Archives of Rudolph W. Giuliani

NYPD Graduation

February 18, 1999

As Delivered


Police Commissioner Safir, First Deputy Commissioner Kelleher, all of the distinguished guests, the families, and in particular the graduates who are about to undertake the work of being police officers.

Congratulations. I was very, very happy to see that Police Officer Kenyon Leggett and Police Commissioner Safir both share a common fondness for Theodore Roosevelt. The problem is that I was going to quote Theodore Roosevelt also, so I better throw this speech away, and instead of using a speech that I've prepared, I can tell you what comes from the terrible day that we are going to go through today, which begins as a wonderful day.

The city goes through probably some of the worst agony and distress when we lose a police officer because we understand how important police officers are to us, and I want you to always remember that. Police work is very, very difficult work. It's very complex work. It involves people's emotions in ways that the other work that people do really don't compare to it. So you should understand that the people of the City of New York have tremendous respect for what you do and who you are. We understand that you are doing something very special, that other people may not be able to do - that many other people are not able to do: you are putting your lives at risk to protect the lives of other people. That's a very, very special person that can do that - it takes a special kind of courage, it takes a special ability to discipline your emotions and the feelings of fear, and Police Officer Matthew Dziergowski represented that. Late Saturday night/Sunday morning he was engaged in what would probably be considered conducting a routine activity for a police officer. He was trying to protect an accident scene where a truck driver and the truck driver's assistant's lives were at risk because their truck was in trouble and they had to close off the highway, and they did. They did everything they were supposed to do. They did everything you are trained to do and they were trained to do.

And as they were sitting there, a car came speeding through the barricades and Police Officer Dziergowski displayed the result of his training, of his character, of his nature, which was to protect the lives of others by within two seconds reacting, moving his vehicle, putting himself in harm's way and in so doing he died. His family lost a father and a son and a husband and a brother. But three police officers are alive that would not be alive if it weren't for his instant bravery and professionalism.

That's a remarkable thing. It's a very sad, it's very tragic, but it also inspires us with awe because that is essentially what we are all about. So on this day on which you are graduated and on this day on which he is being buried, I want you to always remember him because he's inside all of you. That is essentially why you became police officers, that's why you went through seven months of training, that's why you are going to undertake a career that isn't always going to be a happy one and a joyful one, that is going to require very different decisions that you are going to have to make about yourself and the lives of people. But remember him, pray to him and try to emulate him as well as the other heroes and people you are going to work with in this department.

When I first became Mayor of New York City in 1994, at a police graduation - I think was the first that I had the privilege of being at when I was the mayor of New York City - I said to the police officers who were there that the work that you do as police officer is civil rights work. You are protecting the civil rights of the people of the city. In a very special sense you are civil rights workers.

You protect the right that people have to safety because if people don't have safety they have absolutely nothing else. All other civil rights disappear when people are afraid of being murdered, mugged, raped, beaten. They can't use their public spaces, they can't use their schools, they can't use their libraries. And since 1994, the work that your fellow officers have done has made this city the safest large city in America. Crime has declined by 50%, homicide by 70%. If we select just one community, maybe people understand it better, maybe they can feel it more. That's Crown Heights in Brooklyn. Crown Heights in Brooklyn has a decline since that day in 1994 of 89% in homicides - 89%. That's absolutely remarkable… and in other areas of crime similar massive reductions.

People can now use the streets, people can now enjoy the civil rights that were otherwise guaranteed to them that they were deprived of because of high levels of crime that you interrupt by putting your lives at risk and ultimately by putting your families at risk. You've accomplished that for thousand and thousands and millions of New Yorkers.

And your work's not done. Whenever I say that New York City used to have 2,000 murders a year, and now it has 629 murders last year, which makes it the lowest year for crime in something like 34 or 35 years, people applaud and get very excited about that. Then I feel bad because 629 murders and 47,000 auto thefts and thousands of other crimes is too many. Those are too many people who are still being victimized. So although we've accomplished a lot, still more is expected of you. And being a civil rights worker, being someone who enforces the law for the purpose of protecting people, also means an equal emphasis on treating everyone with respect.

That isn't a slogan, that isn't a catchy saying, C.P.R., it's in the very nature of the oath you took to support the Constitution and the laws of the Unites States. It means that people are entitled to your protection against crime and they are to be entitled to your protection against violations of their civil rights… and violations of their humanity and decency by treating them in a respectful way. It's true that if you want respect you have to give respect, but it's also true that comes from the very nature of the work that you do. Police officers who understand that understand the nature of what it means to be a New York Police Officer. It's difficult. It's very, very challenging. As you have success, the more is required of you.

As this police department over the past five years has done a better job of enforcing the law and reducing crime. You've also done something else that maybe you don't hear sometimes through the shouts of prejudice and anger and frustration and maybe even fear. You've become a more restrained police department. You use your weapons substantially less now per capita than you did four and five years ago - about 40% or 50% less. That's really remarkable because there are more of you and you make more arrests, but you use weapons less often than you did in the past. Not only that, you're more restrained than any other large police department in America.

And you have got to continue to do that, you've got to continue to try to operate and make decisions that are split second decisions when your life is at risk, and the necessity to operate in a restrained way also has to be considered. And for that reason I'm also in awe of you because to want to undertake that means that you are very special people.

We are also living through all of the questions, all of the difficulty, all of the frustration of the shooting that took place in the Bronx - a man who lost his life, a man who was innocent and a man whose family is suffering gravely. But it's a situation that is being investigated and I once again to bring you back to the oath that you took to uphold the law of the Constitution of the United States. Ultimately, the justice and the answer to that terrible situation will come not from the streets, not from the shouting of prejudice one side or the other, not from the invocations to violence, and not from the passions and prejudices that are played to either side.

Ultimately the answer - the right answer - will come from our laws and from our Constitution. There's a saying that you should internalize. It says we're a nation of laws, not men or women. And that's what you are. You believe in the law, you believe in the Constitution, you believe in fairness for the victim, fairness for the family of the victim, fairness for the community, fairness for the police officers involved and fairness for their families. It's a more complex thing than the charlatans will present to you, but it's the thing you've dedicated yourself to. It's the thing this department is all about. And I am confident, because I've spent a good deal of my life serving law, that our answers will come there and not on the streets, and that ultimately people will realize that prejudice takes many, many forms.

And if I could just spend a moment talking to you about prejudice, because you have to deal with it in many different ways. You have to deal with your own feelings and then ultimately have to deal with the feelings against you. Prejudice of all kinds comes from exactly the same source - exactly the same source. It's not something special. Anti-Semitism wasn't something special, it manifests itself in a special way. Racism against blacks, racism against whites is not something unique. It manifests itself in that way, but it's not unique. It's a form of thinking, a form of feeling, a form of almost inhuman reaction, or illogical human reaction, to fear. Let me see if I can explain it to you this way: remember the Ku Klux Klan. The Ku Klux Klan used to - and continues to - focus on and at times kill blacks, but they also attacked Jews and burned Catholic churches because they hated. Some of them probably didn't even know why they hated.

People today are no different. There are white racists and black racists. There are people who hate people of other religions. There are people who are afraid of foreigners and when they see someone who's foreign it evokes fear in them and anger and frustration, probably anger at themselves. And there are people who are prejudiced against police officers. They'll take a few police officers' misdeeds, or the alleged misdeeds of a few officers, and they'll spread it out against the entire department or an entire unit. It's the same form of sick, illogical treatment that evokes an earlier stage of human development than where we are now and where we want to go to. Remember that it happens in all ways and at all degrees, and the best way to protect yourself against it is not to become part of it. And remember that when you arrest somebody of any race, religion or ethnic background, it indicates an individual problem with that person, not with an entire race, not with an entire ethnic group, not with an entire religious group. That group blame is where prejudice emerges. Group blame against religions, group blame against races, group blame against a police department. Keep remembering that.

And if I can give you just one piece of advice - I've probably given you too many - but when you arrest people or when you deal with people - "Yes, sir." "No, sir." "Mr." "Mrs." "Ms." Go out of your way to engage them in an even overly respectful way even when you're angry, even when you're afraid, even when you have every right to be angry and afraid, that's the professionalism of Courtesy, Professionalism and Respect. You'll protect yourself better that way and you'll engender a tremendous respect for this department - in the worst set of circumstances to act in the most respectful way possible.

One last word to your families. You - as the commissioner said to you - enjoy this work. Do it right, do it well, respect your badge because in respecting your badge you're respecting yourselves and protecting your fellow officers, but enjoy the work that you are doing. You can get tremendous rewards from this work because people seek your protection from crime, from civil rights abuses, they need your help and when you accomplish that there is no greater reward that any human being can get. And you are going to have that in your careers. Your families sacrifice a lot for you. It's your families that truly suffer when a horrible think like what happened in Staten Island, or in the Bronx, happens. It's your families that pay a tremendous price, and they don't have the same psychic rewards that you have of doing this work that is very, very rewarding. So for the people of the City of New York, I express my thanks and my appreciation to your families. You are the product of their love, their support, what they taught you, and your effectiveness as police officers will be as great as they continue to support you. So remember that and thank them.

So I end as I began and that is to remember Matthew Dziergowski, his family, his sacrifice, but mostly to remember his life - and to emulate it. You're a wonderful group of young people. You make me very, very confident that this City that has become the safest large city in America in every respect, and the police department that has become the most restrained police department in any large city in America is only going to continue to move in that direction.

Thank you and God bless you.

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