By Chief of Police Art Howell
In observation of the recent community conversation wherein it was suggested that military veterans be excluded from future employment opportunities with the Racine Police Department, a formal public response is in order. This conversation cannot proceed in earnest without first acknowledging the sacrifice of those who have given their lives in service to others. Those who honorably served our nation in the various branches of the armed forces deserve our deepest gratitude, utmost respect, and most sincere appreciation.
The perspective that military veterans be arbitrarily disqualified from future service as local peace-keepers, is problematic on many levels; most notably, such a policy would be in violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act. Additionally, such a response would actually weaken, not strengthen the police profession. To fully appreciate the value veterans bring to the public safety environment, we must first consider the attributes veterans bring to the military environment. The skill set most successful veterans possess includes, but is not limited to problem-solving skills, technical expertise in logistics and planning, teamwork and most important, communication skills. As our nation faced the challenge of limited hospital space during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, military leaders and engineers were called upon to erect temporary medical facilities to prevent our healthcare system from becoming completely overwhelmed. More recently, as the much-awaited COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled-out and shipped throughout the country, once again, defense department influence has informed and supported this important effort.
Although some who have engaged in active combat have experienced physical and/or mental injuries while selflessly serving, such factors do not diminish their honorable service or otherwise disqualify these individuals from post-military public service.
Fortunately within the City of Racine, the record will reflect that military veterans are highly regarded. During my tenure as Chief of Police, I had the opportunity and honor of hiring a number of recruits who previously served in the military. This commentary was motivated by the need to reaffirm our organizational respect for, appreciation of, and commitment to those who have served. Moving forward, the department will remain committed to hiring the best possible candidates to meet the changing needs of our community. Through demonstrated leadership and the acquisition of transferable skills, and after meeting the rigorous physical, medical and psychological screening required of all recruits, military veterans will remain among those who will be called upon to serve.
On a local level, respect for military veterans is not limited to those who went on to serve as police officers. Last month, as our nation celebrated Veterans Day, a group of local officers visited the James A. Petersen Veteran Village, SC Johnson Community Center located at 1624 Yout Street. After sharing a meal with local veterans, the officers present (two of whom are military veterans themselves), took a brief tour of this village of 15 meticulously maintained homes where formerly homeless veterans live while on their journey to recovery and self-sufficiency.
The residents of the Veteran Village, those who currently serve as local law enforcement officers, and those who will serve in a law enforcement capacity in the future all deserve our respect and support. Special thanks to the many veterans of our community for your service. This distinguished group includes former police chaplain and past Police and Fire Commission member Pastor Melvin Hargrove, and current Police and Fire Commission President Robert Turner. Our nation and our community is safer as a result of the collective service of those who have selflessly served. To all of our veterans, Thank you for your service!