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The Police Oath – Applying The Promise

The Police Oath – Applying The Promise


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Every government office and position of public service requires that the occupant take an oath of office. The oath may vary from office to office but is essentially the same in terms of the promise it contains. Accepting the job and taking the oath means that the person is committing themselves to a life of service. For police officers and others who work for any type of law enforcement agency, this oath of office is taken very seriously and many will risk their lives to fulfill their obligation. Many are so dedicated to their obligation that they make it their personal oath as well.

A Steadfast Commitment

The oath of a law enforcement officer is meant to be a personal commitment to serve and protect the community. From patrol officers to the Police Chief, all officers take the same oath. It is uniform across the board and meant to ensure every officer makes the same commitment as their fellow officers. As police officers, the allegiance they feel towards one another connects them with a bond stronger than life itself. Brothers in blue is not just a sentiment that describes a close-knit group of officers. It is a family with extremely strong ties that bind.

Earning Trust

An oath of office supersedes all other commitments, promises, or allegiances a person may have made in the past. Public trust is not given blindly and, in most cases, must be earned. Trust is not easily earned if a local government of law enforcement agency is not well-liked. Even those who take the oath and try to uphold the commitment they have made to the community and its citizens, may not find it easy to gain the trust they need to be effective at their job. It may take several years of living up to the oath they have taken to earn the community’s trust, but actions will speak louder than words and may be what is needed.

Loyalty to the Job

The oath is given to rookie officers when they are first hired into the police department. It is often given again when a promotion or other type of milestone is achieved. Many police departments across the United States, including Washington, D.C., give the oath of office to their officers as a way of reminding them of their solemn oath and commitment to their fellow officers and citizens of the community. In some cases, the oath’s verbiage may be altered slightly as the officer advances through their career.

The Oath

The oath of office for most law enforcement agencies is similar to the words written below.

I, (name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, both foreign and domestic,”

that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same;

that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion;

and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties upon which I am about to enter.

So help me God.”

Each agency has the option to change the wording to some extent, as long as the main premise of the oath remains intact. Many remove any references to God, while others may add references to their own state and its Constitution. The values and morals that the oath is based on lead to the primary thought that what is right must always prevail in the end. Both the oath and the Code of Ethics that all officers commit to represent the loyalty and devotion they have for their family, community, and country.

Breaking It Down

The oath is a solemn promise that is not to be taken lightly. For some, the meaning behind the oath may fade over time. For others, it holds the same value and weight as the day the officer first took it. Swearing the oath becomes their creed and commitment. It is not simply a promise they made several years ago. It is a daily motto that they strive to honor every time they put on the badge.

I, (name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, both foreign and domestic,”

The first phrase is meant to signify the importance of the Constitution of the United States. This affirmation declares the officer’s willingness to abide by the laws that govern our nation. This also means that every law enforcement officer and anyone who holds public office will stand up and defend our Constitution against all enemies, whether they are U.S. Citizens or an individual from a foreign country.

that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same;”

To have faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States is to believe in what it stands for and practice those beliefs on a daily basis. To exhibit that faith and allegiance is to honor the flag and all other instruments that represent this great nation.

that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion;”

Taking the obligation freely indicates that the officer is in his right mind and has no reservations whatsoever. They are willingly accepting the task of protecting and serving this country and the citizens who call it home. True allegiance is being offered with no intent to evade service.

and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties upon which I am about to enter.”

This phrase indicates a full willingness to perform the duties that come with being a law enforcement officer. The willingness to abide by the oath and the law enforcement code of ethics is strong in men and women who are truly committed to serving their country and their community. Everyone in the criminal justice system who takes this oath has a strong commitment to the people they serve.

So help me God.”

Swearing an oath to God is the strongest promise a person can make. This final phrase is often omitted due to the belief that church and state should be separate.

Different Variations

Across the United States, there are many variations of the Police Oath. Many exchanges affirm for the word swear. Some oaths contain a phrase that indicates the oath taker is also willing to support, defend, and offer allegiance to their state’s Constitution as well. No matter what changes are made to the wording, the intent is still the same. That intent is to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States and all it stands for.

The Purpose of the Oath

The purpose of the oath is to be a daily reminder of the pledge one has made to God and their country. Many court offices have a framed copy of the Oath hanging on one of the walls. Sworn officers may not recite the oath every day, but they know it by heart and often have it displayed in their homes and offices. It may be found on business cards that an officer hands out if they are looking for more information after an arrest.

Possible Violations of the Oath

Police officers do their best to abide by the law when making an arrest or investigating a crime. During the performance of their duties, however, actions may occur that violate a person’s rights. Any accusation of police misconduct will be fully investigated and the appropriate actions taken according to the law.

  • 4th Amendment – freedom from unreasonable search and seizures
  • 8th Amendment – inmates are free from various types of cruel and usual punishments
  • 14th Amendment – freedom from excessive force while being held by law enforcement

In some cases, these infractions may be taken to the Supreme Court of the state to determine whether or not the police officer violated a suspect’s rights.

Commitment and Accountability

Just because a police officer promises to uphold the law, it doesn’t mean they are above the law. Taking the oath only goes so far. An officer’s character and commitment to serve their community is what will hold them accountable for their actions. When it comes to enforcing the law accountability is a must. With today’s technology, it is much easier to identify situations where police misconduct has occurred. This technology also can prove an officer’s innocence when allegations are made against them. While the oath may not prevent them from making a mistake, it will help to hold them accountable for their actions.

The Police Oath is not to be taken lightly. Most officers will go so far as to lay their life on the line in order to fulfill the promise they have made.

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