It was during my first week of the police academy at Palm Beach Community College that I questioned my decision to become a police officer. The drill instructors were ruthless and completely unappeasable. Class ’98 spent more time in the “learning rest” position (push-up) than we did on our feet. We could not stand straight enough, sound off loud enough or wear our uniforms properly. Everything was wrong during that first week, but it got easier. As a class, we learned what the D.I.s expected and although we fell short more than we succeeded, Class ’98 was looking better each day.
But during those first weeks, my dilemma still existed, as I was not convinced that I had made the right decision to become a police officer. If I had wanted the kind of treatment I was getting, I could have made the Army my career. If seemed like all of the instructors for my class told war stories about their careers in law enforcement. Was I really prepared to put my life on the line to protect others? Did I have what it tool to be a good cop? I pondered these questions until the answer hit me.
It was during the fourth week of the academy that I became convinced, hear and soul, that I had to be a police officer—that I belonged in law enforcement.
Class ’98 attended the funeral of Master Deputy Steve Roberts, a St. Lucie County motorcycle deputy who had been killed in the line of duty. The funeral had an impact on me that I never expected, and it quieted all of my doubts.
My class loaded onto a bus and headed north on I-95 to St. Lucie County. The bus was filled with light conversation, as if felt more like a field trip than a trip to a funeral. As the bus neared the civic center, where the funeral ceremony was being held, all conversations quieted and a somber silence fell over the bus.
The silence was broken by a recruit near the front of the bus, saying something to the extent of “Holy s**t, look at all those motorcycles…”
On the road in front of the civic center were what appeared to be about 1,000 law enforcement vehicles, stretching out of sight. Behind the motorcycles were squad cars, then unmarked cars and K-9 trucks, SUVs mixed in with crime scene vans. There were vehicles of all types, from agencies from all over Florida.
As we stared at the sea of vehicles, the hair stood up on my arms and the back of my neck. Memories of the previous three weeks were replaced by a sense of pride, duty and honor. I wanted more than anything to be a part of what I saw, to belong among the people who were gathered to pay respect to a fallen officer.
The funeral ceremony was somber. A color guard circled the floor of the center and rotated two-person teams to stand guard at the casket during the funeral. The sadness of losing a loved one could not be erased from the family and friends, but it would be impossible to feel that Steve Roberts lived his life in vain.
Deputy Roberts was described as an outstanding law enforcement officer with overflowing pride in his uniform and motorcycle. His career file was filled with commendations and high evaluations, things that every officer strives for. His life off duty was portrayed by a series of snapshots placed on video, projected on a large television screen. The photos could have been mine, or one of my classmates’. And Roberts, like many before him—and, sadly, many to come—gave his life in the performance of his duty: to protect and preserve life. I looked at my classmates, only a month into their careers in law enforcement, and then I though about my own mortality. It was a sobering thought.
Master Deputy Steve Roberts did not die in vain. He died while serving his community, while protecting the people who entrusted him to do so. He lost his life at a young age, in his prime, with a bright future and a decorated past. And he left a lot of family behind.
I went home that day with a belief that I had a purpose in my life, and that I belonged in the police academy, and in law enforcement. The life of a deputy was honored, and tears fell from the faces of many. But Steve Roberts will not be forgotten. He was buried the same way he lived—with honor. And from what I saw and felt, everybody who attended his funeral took part of Steve Roberts’ soul with them, from his family and friends to those like me who never met him, but who were inspired by him. That is how he will live, 10-8 in the hearts and minds of his brothers and sisters in law enforcement.
Robert E. Salmon, a recent police academy graduate, is a member of the Military Police Corps, U.S. Army Reserves, and resides in Boca Raton, Fla. This is his first contribution to POLICE.