“The society that draws a line between its fighting men and its thinking men,
Will find its fighting done by fools and its thinking done by cowards.”
--Sir William Francis Butler
To say that being a police officer is a calling has become a mawkish cliché. Though a sacred vocational endeavor for some, for others it is a job they take on almost casually. Regardless of how one enters the profession, both have contributed to its evolution and refinement. And the ones who can successfully enhance the culture while enduring its hardships are the ones who leave a legacy.
On this week’s podcast Dr. Renee Thornton and I were lucky enough to be joined by a man in the legacy business, Ron Teachman. Ron is a retired, two-time Chief of Police who served a total of 38 years in Law Enforcement. Ron is one of those men who entered the job on a lark (a professor of his suggested he take the civil service exam as a point of pedagogical significance), but ultimately committed to a lengthy and influential career. The law enforcement community he joined in 1977 was deeply dysfunctional and in desperate need of men and women willing to reimagine it.
Chief (ret.) Ron Teachman
Director, Public Safety Solutions
While Ron worked as a police officer in New Bedford, Massachusetts, he sought out opportunities to ameliorate regrettable elements of the police culture by developing greater influence: he became an instructor, earned a law degree and eventually rose to Chief of Police. Then in 2011, after 34 years of service, he retired from New Bedford and spent 18 months in Tajikistan helping to augment their police services. With that work done, he returned to the states to serve as Chief of Police for the South Bend Police Department.
It was during his time in South Bend where Ron and I met. I worked for him first as a Patrolman First Class and later as a Sergeant. I found him to be enthusiastic, erudite and engaging. And while I believed him to be sincere, the Massachusetts to Midwest transition was not without its struggles. It’s often said that England and the United States are two countries separated by a common language; Indiana and Massachusetts share a similar separation. But change significant enough to alter a police department’s entire culture is rarely smooth. Despite the difficulties, we found common ground. As Rilke observed “Everything serious is difficult, and everything is serious.”
Police work is perhaps America’s most serious work. While our nation’s superb Armed Forces proudly and professionally protect us from enemies abroad, police officers must protect America from itself. Where Americans are not free to walk and work and live as they please America does not exist. When at their best, cops are working to protect the rights and liberties of all people. They are imperfect souls attempting to do the important work of preserving our country’s promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Whether by inspiration or happenstance, every generation must bear the burdens unique to its time. As a law enforcement officer of his generation, Ron Teachman did just that: he committed, innovated and did what he thought was right. And though we may not always agree, we must demur and debate in order identify the best version of ourselves as protectors of American ideals.
The members of today’s American law enforcement community, the ones bearing the weight of their generation, can look to people like Ron for guidance. Not because he claims to have all the answers, but because he gave years of his professional life in exchange for what he hoped would be a better version of America. May all our professional efforts bear such fruit.