The moment at which the oath is spoken and recited is an auspicious occasion for any law enforcement officer. The act celebrates an officer's indoctrination into the profession, and is often associated with one's promotion in rank. The recital of the oath is often marked with ceremony and witnessed by one's family, friends, peers and colleagues. It is understandably a proud right of passage into a profession steeped in tradition.
By definition, the oath simply signifies an acknowledgement, a promise and a commitment to the ideals of the profession. The act bonds an individual to a fraternal order. So important was the gesture, that early law enforcement officers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries invited dismissal, significant fines and / or even imprisonment for failing to take an oath of office. Yet, the significance of reciting the oath is more than a simple officiating gesture. Indeed, the historical roots of the oath's various components reflect intriguing aspects of law enforcement tradition.
The purpose of introducing one's name to the oath is obvious. Yet, it is more than a simple verbal signature. It recognizes personal worth and links the individual with the fraternal collective. The gesture also adds the weighted factor of heritage. A name is a given name, a family name, a name carried by one's parents, grandparents and forefathers before. Furthermore, a name will continue to be carried by future generations as well. By declaring one's name to the oath, the onus is placed upon the individual to carry on the untarnished reputation of that name, and of the profession to which it is committed.
The Left Hand
In an effort to shy away from religious overtones, today's contemporary world of political correctness had diminished the left hand's role in reciting the oath. Nevertheless, the underlying significance associated with that practice remains worthy of attention. Traditionally, the left hand rested on the Holy Bible. The act signified the embodiment of Christian values. Many proponents of the faith claimed that the left hand, rather than the right, was assigned this post being that it was closest to one's heart. Yet, regardless of religious significance, the Bible represents something generically basic-a code, a code of morals, an ethical code.
Few in law enforcement would argue that the profession is more than a career. It is indeed a lifestyle. This lifestyle is often referred to as a "Police Culture." Recognizing the oath's commitment to a moral code serves to reflect that a sense of professional ethics is a characteristic of that Police Culture.
The Right Hand
The tradition associated with the oath's raised right hand stems from the Middle Ages, and the birth of the Common Law legal system. One of the reforms introduced by the Common Law system was the adoption of a court system that provided an alternative from the inequities of the earlier trials by combat and ordeal.
This new court system afforded the common public the privilege of being heard by judges and by a jury of their peers. It also authorized the act of swearing of an oath of truth. Only the church previously authorized this act. …