When Mayor Toni Harp began addressing the new police cadets at a 1 p.m. swearing-in ceremony Tuesday at the Sherman Parkway police academy, not all the cadets were listening.
Some were in a different room.
That’s because for the first time ever, two separate classes of cadets were in the building: A class about to finish their training and hit the streets; and another class of recruits just getting started.
Harp addressed that latter group Tuesday. She spoke to 38 brand new recruits and administered an oath to them.
Meanwhile, down the hall, 25 more seasoned cadets went about their training, which began on March 31.
The city has decided to launch two simultaneous classes because of a severe shortage of cops. The department is down to 380 cops — nearly 100 officers understaffed . Because of the shortage, the city authored spending $500,000 on overtime pay for the summer to keep enough cops on the beat.
The overlapping classes of cadets will more efficiently fill those vacant positions and “regrow” the force, Police Chief Dean Esserman said.
“We are rebuilding the New Haven police department with the support of the leadership and the support of the community, the people we serve,” Esserman said at Tuesday’s ceremony.
The ceremony marked the beginning of six months of training for the new cadets. The academy will simultaneously train all 73 cadets until the first group graduates in October.
In her remarks before the oath, Harp said the two classes of cadets training at once will not only help the department in terms of stress level and morale, but also help the city in terms of “overtime costs and their debilitating impact on the city’s budget.”
Harp added that background checks are already underway for the next class, to enroll at the beginning of 2015.
As she, Esserman and other police department officials spoke, the 38 cadets stood and stared straight ahead from behind the long tables of the amphitheater-style classroom.
When it was time for the official swearing-in, Harp instructed the officers to repeat after her and to state their own names. The cadets then took the oath, saying in unison:
“I solemnly swear that I will faithfully and impartially perform the duties of the office of police recruit to the best of my ability and according to law, and that I will at all times strive to use the power entrusted to me as such officer for the best interest of this city, so help me God.”
Esserman took the podium after Harp, and told the officers he hopes they will always honor the two names they wear on their uniforms of New Haven and of their families.
“Duty, honor, integrity, courage, compassion. That’s what we believe in. That’s what we believe our oath represents,” Esserman said.
“A Long Road Ahead”
Esserman and the other speakers at the ceremony also emphasized the difficulties the cadets would face over their six months of training.
The instruction at the academy, located on Sherman Parkway in Newhallville, includes both an academic curriculum and a physical agility component. The program is regulated by the state’s Police Officer Standards and Training Council. Hamden Police Chief Thomas Wydra, who sent two of his recruits to the current class, said the New Haven Academy curriculum has an additional focus on crime prevention.
New Haven Assistant Chief of Professional Standards and Training Al Vazquez told the cadets they are embarking on a career that is not a job, but “a way of life.” He thanked them for doing so, though the next six months would be challenging and taxing.
“I ask you one thing,” Vazquez said. “Don’t give up on that career. Don’t throw it away in five minutes.”
Wydra told the cadets of a similar path that will become harder before it gets easier, if that ever happens.
“You have a long road ahead of you here,” he said.