By: Sgt. Jake Lepper
I have frequently carried with me a quotation by the Roman playwright Terence:
“I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me.”
To police is to be human and embrace the delightful imperfection of humanity. We must strive to marry every interaction with the profound weight of a complex and intrinsically valid life at the center. To police is to acknowledge that the ambition of every police officer should be the obsolescence of their profession. There should not exist an officer who would not be proud to turn in their badge someday with the knowledge their work is no longer needed. It is not quixotic to strive to the highest of human ideals. It is essential.
I lend great meaning to the work I do. I do not believe wearing a uniform or representing a profession is inherently virtuous. In many ways, it is the opposite. Policing is a troubled institution and for each commendable act by one of us, there is another example from history which is deplorable. The motivation for each individual to don a uniform should rightly be questioned. However, I can say with absolute certainty there lies tremendous virtue in the interactions I’ve had and the connections I’ve made.
The moments where I have been less of a cop and more of a human occupy the largest spaces in my heart. I have held people in moments of unrelenting sadness. I have returned dignity to people who have had it yanked from them by others who did not value their humanity. I’ve worked with other humans to save a life. I’ve laughed with people. I’ve cried with people. The time I helped a chancellor remove a bat flying around her living room brings a smile to my face. Without fail, it has been the moments in which I have shared raw, human connection with others that have meant the absolute most to me. Policing is replete with opportunities to connect with the vulnerable, the broken, and the hurting. It is fundamental for those who encounter these opportunities to value the meaning they create.
Our autonomy as thinking beings does not come without responsibility. We are privileged with the ability to weigh morals and to constantly challenge our own thinking and our own institutions in the pursuit of progress. The institution of policing has frequently been challenged. I am thankful we have not accepted policing as the only instrument of safety within our community. We owe it to our shared humanity to give every inhabitant of our spaces the opportunity to be themselves and pursue the things which bring their own lives meaning. We owe it to our shared humanity to ensure our existence does not encroach upon the validity and space of another.
I believe we play a hand in that. We prevent actions which endanger the lives of humans. We take responsibility for people who have overindulged and need a safe place to recuperate. Indeed, because we are an imperfect species and empathy is not universal, sometimes we must stop one human from harming another. Police are the ones who are so often called upon to pick up the pieces. Not because we are the best solution or even the appropriate one, but because we are the last one, the convenient one, or the only one. I am not here to extol the universal virtues of policing. There is far too much nuance to make that claim. I am here to claim that I fundamentally believe our only responsibility lies with valuing, listening, and providing for the welfare of all the other humans. It’s why I choose each day to police like a human.
It’s why I acknowledge that to care for others is a profound responsibility which creates its own inherent meaning. It is why we carry the moral imperative to uphold this amorphous concept of justice and why we must stand up to injustice in every form. It is why we embody the charge to protect each human’s right to exist wholly, peacefully, and happily. It is why we must understand our values and motivations but hold each interaction with the knowledge it is affecting a complete human life. A life which has been every bit as storied, complex, beautiful, tragic, and real as our own. This must be the ultimate responsibility for a police officer. It will always be mine.