TRENTON, N.J. -Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes joined County, state, and local officials today at the graduation ceremony for the first class of cadets to complete the Mercer Police Academy.
The class of nine cadets, crisply dressed in the uniforms of the respective law enforcement agency each will join, sat at attention inside Kelsey Theatre at Mercer County Community College Friday during the commencement as several speakers addressed them.
"Today, it takes the very best of a person's character to stand up and say, 'I count for something because my community counts for something' and take this oath to serve as a police officer," Hughes said. "Today, I could not be prouder of the Mercer County Police Academy."
The nine graduates who were trained at the Academy in all aspects of law enforcement for the last four months will now serve in four different agencies within Mercer County and one in Hunterdon County. The cadets are the original class of the Academy, which was created in January and provides, for the first time, a facility and resources to train law enforcement recruits within Mercer County. The Academy is located on the grounds of Mercer County Community College.
The graduates were: Phillip Altobelli of Ewing, who will join the Mercer County Sheriff's Office; Earl Biddy of Little Egg Harbor Township, Princeton University Public Safety; Richard Herbe of Ewing, Ewing Township Police Department; Ryan Hoy of Hamilton, Mercer County Sheriff's Office; Stas Laszczyk of Trenton, Mercer County Sheriff's Office; Elizabeth Mehl of Hamilton, Mercer County Sheriff's Office; Michael Pitts of Long Branch, West Windsor Police Department; Kenya Stokes of Trenton, Mercer County Sheriff's Office; and Jesse Winfield of Glen Gardner, Hunterdon County Sheriff's Office.
Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph Bocchini Jr., County Sheriff Kevin Larkin, Mercer County Community College President Dr. Patricia Donohue, and Dan Posluszny, Lawrence Township Police Chief and president of the Mercer County Police Chiefs Association, who make up the Academy's Board of Directors along with Hughes, also spoke to the cadets and an audience of dozens of cadets' family members and friends. County Freeholder Anthony Carabelli represented the freeholder board in the ceremony.
"Very soon you will be on the streets or conducting investigations, and you will find your education has just begun," Bocchini said. "I expect to see great things from this class and no matter what you do, always uphold the police credo to protect and serve."
Larkin, meanwhile, applauded the efforts of the Board of Directors and the New Jersey Police Training Commission, who collaborated to create Mercer's own academy and accomplished the goal in a relatively short amount of time.
Although it was the first class, officials said Friday there was no lenience. Posluszny, the Lawrence Chief of Police, said he visited the Academy during training and could vouch for its difficulty. The cadets trained in disciplines such as use of force, firearms, vehicle pursuit, hostage negotiation, advanced crime scene processing, and domestic violence prevention, among others.
Donohue, for her part, praised the educational standards of the academy as well-cadets were challenged intellectually and took extensive tests nearly every week of training. The collective average of the class on test scores was 91.
Phillip Altobelli was chosen as class speaker, and emphasized that the strenuous training made each member of the first class stronger.
"We triumphed over every single obstacle," he said. "Today we step out from the umbrella of the academy into a dangerous world. This day is only the beginning of a life spent protecting."
Several cadets also received awards for their excellence in training. Academy Acting Director Stephen Notta presented Mehl with the academic achievement award, Pitts with the physical fitness award and emergency vehicle operations award, and Laszczyk with the firing range award. Earl Biddy was honored with the State Police Training Commission's excellence award, which is based on recommendations by the class.
The Mercer Police Academy consists of two classrooms specially designed for the needs of law enforcement training and recruits use MCCC grounds, its library, and its gymnasium for training purposes. The campus includes a padded training room that is used for "defensive tactics" classes. A shooting range in Hopewell Township operated by the prosecutor's office is part of the academy as well.
The creation of the academy saves taxpayer dollars by maintaining standardized training without relying on outside agencies. Training recruits within the County eliminates the cost of fees and transportation of recruits to other police academies. The sheriff's office alone will save $34,800 annually, the cost of training 12 new recruits a year at the Burlington County Police Academy.
Perhaps the most important feature of the Academy is the fact that all new law enforcement officers in the County receive the same training. For example, training for homeland security and counter-terrorism is now standardized among Mercer law enforcement, and the academy can host regional training on gangs, Breathalyzer testing, school resource officer training, fugitive apprehension, and K9 units-all of which are currently held out-of-county.
Along with the county's law enforcement agencies, the Mercer Office of Emergency Management, the N.J. State Police, the FBI, and the state Division of Criminal Justice are all expected to utilize Mercer's academy for training purposes. In the future, basic courses for corrections officers and park rangers will be offered at the academy, also a first for Mercer.
The second class of the Academy begins training October 1 and can accept up to 40 recruits. Competition for slots is already heavy as approximately 50 individuals applied using "alternate route" status, in which a recruit pays his or her own way for training.