Commissioner Safir, Chief of the Department, Distinguished guests, and most important, the graduates and their families.
This is a wonderful morning for you, and a wonderful morning for the City of New York. It's a pleasure to join all of you for this graduation.
The career you have chosen is one of the most demanding and one of the most challenging that anyone could undertake. As probationary police officers, it's very very important that you apply the lessons that you've learned in the police academy and on the streets. Because the knowledge that you have attained [crowd interruption]...I would actually ask that you show the respect for me and my office that I am showing for the police officers. Thank you...
In joining the ranks of New York City's Finest, you're joining a very successful team, one that over the last three years has led the nation in crime reduction. You have proven that crime can be reduced. And now we have an opportunity to do something else. To go to our second step, to eliminate the fear and the distrust that may still exist between the police and our communities. And I'd like to talk about that for a few minutes this morning.
More than 80 per cent of this class are residents of New York City. In many ways, this should help you forge the closer relationships between you and the communities of New York City. You're also the first class that has been trained in Courtesy, Professionalism, and Respect [C.P.R.] And we take that very seriously. And I know that you do. In all of the decisions regarding advancements, promotions, and most of the decisions that remain about whether someone is a good police officer as well as a bad police officer, your record in terms of how you treat people is just as important as your record in terms of fighting crime. This is your time, and you've got an opportunity that other police classes did not have, to get out beyond some of the conditions that still exist between the police and some of the communities in New York City. There's no reason for those conditions any longer, if there ever was a reason.
But, steps have to be taken on both sides. And significant steps. On the police side, you must act with respect at all times. Even when you're making an arrest. Even, when in normal circumstances, you would be angry and justifiably angry
. Professionalismcites that you have to hide that, you have to be professional, and you have to channel it into the behavior that you have learned at the Police Academy and that hopefully will be reinforced by your supervising officers. You have to make sure that at all times you warn people of their rights -- even if you're fearful, even if you're angry -- you have to make sure that you treat people with respect, even those you arrest for a crime, even those that you arrest for a charge of an awful crime. And if you use force, you have to make certain that you use just the force necessary to protect yourself, and to protect your life and the life of others. If you do that, you're not only going to make the city safer, you're going to make circumstances for your fellow police officers safer. An atmosphere of anger and fear breeds more violence. An atmosphere of courtesy, professionalism, and respect, breeds safety for all, including the police.
But at the same time as you take these steps, some steps also have to taken in the communities of New York City. Steps have to be taken by the people who exploit the fear and anger against the police. When you have acted properly in using force, then you must be supported. If communities respect you, to put your lives at risk to protect them, then you do the right thing, and people end up pointing fingers at you, then those communities have to step forward, if we expect that this process is going to work. And you can be sure that we will ask the same thing of them that we are asking of you.
Let me give you two illustrations, two controversial situations. Two weeks ago, the Police Commissioner made a decision to dismiss a police officer who had unjustifiably used force and killed somebody. A police officer who had a terrible record during his time in the Police Department. The Police Commissioner and the Police Department demonstrated that they can hold police officers accountable when they act improperly, illegally, and brutally. And when the Police Department makes a mistake, as it does sometimes.
The very next day, there was a shooting that took place, at the El Caribe club in Queens. A club that was operating illegally. A club where eight arrests have been made in a period of time over the last three or four years. A club that had been padlocked just this summer from operating illegally. After the shooting took place, people connected to the people who were in the club, spread a rumor that the person shot had been shot in the back, and had been shot unjustifiably by the police officers.
But the Medical Examiner's report indicated clearly that the person had been shot in the front. And witnesses, including six eyewitnesses, said the man had a knife out, in his hand. And one of the witnesses, a patron of the club said, that the man had to be shot in order to protect his life and the lives of the other police officers. The knife was a large one, and it had a six inch handle.
Yet that evening on the news, an entire news report of the case, showed demonstrations against the police, raised all of the questions of whether this was an unjustifiable shooting, said the District Attorney was investigating, but it never mentioned the Medical Examiner's report, it never mentioned..they never showed a picture of, although they had it, the very large knife. It never mentioned the fact that nine police witnesses, including patrons of this very illegal club said the man held a knife and one of them said that the man lunged at the police officers. They never mentioned the fact, although in pointing out there may have been language barrier, that the police officers involved both spoke Spanish, and spoke Spanish to the person they shot. All of that was left out of the piece. Creating the unfair impression of those police officers for all of the people in New York City.
We expected you to act professionally. We expected you to act respectfully. We expected you to act with courtesy. We also expect the citizens of New York City that they have to review the way in which they view you, because sometimes they have nothing to do with they way in which you act, it has to do with the way in which you are unfairly treated. Both those things have to change.
Just as I call on you to act better and more professionally, I call on them to be fairer. I follow a rule. Let me tell you what the rule is, and I suggest it to the rest of the city. Communities in the city who want better policing, and the media may want to be fairer. The rule that I follow is: in ambiguous circumstances about a police incident - a police shooting or incident, give the police officer the benefit of the doubt, before you condemn the police officer.
And it seems to me that that doesn't say very much, because every criminal you arrest gets the benefit of the doubt. Police officers are entitled to at least the benefit of the doubt. I'll take it one step further. I believe in ambiguous circumstances, police officers should be supported, unless the facts show that they have acted improperly or illegally. If they acted improperly, they should be disciplined. If they act very improperly, they should be dismissed, and they will be. And if they act illegally, they should be put in prison, just like anyone else. But if, like in the case of the [inaudible] club, the facts appear - and let me emphasize the word appear, we don't know everything about it yet - but we do know the Medical Examiner's report, we do know what the witness said, we have seen the knife, what it appears is, that the police officers have acted properly and whatever anyone else says, you can be sure that I will stand by you, and I will direct appeal to the people of this city to support you. The people want you to put your lives at risk to protect them, then when you are at risk, they have to stand up in those very communities and support you.
The job of a police officer is difficult, it is a sacrifice, it's also an enormously rewarding one. There can be nothing that gives you more of a sense of self worth than being able to help other people, because that's really what your job is all about. But it impossible to do that without the support of your mothers, and your fathers, and your wives, and your husbands, and brothers and sisters and cousins and friends and everyone else that is here. You get the reward of this wonderful job that you're doing. It's very hard; you're the ones who make the sacrifices. So I'd like to conclude by thanking all of the families for the people of the City of New York. I believe this class is going to take the New York City Police Department to a new level, to a new level of relationship between the New York City Police Department and all of the people in this city. I'm confident of that. And I believe a lot of the credit goes to the families you came from and the way in which you were brought up, and the respect that you have right now.