We have heard a lot of academy graduation speeches but this one is about as good as it gets. You will recognize the speaker as Louisiana Captain Clay Higgins.
Captain Higgins is no longer with this agency but we believe this speech should be required to be watched by every law enforcement officer. Thank you Captain Higgins for the legacy you are leaving others.
You can read the transcript of the speech below:
That was a hell of an introduction, Ladies and gentlemen graduating officers. Thank you for allowing me the honor of addressing you today. I’m Lieutenant Clay Higgins, St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s office, public information officer. As the captain said I’ve been behind the badge for many years, always a street cop. For the last eleven years I’ve been SWAT and seven of those years I’ve worked night shift. Eight months ago my Sheriff asked me to be his public information officer, a position I knew nothing about and me being me, I just say yes sir. It’s my great honor to work for Sheriff Bobby J. Guidroz and my jurisdictional authority covers the parish I live in as represented by the badge I wear. But my sacred oath is to serve and protect all American citizens, to represent the United States Constitution and the righteous principles it represents. And to stand for the rights established by that Constitution, for all my brethren, regardless of color or creed, social background, economic standing, or political affiliation. Serve and protect that’s a praise you graduating officers will hear many times in your career. I like to share with you some thoughts if I may, about what that praise really means. Unlike any other, your job began with an oath, a sacred oath sworn by men and women of courage and character for generations before you. You officers are said to begin your career at a time in our country that witnesses a division, between the badge you wear and the citizens you sworn to serve and protect.
The way you and graduated officers across the country uphold your oath will determine the future of law enforcement in America. Today as a gift from me you will each receive a copy of the United States Constitution. I employ you to read it, meditate on the words themselves and the spirit behind them. The principles behind that sacred document will serve you well. Touched by God the rights established by our constitution represent the very best the world has ever achieved and it’s your job to see that those rights are protected. Serve and protect the duty behind that praise begins with the oath you’ve sworn, with a clear understanding that the foundational mission is to serve and protect the citizens you represent and to serve and protect the rights and principles that your badge represents. Most of you will go straight to patrol. The patrol division of any department is the point of the spear. You’ll roll your streets without glory, exposed to great danger, frequently unseen, usually unheard, sometimes unappreciated and always underpaid. So ask yourself begin each day from bended knee and ask your own heart. What drives me to wear the badge? As you search your own heart before each shift. If you conscience is clear, if your willingness to venture once more to the prey was founded by righteous service for the citizens you’ve sworn to serve and protect. If you’re prepared to observe unwavering the constitutional principles that your badge represents and get up, gear up, mount up, roll out. Hit your streets with competence and courage intend to deliver respectful, compassionate police protection dedicated to investigate and arrest with utmost professionalism, always with an eye to the rights of those you serve, always with a clear memory of the badges that have come before you, ever conscious of the sacred duty you’ve sworn to perform with constant prayer upon your lip that if this day is to be your last let your actions be courageous, your aim true, your jaw set, your spirit at ease and your heart without malice, so help you God.
As you perform those duties. I ask you to put yourself above no man. None of us can claim to be without fault. All of us here today have made great mistakes in the course of our life. Each of us continue to struggle with our own fault, our own weaknesses, our own demons. Someone asked me recently did I have a skeleton in my closet. I said no sir, but I’ve got a graveyard in there, it’s a big closet. I spent fifty four years, becoming a man that stands before you today. All of us fall in life, but a man’s character should not be measured by how he falls, it should be measured by how he stands back up. The criminals you will arrest and I’ve arrested a couple of thousand, are not necessarily bad people. They made bad choices, criminal choices, but every man and woman you’ll ever arrest has one thing in common, the redemptive power of their own spirit. Jail need not be the end of the line for a man. It can be the beginning of a life renew, the citizens you’ll arrest during your career will frequently come from a challenging background. Many will be poor, most will have grown up in dangerous neighborhoods without proper guidance and counsel, and without the benefit of a strong family, you’ve got a family that’s with you here today, many will be poorly educated and most will feel trapped in the horrible world of drugs and petty crime. Ask yourself, look into your own heart and ponder what sort of person would you have become if your life had been like that. There are exceptions, of course, some people are able to arise from poverty and the crime-ridden neighborhoods of their youth and grow to become wonderful, productive citizens. I’m not suggesting the criminals are victims, men don’t break into homes or commit armed robbers because their daddy didn’t hug them enough. They do so because they’ve given up on life, given up on the dreams of their youth. None of us here today bind to the modern concept of that mass victimization. Yet, in your own heart and mind, there should be consideration for the life your fellow man has endured.
There should be room for intellectual understanding of the very real circumstances that many people will find themselves crossed with the law of suffering. And therein lies compassion. I asked that with every single citizen you arrest that you allow room in your heart for mercy and faith in your God, for the redemptive nature of the human spirit. Make a positive difference in that man’s life by showing kindness, by representing goodness, by sharing human compassion by being slow to anger, and by careful observation of their rights as established by our Constitution. If you’re able to embrace these things, if you’re willing to perform to these standards, you will accomplish more than a very successful career. You’ll have brought honor and dignity to badges from sea to shining sea. You’ll have represented the very highest standards of American law enforcement and you’ll have added to the internal strength of the United States Constitution that you sworn to uphold. As you ponder the meaning of serve and protect that I’ve shared with you today. Please allow me to leave you with some key points and practical advice for your career.
Learn the law, keep your statute book close and research every statute you intend to enforce before you write your probable cause. Keep your PC brief, write it in a chronological order as the incident unfolded and narrate the elements of the crime, precisely as they are associated with the identifiers written into the statute, you’re charging.
Be early for shift, five minutes early, ten minutes late, have your uniform tailored and your hair cut short. Keep your patrol unit spotless, your boots highly polished and your brass squared away. Stay in shape or get in shape, get lean, get strong. Be ready to run, fight and shoot.
Improve your shooting skills, spend time on a range, training practical shooting drills. Try to stretch yourself by reaching muscle fatigue prior to shooting. Then train from fifteen yards and closer, two to the body, one to the head. Improve your martial skills constantly. If your current style leans towards ground fighting, you might want to consider an adjustment, grappling and submission of finding the right circumstance, but at three in the morning when you’re by yourself having to fight more than one guy in a ditch somewhere, you’ll need knockout stand up skills.
Invest in gears, spend some of your money every month to buy the tools you’ll need to be tactically advantaged. There is always one guy on a shift that has every conceivable piece of equipment that can ever be needed, be that guy. Cherish your wife and children or honor your husband. Lift your family above yourself, be humble and forgiving if you do, you’ll find your marriage growing stronger. If you don’t, you’ll lose your marriage. Be loyal to your Chief or sheriff and don’t participate in gossip or demeaning talk about your chain of command or your fellow officers. To participate in cheap talk is to diminish yourself and the badge you wear. Be smart, safe and tactical as you work but don’t forget the cowboy in your blood.
Wyatt Earp remains the most legendary law man in our history and he conquered every challenge with a cool hand and a revolver. No ballistic vest, no fancy gadgets on his belt, no radio. He retired an old man in Alaska, in full health, and with a beautiful young wife, so don’t underestimate cowboy skills. Just remember Cowboys ABCs, always be cool.
If your department allows it do regular foot patrols on your beat. Try to get to know the people you serve. When you’re in your unit patrols slow and respond fast but don’t crash your car. Cops do the stupidest things when their adrenaline is up and they’re driving to a complaint, don’t be that guy. Get there as fast as you can within the parameters of safety, safety for you and for the other motorists and pedestrians on the road. It does no one any good if you crash your car on the way to a hot complaint. As I reach conclusion here today. I’d like to say to the families of these graduating officers just how much it means to us that you’ve made this commitment, your role is crucial to the success of these men and women. Your nights will be long, your fears will be justified, your spirit will be tested, your sanity will be questioned. Your patience will run thin yet in the end, your faith will prevail and your courage shall stand victorious. Finally, as I advised earlier, you officers, you young offices listen to Uncle Clay. I’m talking straight to you, begin each day from bending knees. Look into your heart and seek righteousness and truth. Recall the sacred duty you sworn to perform and the generations of Americans that have worn a badge before you. Talk to your Savior and ask his blessing, then stand up, walk tall and hit the street, no longer alone. You now join a brotherhood of millions, your place amongst us have been prepared. Welcome to the thin blue line. We stand together as one against crime, against injustice, against the very gates of hell. Serve and protect as you leave this hall today fully commission peace officers. It is my humble wish that my counsel will have helped you consider the vast meaning of those words and to grasp the significance of your career. It is my prayer that you will venture forth with renewed love for your fellow men, with strength and commitment for your family, with courageous intent to perform your duty and with uplifted faith in our Lord.
Good luck to you all. Thank you and may God bless us one and all.
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