“Don’t touch it!!”
— Dale, from the movie, Step Brothers
I must have seen the movie Step Brothers a couple hundred times. It is one of my favorite comedies. In the scene with the above quote, Dale, played by John C Reilly, is explaining how sacred his drum set is to him. “Don’t touch it!”, he screams, when he is laying down the ground rules of the house. I was watching the movie again recently during a channel surfing session, and that scene reminded of a concept I learned in the police academy from an instructor. This instructor, who was a veteran cop, talked about the concept of the sacred duty belt. What is the concept of the sacred duty belt?
This concept, which was not part of the official Department of Criminal Justice Services mandated basic academy curriculum, was taught and constantly reinforced by an instructor that shall remain anonymous for this column. Essentially, this concept stresses that everything on your duty belt, including gun, radio, magazines and less lethal equipment, is absolutely sacred. No one should ever, ever, ever touch anything on your belt.
“Don’t touch it!” What cop can argue with that? The tools on our belt are there to keep us officers and the citizens we protect safe and allow us to do our job. Anyone touching our belts, or trying to access the things on them most likely has evil intentions and are looking to harm us.
This instructor also always talked about how we as cops should treat the gear on our duty belts with extreme reverence. The tools on our belts, this instructor argued, should always be operational, clean, and very well-cared for. He said that this gear should be treated with almost a religious zeal; much in the same way the Jewish people treat the Torah, how followers of Islam consider copies of the Koran, and so on. The duty belt, and the tools on them, should be considered sacred. We might need them one day to save our life, the life of a fellow officer, or the life of a citizen.
It is not easy being a police officer today. Some members of the public and the media have created a vitriolic and hyperbolic atmosphere toward law enforcement. This atmosphere is based on a few viral videos that represent a tiny fraction of the overall citizen and police interactions. The vast and overwhelming majority of citizen and police interactions are positive. Members of the media seem to have forgotten about all of the good work and sacrifices, sometimes with our lives, that we police officers do every day. While the negative atmosphere surrounding law enforcement and our profession will probably continue for the near future, I think it is important for us to remember another aspect of the sacred duty belt concept: the trust that the public has bestowed upon the police in our country.
Every American citizen has three basic rights that are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. These are: the right to life, the right to liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These three rights are the foundation of our laws and our way of life. We as police officers have been granted legal authority to take away those fundamental rights when necessary. What an awesome responsibility! No one else in our society has the power and or authority to revoke a citizen’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. When we arrest someone, we are taking away his or her right to liberty. And unfortunately, when officers are forced to use deadly force, we are taking away someone’s right to life.
When we respond to calls for service, we are representing our chiefs of police. Our chiefs cannot respond to every call for service. They select and empower representatives to stand in their place, and represent them on these calls. The chief bestows or passes on the trust placed in them by the public to officers in their department. So, when a citizen calls the police and says, “I need help,” the responding officer or officers are representing their respective Chief of Police. The public trusts that those selected to be police officers will enforce the laws of our country without passion or prejudice. The public also trusts that the police will only use force when necessary and that the police will only use a reasonable amount of force given the circumstances. Our duty belts, and the tools on them, represent this trust that the public has placed in us.
It is not possible to easily repair the damage, some of it self-inflicted but most of it not; that has been done to the public perception of law enforcement. This will take time. Unfortunately, until that time comes we are forced to combat the almost constant and daily negative stories about our profession. To help ignore or tune out some of the negativity, the next time you put on your duty belt try to remember the awesome responsibility we have and the trust that the public has placed upon us. The tools on our duty belts are symbolic of this trust. Consider it a privilege to wear the duty belt, and like Dale says in Step Brothers, “Don’t touch it!” We have been selected to enforce laws and have been granted powers that are not granted to anyone else in our society. This should not be treated like a privilege. It should be treated as an honor. And what an honor it is.
William Gage is an experienced and award winning law enforcement professional that recently returned to local law enforcement with the Leesburg VA Police Department, after a 12 year career as a Special Agent with the United States Secret Service. During his 12 years with the Secret Service, he was the recipient of numerous awards for investigative and protective excellence. He has participated in hundreds of protective missions, and has done numerous foreign and domestic foreign protective advances for the President, Vice-President, and others. These included protective missions to hostile areas such as Iraq, and Afghanistan. William also served as the Lead Tactical Advance Agent for numerous National Special Security Events (NSSEs), and served as a Team Leader on the elite Counter Assault Team (CAT) focusing on active shooter response, threat mitigation and planning at the White House and other U.S. Government functions and facilities. Prior to joining the Secret Service, William was a Police Officer in Leesburg, Virginia where he received awards for exceptional performance. During his time as a Police Officer has as served as a SWAT Officer, and Bike Officer. He returned to local law enforcement in 2013, and returned to the Leesburg Police Department and currently works Patrol. William also works as an active shooter and security consultant with several companies, including PSIG, BLR, and Willis. He has given numerous public presentations about active shooter awareness, training and preparation and has appeared on various other media outlets including CNN and CSPAN. He also helps businesses with continuity of operations planning and logistics. He has written for several law enforcement and security journals, to include Law Officer, Police One, Tactical Solutions Magazine, and others. He holds a B.A. from the Virginia Military Institute, and an M.A. from Boston University.