It may sound a bit strange and morbid to think of death as a motivator, but for me it is. Back in 2007, before the Cleveland Clinic outfitted me with 4 spinal implants, a doctor told me that I wouldn’t live longer than 6 months – due to the severe nerve damage I suffered tackling a bad guy. With frequent visits to the Clinic, I came to the realization that I might not live to a ripe old age. As I pondered my death, I waited for my wild “bucket list” to start compiling in my head: go skydiving in Colorado, maybe hang glide in Mexico, visit Ireland and experience our family’s history… But it never came. I didn’t want to go bull riding or drive a race car a 150 miles per hour (already did that one in a black and white) before I died. What did come to mind was the welfare and happiness of my family after I was gone, and what I could do about it right then that I already hadn’t.
Like most Americans, I had prepared for death by getting life insurance, but I knew that I could have done so much more as a police officer and trainer, to make society a better place for my family to live in – but I hadn’t. I wouldn’t share the materials I created as a trainer unless I got something in return that I felt was equal. I didn’t see that what I would get in return was more valuable than anything they could give me.
I have a vested interest in the next generation of police officers who will become the guardians that protect my wife and kids (maybe grandkids) after I am gone. We do not hesitate to invest in life insurance to protect our families – should we not also invest in our law enforcers who will provide a lifetime of vital service for them?
Knowing that once I am gone, I can never again share the knowledge I have learned, or impart the wisdom that I have gained terrifies me. The lessons I experienced through many trials and long tribulations will be lost forever. What a wasted legacy that would be. I am not a person who likes to feel dumb, and to sit around and make excuses why I shouldn’t “do something” for law enforcement seems dumb. Descending into professional self-pity also seems dumb, and unproductive to boot.
With National Police Week approaching, I am reminded of the sacrifices of our noble brothers and sisters, and I am truly inspired to take action from their deaths. Like you, I don’t want any more of our officers to lose their lives in the line of duty and studying the sacrifices made can save lives – while honoring others. Every choice that you and I make, are critical, because we won’t get to make them indefinitely. They can have a lasting effect on our profession and improve the safety of our officers and society.
Take a moment and visit the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund website (NLEOMF.org) and read the stories of those who have sacrificed their lives to protect our way of life. The fabric of the American society that we all hold so dear and take for granted so often. Read about the families that were left behind and see the wonderful programs offered to them through groups like Concerns of Police Survivors (NationalCOPS.org). Never underestimate the power of such lessons that came at such a high price.
When I used to worry about giving away my stuff, and how it might affect my status as an instructor, I was focusing on me and only me. Instead of concerning myself with our cadets, our officers, and our society, I worried about my ego, my pride, and my vanity. I still catch myself from time to time, worrying about trivial matters that won’t be of concern to anyone a day later. We should choose to “Do Something” for Law Enforcement Rather than Just “Be Someone” in Law Enforcement.
I really want to live a life that is regret free, so I won’t wait until death is standing on my door step once again to give back to our profession. I would like to challenge you to start a new tradition this year on May 15th, Peace Officer’s Memorial Day. Please continue paying tribute by participating in the candle light vigil, and make sure to pray for the families left behind. But I ask you to make a choice, to also be proactive with your tribute this year. Take the knowledge you gleaned from your research and combine it with your years of law enforcement experience, and then impart it on a new recruit or rookie officer. Stimulate discussions, ideas, stories, and positive action by those you mentor.
These short daily lessons could one day save an officer’s life (maybe yours), and many more as the stories get passed on from one officer to another. I can assure you that every law enforcement family would rest a little easier knowing that these mentorships were routine. Don’t stop after sharing the lesson and your wisdom. Encourage other officers to do the same, and you will create a new tradition that inspires action and saves lives.
What would you like your obituary to say about you? What legacy do you want to leave behind, not only for your family, but also for the guardians of justice who will watch over them? My suggestion is that we all start working on them now. Society and law enforcement will benefit from the wisdom you share and the integrity you show.
Richard Neil is the author of “Police Instructor,” and the “Phalanx Law Enforcement” training blog at www.PhalanxLE.com. He is a retired city cop who instructs academy cadets and veteran instructors. He can be contacted through his website that is dedicated to law enforcement educators and trainers – http://www.leotrainer.com