What makes a king kingly? His position of power and the army at his fingertips? His clothing and appearance? The wise counsel that he gives?
What makes a knight a true knight? His bravery and sense of justice? His defense of the young and innocent? His weaponry and tactical skills?
And what allows police officers to serve among the ranks of the noble? Is it their honor and high standards? The higher calling to serve beyond themselves? Their superior fitness? Their fidelity to the community and their duties? Perhaps all of the above, so let’s consider these noble characteristics.
Law enforcement officers are the guardians of democracy. Their heroic actions (including running toward danger when everyone else flees) literally save lives every day. They sacrifice for the best interests of the community, and they impact generations that have yet to be born in those same communities.
They believe in the truth, the rules of law and order, and doing the right thing. They are honest, fair and worthy of respect. They are admired for their actions, including protecting citizens from danger, increasing community safety and building trust.
They serve when it’s difficult and demanding, when it’s dull and boring, when it’s not glamorous and not enticing, even when it’s vile and repulsive. They are dependable good Samaritans. They do the work when others would rather ride the bench, talk trash and look away when their neighbor is in need.
Policing demands high personal and professional standards. Officers must accept and abide by high ethical and moral standards that are consistent with the rule of law they are sworn to uphold. They must employ propriety and discretion in all of their actions — on duty and off duty — and they will be scrutinized by their chiefs and chain of command, elected officials and any given community member at any given moment. They live and work under a Monday-morning-quarterback microscope. Who else can say the same?
If an accountant gets an off-duty DUI, no one blinks. Truly, no one even knows. If an off-duty cop gets a DUI, they lose their job. One bad call and it’s all over. Many want to wear the uniform but are unwilling to truly serve or simply unable to rise to the level. Character counts. Principles matter.
Policing is a calling that connects the individual officer to their values, meaning in life and purpose. It is more than just a job that pays the bills, and it’s more than a career that affords opportunities for growth and advancement.
How do you know if you were called? Certainly, the call might look different for each officer, but take a moment and reflect. Did you have a hunger that compelled you into the profession? Did you want to be a cop from when you were little? Did you dream about it? Were you not at peace until you applied for the position? Did you have a yearning that went beyond yourself? Did you desire to protect and serve others, especially the vulnerable who cannot protect themselves? Were you willing to sacrifice time, resources and skills for the benefit of others? Do you put the needs of the community before your own? Do you persevere despite the trials and tribulations of serving? Do you experience a sense of timelessness? Do hours feel like minutes when you’re on a call? Does time seem to fade away when you’re doing the work? Are you growing and contributing? Do you think this is what you were meant to be?
Fitness for duty
Policing is noble, at least in part, because not everyone has the right stuff. Not everyone is fit for duty — physically, psychologically and spiritually. The candidate must be able to perform the essential tasks of the dangerous work in a manner that does not threaten the health or safety of self, others or property. The candidate must also be counted on to achieve mission without compromising integrity.
The academy physical training program is rigorous and demanding, and yet it is only one of several steps to assess whether any candidate is physically fit for duty. Depending on your age and sex, you should be able to do a specific number of max sit-ups and push-ups in one minute. The sit-up test measures the endurance of the abdominal and hip-flexor muscles, and the push-up test measures upper body strength and endurance. The exact minimum number of each may vary per agency, but the average non-recruit off the street should be able to perform 20 to 30 sit-ups in one minute. A fit civilian can do closer to 50 to 60. A police recruit at any given agency may be expected to do more in one minute just to pass the academy.
The 300-meter sprint is a short, intense burst of effort that measures anaerobic power, and the 1.5-mile run measures cardiorespiratory endurance and long bouts of work. The average non-recruit off the street runs the 300-meter in the range of about 65 to 76 seconds. A fit civilian will run it in less than 65 seconds. Generally, a good minimum standard for the 1.5-mile run is closer to 10:30 (or a 7:00-per-mile pace), but, again, minimum standards for any physical measure vary by age and sex and department.
The pre-employment psych screening is a mental health evaluation to determine whether the candidate is psychologically fit for duty. This is yet another gatekeeping function that all candidates desiring noble work must successfully complete. Conditions such as bipolar disorder, recurring major depression, recurring anxiety disorders, obsessive/compulsive disorders and most diagnoses leading to psychiatric hospitalization tend to result in psychological disqualifications. Candidates for most other professions do not have to endure such intensive testing and review of medical records just to get on the job.
Fitness for duty (FFD) evaluations during the course of employment are conducted in response to a complaint that an officer may be unable to perform official duties in a safe and effective manner (or may even pose a direct threat) due to a psychological condition. Accountants, teachers and others do not have to be psychologically evaluated to possibly retain employment if someone claims they may not be able to effectively perform their jobs.
Spiritual fitness is distinct from physical and psychological fitness, and it is considered part of total force fitness (body and soul) in military and paramilitary organizations. It includes an officer’s ability to adhere to beliefs, principles and values needed to persevere and prevail in accomplishing any given mission. This ensures consistent behavior in times of severe stress and strain, allowing officers to perform with integrity regardless of threats and temptations.
Are you fit for noble duty? Consider Game of Thrones. Are you, like Ned Stark, a good and honorable Warden of the North? Do you seek power just to be powerful, or would you, like Stannis Baratheon (in the book series), be the only king to ride North to help at the Wall? Do you, like Balon (father of Theon Greyjoy), puff up your chest and act like a powerful reaver king plundering from your own kingdom, or are you truly a good representative of the police department? The High Sparrow talked the talk about aiding the poor, but his true colors shone through by shaming and degrading transgressors — who can forget Cersei’s Walk of Shame? Do you talk the talk, and walk the walk? Do you completely abandon your duties and responsibilities to kingdom and family by gambling, binge-drinking, sleeping around and leaving the kingdom in tatters, or are you a responsible steward? And finally, King Joffrey — the petty, selfish, cowardly and vain ruler — embodied the antithesis of a king. He treated other nobles poorly, surrounded himself with thugs, abused women and did not care about the kingdom he was supposed to serve. How do you treat other officers? With whom do you surround yourself? How do you treat women, people of color and those who are the more vulnerable members of your community? Do you truly serve the community that entrusts you with their protection?
The call to fidelity — to be faithful — to the community and one’s duties is omnipresent for police officers in a manner like no other job, career or calling. Fidelity in small things — the little rules, the little sacrifices that are made, the little services that are rendered to others — exemplifies the love that officers have for their community without looking for recognition or success. And whoever is faithful in the little things is faithful in the big things.
Remain faithful to the call, even in times of crisis, even when things get unpleasant, even if treated unjustly or if your service is not appreciated. This is precisely how nobility is forged.