Terry's Letter To Sir Ronnie Flanagan, Chief Constable, RUC

HOME . 8 June 2000

The Honourable Sir Ronnie Flanagan
Office of the Chief Constable
Royal Ulster Constabulary
Knock Road, Belfast BT5 6LE
Northern Ireland, United Kingdom

Dear Chief Constable Flanagan:

I've been following the progress of the Patten Report process with great interest since one of America's living legends, Tom Constantine, became involved. Oversight Commissioner Constantine and I had quite an experience at the beginning of the 1990s when an eruption of communal violence on the St. Regis Mohawk Indian Reservation in northern New York necessitated a major incursion into that community by the New York State Police, of which he was then superintendent. For the next two years, I represented the Governor's office in a process of helping the Mohawk Tribal Council and the community at large prepare themselves to organize and accept an indigenous police force, thereby relieving the state troopers of the role of occupying garrison. After two years, we had a result that I would consider a success, although the Mohawks continue to have issues with the outside world and among themselves that will always have the potential for renewed conflict.

I can appreciate the controversy over the name and insignia of the RUC. These things are very important to an organization, especially one whose members must rely upon one another under difficult and dangerous circumstances. As Mr. Constantine can tell you, the dawn of the New York State Police was overseen by a remarkable man with no police experience whatsoever. Col. George Fletcher Chandler, an army surgeon, was a man of considerable refinement and vision. He himself designed the trooper's distinctive uniform, imbuing his design with symbolic meanings that have endured now for nearly a century. Troopers wear a uniform that is made of gray cloth woven of equal parts black and white fiber. Col. Chandler meant to impress upon his troopers the necessity that a police officer stand firmly between good and evil and be neutral and impartial in enforcing the law. There are touches of purple in the uniform that are emblematic of loyalty, as well.

For a long time now, I have known that Mr. Constantine will be remembered as a major figure in the history of modern law enforcement. That is certainly going to be true in Northern Ireland. There are just too many astonishing coincidences and historical resonances that surround him. Just for a start, some 1,700 years ago, another man named Constantine started out from the British Isles -- from what is now London, in fact, where coincidentally news of our Constantine's appointment to his current commission first emerged on the pages of The Times -- and that man reunified the Roman Empire and ended persecution of Christians. He also was rather good at mediating disputes among Christians. And a certain symbol came to him at a very important moment in his career.

Three years ago, I was in the Republic for a criminal justice conference. I decided to make a visit to Ennis, County Clare, from whence Mr. Constantine's grandfather emigrated. A lovely town and the people I met were very pleased and proud to learn that a "Clare man" had so distinguished himself in American law enforcement. (I enjoy telling people about him as you may see at Internet site www.constantinescircus.org.) And wouldn't you know, I happened upon one of those coincidences or resonances I mentioned above. From Ennis is published a weekly newspaper called, interestingly, The Clare Champion. Now that caught my eye. On the banner of the paper is a heraldic device and motto, both in English and Irish. The device is a phoenix rising up out of the conflagration, renewed and alive again. The motto in English is "I arise to complete my task."

I am descended from three generations of police officers, beginning with my great-grandfather, who was a member of the Irish Constabulary in County Waterford. His gravestone proudly records his service. In America, one of the proudest things we have is our police service, which is composed of thousands of individually constituted police agencies whose members go about their work each day bound by rules that come directly out of the Constitution of the United States and by loyalty to one another. In 1992, at an IACP convention in Detroit, Michigan, I heard Mr. Constantine addressing thousands of police chiefs from a podium decked with the flags of all nations about his vision. As he put it to me: "Imagine all these guys working together." Imagine.

Well, I offer the image of rebirth and transformation through the fire, the life cycle of the phoenix, and that motto "I arise to complete my task," with its connotation of the highest devotion to duty, enduring and persisting through hardship, danger and especially change, for your consideration. Something tells me that In Hoc Signo Vinces.


"The Two Foxes"
Constantine coat of arms

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