Greg's Oath: Two Decades of Front Line Public Service

At age 29, while working as a senior counsel for a large multi-national technology company, Greg put himself through the Evergreen Regional Police Academy at nights and on weekends to become a Reserve Police Officer in San Jose, CA – the 10th largest city in the country.  He graduated first in his class.  Greg worked hundreds of uniformed patrol shifts in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city -- earning multiple Letters of Commendation -- for no pay.  His unusual dual life – technology company legal executive and police officer -- and devotion to public service was later profiled in a leading California newspaper. 

  

At age 38, after his most recent start-up Internet company had been acquired, instead of resting on his laurels, Greg took an 85% pay-cut and entered the San Jose Police Department’s in-house Police Academy in order to pursue police work full-time as public service.  Some of his classmates were Division I athletes and members of elite military units.  He was the 3rd oldest recruit to start the rigorous paramilitary program- and the oldest recruit to finish.  But Greg did not just finish- he graduated first overall in his class. 

As a 39-year old ‘rookie’ Greg was awarded a “Black Swan” pin for solving a homicide.  In this case “solving” meant that Greg chased down and cornered an armed gang member who had just executed a rival with a .45 at point-blank range in front of officers on foot patrol. Greg spontaneously led a tactical team that captured the murderer without firing a shot.

In 2011, Greg was hit by a reckless driver on duty while on-foot working a crime scene.  Lucky to have survived, and with permanent injuries, Greg was determined to return to the force, which he did nine months later - again as an unpaid volunteer Officer (the Department had been DEFUNDED while he was rehabilitating, and he was laid-off).

Recently, acting as an unpaid volunteer police officer (Reserve Sergeant), Greg’s actions in the field resulted in him being awarded the rare Medal of Valor for “Conspicuous bravery under hazardous conditions (while) sustaining human life.” Greg and his partner pulled a violent, suicidal man from a burning van he had loaded with explosive propane tanks and ignited behind an in-session elementary school.  Moments after the struggle to subdue, then rescue the suspect --- the van exploded.

When Greg's fellow officer, Michael Johnson was slain in the line of duty, Greg posted a plea for unity on his Facebook page that was later picked up by the Bay Area Newscaster, Frank Somerville, of KTVU. The post went viral and was viewed by an estimated 4 million people.

Here is the text of Frank Somerville’s post of Greg’s words:

 

"Today, someone shared a post with me that was written by San Jose Police Officer Greg Wharton.  He was talking about the death of Officer Michael Johnson.

And whether you like the police or don’t like them, whether you’ve had good experiences with the police or bad experiences, I think it’s worth reading, I really do. Here is what the officer wrote:

"I am numb. For the third time in my 16 years at SJPD, we will be burying a colleague lost in the line of duty.  It is my hope that Mike Johnson’s senseless death will remind us all of the humanity in police work and the humanity of the men and women who answer the call to service. Police work is unique in civil society and always will be alternatively sensationalized and demonized as a result.

(But) can we honor Mike’s memory by putting aside the agendas, the noise, and the frenzied social media-driven bias long enough to remember what should be some simple common ground?

This is a fact of humanity: approximately 800,000 people serve as law enforcement officers in this country. Like any other collection of 800,000 people and despite the best efforts in recruiting and screening (a) very small percentage of this group do not deserve the badge or our trust – they are bigots or crooks or mentally ill – and when they are exposed as such headlines scream.

Those headlines should not drown out what is truly worthy of note but persistently taken for granted, until flagged draped caskets remind us of the personal sacrifice so many make in the service of a noble calling.

We confront danger so you don’t have to; we run to gunfire and death and tragedy to insulate you from it; we absorb the toxicity of the human condition on your behalf, confronting the deranged, the predatory, the fallen, the hateful and the addicted.

Mike paid the ultimate price. Many of us wear the physical scars of assault: we wear these scars so you don’t have to.  Many carry the long-term physical afflictions of the work, the bulging discs, the untreated ligament tears, the hearing loss, and the many corrosive consequences of stress and adrenaline.

Perhaps more profound are the unseen scars on the soul.  Day after day you go to work not knowing what will happen.  To preserve your own humanity year in and year out in this environment is a struggle.
To not be infected by the violence is a daily battle.

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Try leaving a murder-suicide to attend your mom’s Mother’s Day dinner, or a domestic violence attack resulting in a near decapitation to meet someone for a first date.

Last night officers had to step around Mike’s body to put their lives at risk evacuating residents of the suspect’s apartment complex.

Today they are expected to go back to work, to compartmentalize, to overcome and to execute their sacred trust undiminished.
And back they will go.

Honor Mike’s life and his sacrifice by remembering that we the police are an imperfect collection of humans united by a devotion to an institution and an ideal that is perhaps more noble than any of one of us as individuals, and thus we will fall short from time to time.

If Mike’s mortality could remind us all of our humanity – and we can use the inspiration of his selflessness and sacrifice to re-frame the conversation about policing -- then his death can stand for something."

Greg Wharton
San Jose Police Officer

If you like this as much as I do, please consider sharing it with your friends.  I’m also looking forward to reading the comments.  And I’m especially hoping that people who’ve had bad experiences with police with share how they feel after seeing this.

As Greg Wharton said: "Isn't there some common ground that we can all agree on when it comes to what police do?”

The use of the name "San Jose Police Department" is for descriptive and biographical purposes only and does not imply the endorsement of the SJPD or the City of San Jose.