will show others that you are a leader and can adapt under pressure.
2. Integrity Matters – Think about someone you consider a role model. Now ask yourself why you chose that person. Chances are you selected him or her because of the high level of integrity he or she demonstrates on a consistent basis. Good role models never compromise their integrity in any situation—good or bad. Having the upmost integrity with every decision makes others want to model your behavior.
3. Accept Responsibility For Your Actions – Anyone in a role model position is quick to preach to others about accountability, yet, how many are willing to accept it for themselves? True role models know accepting responsibility and being held accountable is the appropriate behavior to model for others. If one is not willing to hold himself or herself to this high standards, how can they expect others to do so.
4. Words Matter – Take a moment to pause and think before speaking. Make certain your words are chosen to inspire and support others, especially when around children. Slow down the conversation with them. And if for any reason, especially when you are out in the public’s eye and become angry, take some advice from Thomas Jefferson: “When angry count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to 100.”
5. Be A Good Listener—Your most cherished and important mentors in your life are not only wise when it comes to decision making, they are expert listeners. When someone is facing a situation in their life and they seek a friend to help, they routinely select those who are good listeners. Only when you fully know the problem someone is facing, is when you should respond. So ask questions, and make sure you are listening. Being a good listener is essential for all role models.
6. Demonstrate Confidence and Leadership – A good role model is one who is confident and can inspire others to increase their self-esteem. Confidence includes being direct when speaking to subordinates and also showing you are fair with everyone. Be confident in your actions and decisions, and who you are as a person and officer.
7. Follow The Rules – As simplistic as this sounds, it must be strictly enforced. A good role model follows the rules and does not break them for any expediency. If you want others to act appropriately, make sure you are also following the rules.
8. Be Involved – As an officer in the community a simple wave and smile to residents as you are patrolling the streets can go a long way, but take it a step further. Get out and speak with them. Let them know you are available to help if they need your assistance. Get involved with the schools and programs for the youth. Showing them you vale them by sharing your time with them is a gift worth more than anything money can buy.
When I chose this career 18 years ago, it was to help people–to be someone the community can trust–and not a person looking for accolades or personal gain. As officers, we are fortunate to play an influential role to the children in our communities. We must seize this role. Take as much time as it takes to speak with the youth and provide them with information that is educational, inspiring, and positive. As they move ahead in life, these interactions and experiences will help them be better people, and they can make the right decisions when confronted with a bad situation.
Over two decades ago in a Nike commercial, former basketball player and current sports commentator Charles Barkley said, “I am not a role model… Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”
I agree with that statement; it’s the parents’ responsibility to mold their children, teaching them proper manners, respecting one another, and preparing them for the future, but we as police officers can also make a difference in a child’s or adult’s life. Clearly, we have a role to play. Make sure we are modeling the appropriate behavior. Future generations of Americans will be glad we did.
Sgt. Anthony Espino is a 18-year veteran police officer, assigned to the Patrol and Crime Prevention Unit. His passion is to lecture to community members, teachers, and students to promote awareness and offer tips to prevent crime and victimization.