There really is no universal police motto, but many departments across America have adopted the Los Angeles Police Department’s famous motto from 1955, “To Protect and to Serve,” as their own. LAPD Officer Joseph S. Dorobek submitted it to the Department’s official magazine, The Beat, in 1955, as an entry in a contest to come up with a departmental slogan.
His was the winning entry among hundreds of submissions. Eventually many other departments across the United States adopted it, or a version of it such as the Chicago Police Department’s “We serve and protect.” While it is a common slogan, but not universal, these days it may seem a bit insincere as officers do not always engage to protect and serve their citizens, misleading this generation.
A motto is an expression or phrase that can either be short or long in text, but must sum up the whole of a subject, usually a company name or a particular preferred saying that enables others to associate someone or something to it. Police departments often try to align a motto with their individual department’s mission statement, basically describing the crux of their work or duties in a few words. A department can shed some light on their personal characteristics, but there is no practical use to a police motto other than identifying a group by it.
Many law officers align with this motto as it identifies the unshattered aim and purpose of their profession, but reality shows us that there is an enormous gap between what the public perceives as the responsibility of public safety personnel and what an officer has a legal duty to carry out. The “public duty doctrine” states “absent a special relationship between the governmental entity and an injured individual, the governmental entity will not be liable for injury to an individual…the governmental entity owes a duty to the public in general.” Therefore, the motto “to protect and serve” conflicts with the public duty doctrine for police, fire and rescue personnel’s perceived job duties.
Protect and serve vs. negligence.
A Villanova law review article explains how the public duty doctrine is utilized in situations where an individual attempts to hold a governmental entity liable for breach of a duty owed to the general public. Generally, absent a “special relationship” between the injured plaintiff and the government, the public duty doctrine effectively provides a common law immunity for the negligent acts of government officials. While the moral code of police and other public law enforcement officers may increase their assumption of duties, negligence as viewed from a legal perspective states that even though the public assumes aid will be rendered, when it is not, there is a chance police will not be found negligent.
If you have been duped by the motto of a police department, expecting them to jump into action to save you from an act of another, and received injuries or damages to yourself or someone you love because an officer did not act to serve and protect you, contact an experienced police brutality attorney to answer your questions and help you with possible legal action.