To Chief Monroe, the chiefs of our other distinguished departments represented here today, to the command staffs, distinguished guests, families of the officers who have given their all for us, and to you active duty officers who now diligently protect and serve us; thank you for your service and for allowing me to express the gratitude so many have for you and for your service.
Although it seems almost a lifetime ago, it really, certainly in the scope of eternity, was not long ago that I stood at a podium much like this, in a room much like this, to talk to a group of people much like you. Elected to represent my graduating police academy class as the class speaker for session #73 of the Prince George’s County Police Department at our graduation, now, looking back, it seems like I was just much too young to be able to say anything weighty or profound about the illustrious profession – the career in which my classmates and I were to embark. While I am older, in the shadow of these giants whom we celebrate today, sometimes words are just hard to find. But, sometimes, that is just what we need, the right word at the right time.
My academy session’s motto was “together we stand, never we fall.” Early on, our trainers inculcated into us the idea that we could not do this vocation alone, that we all need good back-up. And I want to say to you – the families who have lost loved ones, sacrificed in the battle for good - you are not alone. We come together today - maybe to step back just a bit to peek at the bigger picture – we come together to respect, to honor, and to remember.
You see for those of us in the family of law enforcement, we know the unrealistic demands society places on those who have answered the calling of this profession. Let me ask this, how many of you have been dispatched to this call: “King 1 and King 2 respond to 123 Main Street; meet the – the complainant – He and his wife are getting along marvelously, their kids are straight A students and obey their every word, and they’d like you to come share a glass of tea and celebrate that with them”? We can chuckle at that but we know that the peace officer is at once the most needed and yet also the most unwanted.
For many the peace officer is an oddly nameless creature who is “sir or ma’am” face-to-face, but otherwise is some other sometimes unmentionable name. The peace officer is expected to exercise world-class diplomacy in the midst of some of the most depraved circumstances, settling conflicts in such a way that everyone involved comes out a winner. The peace officer must make, in an instant, decisions which in the hands of the judicial system may take months to litigate. The peace officer must know where all the vice is – and yet live out only the highest of virtue. The peace officer must be a minister, a social worker, ready to rumble, yet be kindhearted and inoffensive. And the peace officer must pull all of that off with elegance and aplomb. You see peace officers are the barbed wire that separates the sheep from the wolves.
But, this seemingly impossible-to-keep list reminds me of another well-known one from God’s word. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things... So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
Faith, we all need to trust in something – in someone. This is why the vocation of being a peace officer is so crucial, so vital to the well-being of our society and even for each of us individually. For without trust, without confidence in the good, the right, and the true we cannot obtain nor can we give the respect for which this vocation calls. Again, God’s Word tells us, “Pay proper respect to the [peace officers] who work hard among you and warn you against all that is wrong. Think highly of them and treat them with the greatest respect because of the work they do.” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13)
You see, we give proper respect to peace officers not because they are a necessary evil; but, because in the face of evil – of this world’s chaos and mayhem – they are a necessary good. We submit – give respect – because they are here “for the punishment of those who do evil and to the praise of those who do good – this is God’s will, that by doing good, evil is quashed and ignorant foolishness is made quiet.” (cf. 1 Peter 2:13-15) And more, so that trust – faith – can be fostered for those seeking to live quiet and godly lives.
Carved into the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington DC are the words of the Roman historian, Tacitus: “In valor there is hope.” St. Paul in the magnum opus of his work, his letter to the Romans, tells us that “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God [and that] the peace officer is God's servant for our good... [Thus], we pay to all what is owed to them ... respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” (Romans 13:1, 4, 7)
Today though we mourn the loss of ones so dearly loved, we also celebrate the peace officers dedicated to serving their communities, who work tirelessly to transform neighborhoods, and who in the face of daily threats seek out innovate ways to improve their craft and uphold the rule of law.
Peace Officers put their lives on the line to protect ours, sometimes making the ultimate sacrifice. In the past year, we have seen a tragic wave of line of duty deaths, and have mourned the loss of too many peace officers.
In December of 2010 U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was laid to rest after giving the ultimate sacrifice in the performance of his duties. Before that he had left this note with one of his friends revealing his thoughts on his vocation: “If you seek to do battle with me this day, you’ll receive the best I am capable of giving. It may not be enough, but it will be everything I have to give. You may defeat me, but you will be lucky to escape with your life. You may kill me, but I’m willing to die if necessary. I do not fear death for I have been close enough to it on numerous occasions that it no longer concerns me. What I do fear is the loss of my honor and would rather die fighting than to have it said that I was without courage.”
But we must know that without courage compassion wavers. The ultimate peace officer, the one described by the prophet Isaiah, the one who “was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) The one who, on the cross of Calvary, took on and defeated the ultimate bad guys of sin, death, and the devil, He said this: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends ...” (John 15:13-14)
You see the valor in the sacrifices such as those who have given their lives in the line of duty – the ones who we honor here today give us hope. Hope because they demonstrated to us the “greater love” and they are our friends.
We have said, “Without courage, compassion wavers.” But without compassion, courage has no focus. And so today we not only give respect, we not only pay honor, but we remember. We remember those who have shown us the “greater love.”
“Andras Tamas had been drafted into the army, but the authorities mistook his native Hungarian language for the gibberish of a lunatic and had him committed to a psychiatric hospital in Russia. Then they forgot about him for fifty-three years.
[Several] years ago, a doctor began to realize what had happened and helped Tamas recover the memories of who he was and where he came from. He [was then] returned home to Budapest as “the last prisoner of World War II.”
This old man hadn’t seen his own face in five decades. So for hours the old man studied his face in a mirror. The deep-set eyes. The gray stubble on the chin. The furrows of the brow. It was his face, but what a startling revelation to see it after fifty-three years.”
What if, what if we did not endeavor to remember? Not only would these heroes be forgotten but would we even remember what we look like – what we look like because of the “greater love” that they have shown us?
For those in the profession, you all have our respect; we give you due honor; and we endeavor to remember. Yours is a most honorable vocation. You may never be wealthy, but you will be rich in what cannot be measured on this mortal coil. You may never feel appreciated and often feel unfairly criticized; but the silent majority, who sleep peacefully under your watchful eyes, appreciate your toils in the name of peace and justice.
To the family and friends who have lost a loved one in this most honorable vocation, please know that the peace officer you lost made a difference, dying honorably and making a positive difference in our society. Their heroic example continues to inspire future generations of peace officers.
And so, what we look like in light of that “greater love” is that we respect, honor, and remember – not only this day but each day as we endeavor to live in faith, hope and love; because, “love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:8)
Rev. Frank C. Ruffatto
Executive Director & Chaplain, Peace Officer Ministries, Inc.
About The Author:
Rev. Frank C. Ruffatto is a Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) pastor (Point of Grace Lutheran, Cornelius, NC) and retired police detective (Prince George’s County, Md. PD) He is also the Executive Director and Chaplain for Peace Officer Ministries, Inc. (POM) a 501(c)3 non-profit, international law enforcement chaplaincy ministry whose mission is to “Serve Those Who Protect and Serve Us.”
Chaplain Ruffatto has an A.A. in Liberal Arts from St Leo College, a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies (Behavioral Science/Theology) from Concordia College, Bronxville, NY and a M.Div. from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri.
Chaplain Ruffatto has performed “boots on the ground” ministry for P.O.M. in Nicaragua, Alabama, and assisted with the LCMS relief efforts in American Samoa. Locally, with Point of Grace, he has worked with the Cornelius Police Department’s Christmas-adopt-a-family projects, National Night Out events, and other ad hoc activities. Additionally, his combination of police/ministry education and experience provides a practical application to the POM police and chaplaincy training at Concordia Seminary.