The Courage to Police with Integrity

Washington, Dc, 1993 when I received the National Police Leadership Award from my colleagues who were members of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). Right to left: Masterson, Capt. Ted Balistreri, Noble Wray (recently retired Madison Chief of Police), Capt. Jeff Frye, and me.
Upon receiving the annual National Police Leadership Award from the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). Right to left: Chief (then Capt.) Mike Masterson, Capt. Ted Balistreri, Noble Wray (then Sgt. and now recently retired Madison Chief of Police), Capt. Jeff Frye, and me. Washington, DC, Spring, 1993.

Washington, Dc, 1993

Mike Masterson of Boise, Idaho is retiring at the end of this year after a decade as Boise’s chief of police. The following are major excerpts from his address to the graduating class of police officers on Sept, 12, 2014. He called it (and it was) “A Heart to Heart Talk.”

But first, some background. I had the pleasure of working with Mike when I was in Madison. We had an idea that we need to experiment with some of the things we were learning about excellence, organizations and leadership – about authority, listening, collaborative decision-making and being intimately connected with our diverse communities. Mike volunteered to join the command staff in the newly-created “Experimental Police District.”

I knew then what I know now, Mike is a top leader, “walks his talk” and acts on his values in this “noble profession.”

His address to the newest police officers in Boise:


Chief Mike Masterson today.
Chief Mike Masterson today.

“Over the past six months you’ve learned much about enforcing laws which protect society from harm. You’ve been well trained and I’m sure eager to begin practicing your skills. Today, I’d now like to talk about the other aspect of our work as police officers – protecting the individual freedoms and the rights of others.

“Two days ago, I brought you to a very special place in Boise, Idaho and the world, The Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial…

“I have had the opportunity to visit the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial many times during my tenure as Boise’s Police Chief . This memorial is one of just a few locations in the world where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is on public display in its entirety…The declaration consists of 30 articles all having a nexus to human rights. It was published in 1948 by the General Assembly of the United Nations…

“Why is it important? Alongside the six million Jewish victims of Nazi persecution, hundreds of thousands of others were targeted by Hitler’s regime – including union members, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, the disabled, and those attacked simply for their race and religion. These are special communities within our community, sadly still sometimes vulnerable to hatred and discrimination and denial of rights simply because of who they are or what they believe. It is a particularly important message to those in policing.

“For those of you just starting your policing career, always remember: policing in a free society begins with the police protecting and respecting our freedoms to practice the religion we choose, to speak freely, to protest government, and to peaceably assemble for whatever cause, gun rights to gay rights.

“Respect must be given to all individuals at all times. We believe we can best earn that respect by first respecting the rights of others.

“We respect rights by valuing people’s differences. Police officers must be at the front line of serving our most vulnerable populations – with justice, respect, and dignity.

“And of course…courage. It takes courage to enter a burning building to rescue an individual; it takes courage to confront a person you witness commit a serious crime; it takes courage to restrain ourselves in using only that amount of force necessary to control the situation.

“But it also takes courage to protect a person who spews hatred toward others in the community; it takes courage to resist responding in kind when a citizen is despicable in his/her conduct toward you and spits, curses and calls you names; it takes courage to contact a homeless man whom you have watched over time begin suffering from dementia to the point he is medically endangered and you connect him with VA benefits; and it takes courage to end a high speed chase when it endangers others.

“The message I want you to carry with you from today is the courage you will need in policing is not only physical – about risking your life for another – it is also courage in the form of restraint and providing protection to others…

“All of us have a role in speaking out, particularly on behalf of others- for social justice, anti-discrimination, and equal rights…

“When you return to the Boise Police Department and walk along our honors hallway, you will see the words of C.S. Lewis, ’Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.’

“You are now at the front line of our mission: protecting, serving and leading your community to a safer tomorrow.

“Protect others not only from crime but safeguard their rights by your actions.

“Provide the highest level of customer service. We work for the greater good of the community and to serve others. Be a part of your community. Be intimately connected to the community you police and by all means, give back to the community in the many ways other members of the Boise Police Department has so proudly have done in the past.

“And finally, have the courage to do what is right for others. Our emphasis on courage should not come as a surprise to you. It was one of the important questions we asked in our employment interview and one of the main reasons you are here today. Courage is a Latin term that is translated ‘from the heart’ and speaks of the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face adversity without fear…

“My challenge and my hope for you is to spend your career protecting the safety of others and make a difference in the lives of those we serve, perhaps in small but meaningful ways, and change things for the better. My advice- start now as you will soon learn, as I have, that your career in policing will be over before you know it and you will look back asking yourself – did I make a difference? Did I matter? And the answer should be an unequivocal YES…

“Our citizens, our customers, those we serve entrust us with great power and the expectation to use it morally and responsibly to protect and to preserve human dignity and life. [We] trust you to perform those duties – with honor, respect, integrity and courage.

“Welcome to the Boise Police Department and a noble profession.”

[You can read his entire talk and news story HERE.]