Del. Price's Remarks as Prepared - December 7, 2017 NNPD Graduation
To Chief Grimstead and other distinguished leaders in the department, current officers, retired officers, family, friends, other elected officials, and our special graduates this evening - I am so honored to be with you for this occasion. And might I say what a great looking group we have here!
There must be a million thoughts running through your minds right now. Maybe there is some relief after passing those rigorous tests? There also may be some feelings of nervousness and unease about what is to come. Literally, someone might be having an “Oh Crap” moment realizing that this is real. Also, it is a celebration, so let’s see, there’s probably joy, excitement, exhilaration, delight, and I am sure you are rightfully beaming with pride. And I know the after party is about to be lit – and you deserve to celebrate.
But before we celebrate - I want to spend some time this evening is thoughts of solemn reflection – moments to reflect on the seriousness of what it is you are doing. I want us to reflect on what it means for you to take on this career.
I am a fourth generation resident of Newport News. I was born and raised here. This is truly my home. When I attended John Marshall Elementary and Riverside Elementary schools, I distinctly remember the Dare Officers, and officers that came in for career day. We got to meet the K-9 team and it was always so exciting to get to learn about the acts of bravery that the officers took to keep us safe. I knew that if I ever got lost or needed help, I could turn to Officer Friendly and get the help I needed. There was a trusted relationship that I never questioned, it was just fact. Officer Friendly was there to help.
One week after I got my full license, I was driving to one of the few places I was allowed to go, to the store to get groceries. I was on the way home and I got pulled over. I knew I wasn’t speeding because my parents had put the fear of God in me and I didn’t want to lose my driving privileges. But I was a little nervous sitting there with lights flashing behind me.
But at worst, my nervousness was that I had done something wrong and that my parents would find out. Actually, I was pulled over because my mom’s car that I was driving “fit the description” of a car that had been recently stolen. Later in the conversation, I find out that they were looking for a white Mercedes and I was very perplexed because I sat there shaking and nervous in my mom’s Silver Mercury. The confusion turned to anger once I got home and processed the possibilities of that moment.
A few years later, I went off to Atlanta for college. During my time at Spelman, in February 1999, Amadou Diallo was shot in New York. And I remember attending the protests as a freshman and in tears, yelling out the count to 41, for the 41 shots that were fired on him by officers. That was the most sobering year as I began to learn our nation’s history with police brutality and the reality of racism in the justice system.
Stick with me, I’m going somewhere.
In Maryland, while I was in grad school, there was a pretty scary incident outside of my apartment and like Batman, out of the blue, an officer pulled up and checked on me to make sure I was ok. I got to know that officer and he said I reminded him of his daughter and for the next few months, they worked to increase patrols and made sure the college students in the complex were safe when we got home late at night from study sessions.
Then, after I moved home after graduate school, I got a pretty good job working for my favorite rock star dentist and I was able to afford some nice rides. With that… over the course of a few years, it became so commonplace, that being trailed by police cars for a few miles south of Mercury Blvd became my expectation.
More recently, with the events across the nation, from police involved shootings, to let down after let down in the justice system, and a regression of federal policies to go back to “the good old days” with law enforcement. It is rough out here… for all involved.
But also, I have gotten to know some officers well by working together on projects and literally sitting down for a cup of coffee. Officers have come to my summer programs for two years now, having conversations with youth to listen to their concerns, offer help toward solutions, and re-inspire a generation to consider law enforcement for their career choice. The department is taking seriously the task of rebuilding trust in the communities they serve and it is an admirable and arduous task.
Here’s the fact. Each of these experiences that I had either chipped away at or undergirded my understanding of and attitude towards Officer Friendly. I also know there have been far more moments of meeting amazing officers who do their job with distinction and with a love for the people they serve. But if I’m being honest, the less than positive experiences stick out more sometimes.
It’s so unfair right?
None of you were involved in any of these experiences, the good or the bad. But as soon as you put on that uniform, you wear everything that the community members have been through – good or bad. In some areas, you start off with a relationship deficit based off interactions you weren’t even there for…
Trust me it’s just like politics. When I say I’m a politician, they either roll their eyes and walk away or they recount the time a politician helped them in their lives. I get defined by what previous elected officials have or have not done. In both professions, we spend a lot of time managing unreasonable expectations for constant perfection. Being all lumped in together means, the actions of one can come to define the actions of all.
So what does that mean for you?
Even in this environment of divisiveness and discord, I am sure we can all agree that it takes bravery to run toward danger. It takes courage to wake up every day to live a life of helping others.
Where the rubber meets the road is how you choose to live out your daily responsibilities. I always say, be the change, do the work. And with that, the people will notice. And they will know you care.
Here’s what this means for you as you answer this calling. To be called to integrity is to keep your word, to be of high moral character, when the cameras are on and when they are off. To be called to accountability, is to know that you are responsible for your actions and those of others. You are to have a high ethical standard for you and your partner. It means working toward excellence every day. Being the change, doing the work.
To be called to teamwork, means building relationships inside and outside of the department. It means being in dialogue, having responsibility on both sides of the equation.
It means being in constant contact with people who have different life experiences, expectations, languages, cultures, and capabilities – and treating them all with respect. It means educating, listening, being open, and finding shared and common ground.
It means remembering even in tense conversations, we all desire the same thing – safety, happiness, good health, and success.
To be called to innovation means thinking outside of the norm and avoiding the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality. It means understanding old solutions don’t fix new problems. It means shirking party affiliation and previous politics, and coming together to get things done. It means revolutionary thought and working efficiently toward our shared common goals. Be the change, do the work.
The way you can influence and change the attitudes about you that exist independent of you is to be the best you out in these streets. Be the change. Be the positive alternative. Prove the negativity to be false.
To be called to the Newport News Police Department means to be called to leadership with heart…. leadership with an understanding that every time you interact with a citizen, you have the power to change the narrative. You have the power to be an alternative to injustice we are seeing around the country.
You have the opportunity to reinforce the positives of the department. Your actions are a commercial for NNPD.
You have the power to revive Officer Friendly, to restore the value our next generations see in your profession. Every day that you put on that uniform, may it be because you are committed to the community and the citizens you serve.
I hope that tonight’s brief reflections have been fruitful for you and that you are grounded by the gravity of what it is you are about to do. And now, I offer you my heart felt Congratulations as this is really an important beginning! Take all that you’ve learned and put it to good use out there.
You are embarking on a journey – where we all want you to succeed. No, we all NEED you to succeed.
I stand ready to work with you and stand with you as you exude the core values of the department and work toward excellence. And I look forward to hearing amazing things from this graduating class of new officers. You have the power to write the future… of the department and of this great city. Thank you for your service and dedication, Congratulations and good luck.