Chief’s message to officers: It’s more than a badge

Sherry Burlingame
Guest column
The Steamboat Springs Police Department welcomed three new officers — Martin Bartuska, Mikey Buccino and Benji Williams — during a pinning ceremony at city hall on Monday, Dec. 12. Additionally, the department promoted Sarah Larson to the role of records supervisor. After receiving their badges, the trio will enter the SSPD 16-week field training program under the guidance of a veteran officer.
Steamboat Springs Police Department/Courtesy photo

As a result of your accomplishments at the Police Academy, very soon a badge will be pinned on your uniform. Your police badge is one of the most recognized symbols in the world. One of authority, respect, integrity and trust. Although a law enforcement badge may seem like a simple portrayal of position and authority, it is much more.

It represents the willingness to sacrifice’s one safety to help others. It symbolizes a promise to uphold the best interests of your community. Your badge is a sign of pride, honor and respect. It should always instill a feeling of comfort and calm to citizens in times of stress and chaos and you should always understand the significance of what your badge represents. Wear your badge proudly and always strive to honor your badge.

Society has high standards for police officers and rightly so. By and large, the public holds police officers in high esteem. When you pin your badge over your heart, you become part of a noble profession. You are committed to a life of service. People will look up to you, they will look to you for guidance, answers, protection and help.

As an officer, you will wear many hats — enforcer, protector, medic, counselor, teacher, parent, mentor and friend to name a few. Your community expects you to navigate these roles seamlessly. The standard is high — do your best to serve your community.

Understand everything you do will affect people. This could occur in an instant or over a period of time. It can be positive or negative. Your actions and how you carry yourself matter. They matter not only to those you are interacting with, but to everyone who wears a badge and everyone in your community. We see time and time again how the actions of one officer reflects on everyone in our profession. Therefore, you must live by the values of your organization and carry those with you on every call. Honor, Integrity, Respect and Fairness matter to those we serve.

Remember we often interact with people during their worst moments. Some may experience significant trauma as the result of a violent situation. Others will experience significant financial or personal loss. How we treat people is incredibly important to victims and their families. Your actions affect what they do next and how they process the situation. The same holds true for suspects — they are people too. Treat everyone with dignity and respect regardless of the situation, regardless of how they treat you. The standard is high — be at your best.

This is a great profession, a rewarding profession. It is an honor to wear this badge. However, do not let being a police officer define you. Prioritize your family. Strive for a strong work-life balance, have a variety of friends, not just other officers. Maintain a healthy lifestyle — physically and mentally. This job has its challenges, and unchecked, it can take a toll on you. You will have good days and bad days.
You will see evil, tragedy, pain and things you cannot comprehend. Don’t hold on to the bad — work hard to let the bad days go. Use your support system — your family, your fellow officers, a myriad of peer support resources, etc. Rely on these people. Do not ever be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help is a sign of strength. We are strong, courageous and brave people, but we are also human. That is what makes us great cops.

There will be times you fail. Times you struggle. Keep everything in perspective. Know you will learn more from failure and your struggles than any success you have. Own your failure, learn from it, share your failures, share your struggles so others can learn. What you feel is likely not much different than what others have experienced or are feeling or what they may someday endure. As we show compassion and empathy to others, we must show ourselves grace. Law enforcement is a family. Have the courage to lean on your family and ask for help. You are not alone.

And lastly, enjoy this moment. You should be very proud of earning your police badge. Periodically in your career, look back on this moment to remind yourself how proud you are right now and what an honor it is to have earned your place in this noble profession. Look at your badge and think about what it represents. The standard is high — do your best.

We welcome you to law enforcement and look forward to your contributions. Your communities need you — do your best, always!

Sherry Burlingame
City of Steamboat Springs/Courtesy

Sherry Burlingame is the police chief for Steamboat Springs. She recently shared this message with local Police Academy graduates.

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