For most of the 1980s, a popular police drama, Hill Street Blues, dominated the Nielsen ratings. The show was set in a fictional police precinct, in a fictional town, but dealt with real life situations faced by police officers every day. The audience was drawn to the characters, some of whom may have been a little too cartoonish, but it’s all entertainment, right?
Every episode began the same way, with the rank and file officers gathering in the squad room during roll call as they prepared to head onto the streets to serve and protect the citizens. The daily briefing updated the officers coming on shift of what was going on and what they should be looking out for during their upcoming tour. This was standard practice in every police precinct in America. Some officers would be joking around and not paying attention while the sergeant reviewed the more mundane items. But just before they were released, Sergeant Phil Esterhaus (played by actor Michael Conrad) would give them one last command, pointing his finger at them and saying, “Let’s be careful out there.”
That’s all I could think of when I attended the graduation ceremony of the more than 160 graduates of the Nassau County police department on Feb. 8 at Hofstra. These recruits have chosen a profession that puts them directly in harm’s way and swore an oath to “serve and protect” the 1.3 million residents of Nassau County. This batch of peacekeepers ranged in all shapes and sizes, all races and creeds, all religions. Each of them perfectly coiffed with their shiny shoes and matching blue uniforms and ties, responding in military-like precision as they proudly received their graduation certificates from the new Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and the new police commissioner, Patrick Ryder.
With the stands packed with proud parents, siblings, relatives and friends, each of them paused for a picture with the dignitaries as they cherished this moment, a culmination of hard work and determination. A moment frozen in time. A moment that chronicles the beginning of their lifelong journey into law enforcement, in a calling that is reserved for a brotherhood of a few, proud and dedicated individuals.
And my nephew is now one of them.
This graduating class included not only the men and women that would become Nassau County police officers, but officers from private town forces like Glen Cove, Freeport, Hempstead and Garden City. It included sherriff’s deputies and medics. Everyone of them had to pass a grueling seven-month training that involved physical fitness, defensive tactics, firearm usage and education. Not every recruit made it through the rigorous training, but those who did could be proud of their accomplishments.
Before the recruits were called upon to receive their certifications, many members of law enforcement spoke at length while congratulating them for their perseverance and desire to be a police officer, but also cautioning them about the dangers of the job. There wasn’t a person in that Hofstra auditorium that didn’t know of the dangers of being a police officer, especially in today’s world.
But this celebration was about the achievements of this graduating class who will begin their new careers the very next day. We can be assured that they have been trained and, more importantly, prepared, to take to the streets to protect all of us, all the time.
As the recruits advanced to the stage in a single file of perfectly pressed shirts and pants, they waited patiently for their names to be announced. As their friends and family cheered for them, you couldn’t help but think of how they all got there. Many have been preparing for this moment all their lives, following in a relative’s footprints or just chasing a dream. As kids, every one of them played cops and robbers, arresting the bad guys and saving the day. They were Batman and Spider-Man, Wonder Woman or Princess Leia.
It seemed like just yesterday that my nephew was up on a different stage, being lauded for achieving the rank of Eagle Scout and talking about a possible career in law enforcement. Now his dream, along with the dreams of all those recruits, has finally become a reality. After all those years of pretending to be superheroes, today they truly are heroes.
Let’s be careful out there…