The Hattiesburg Police Department welcomed 14 new members to its ranks June 19, as the department held the graduation ceremony for Recruit Class 37.
The graduates are Robert Barham, Jonathan Blackwell, Christopher Wilson, Felix Acosta, Shanice Bolton, Lawinston Hayes, Nathaniel Hocker, Kopan Nightingale, Jordan Read, Paul Sanderford, Jomez Applewhite, Zachary Cotton, Sharaey Jefferson and Ryu Warnsly.
With the addition of those new members, HPD now boasts 133 sworn police officers.
“Thank you, parents, wives and children, for supporting these valiant officers in achieving the first step in their goal to have a career in law enforcement,” HPD chief Anthony Parker told the crowd. “Officers, I want to honor you and your steadfast determination in becoming an officer of the Hattiesburg Police Department.
“You were solid throughout your training, flexibility and accountability when asked to continue your training remotely at home during a moment of uncertainty, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. You have shown a purpose, a drive, to overcome all obstacles in your quest to complete your goal and become a police officer. I commend you.”
Lamar County Sheriff Danny Rigel, who graduated from the academy in 1982, said in his opinion, law enforcement is the best and most noble career an individual could choose.
“You’re about to enter an elite class of humanity to which you are called – this is your day to shine,” he said. “Do not tarnish what you have accomplished by losing sight of who you are when you put on that uniform.
“You’ll be called upon to perform deeds that few will understand, appreciate, or ever be able to perform themselves. Always follow the Golden Rule: you always treat others the way you would like to be treated. From this day forward until you retire, you will be in the public eye, subject to Monday-morning quarterbacking, and your every move and action – good and bad – will be subject to intense scrutiny.”
Sanderford, who spoke for his graduating class, thanked his instructors for their time and educating them for the road ahead.
“Seventeen weeks (in academy), and I can’t believe it’s already here – it seems like it flew by quickly,” he said. “I remember when we first got here day one, 17 weeks seemed like it was going to be a lifetime.
“I wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into, and I’m sure everybody else was thinking the same thing. But I had chosen this, and so did everyone else.”
After the officers were given their medals and graduation certificates, Mayor Toby Barker addressed the crowd.
“(These officers) will take their place in a story that began well over a century ago,” he said. “It is a story filled with tradition and pride, and it is a story with many chapters left to be written – chapters that will be written by you, individually and collectively.”
To qualify for the academy, an applicant must be at least 21, a U.S. citizen with a high school diploma or a college degree and have no felony record.
Applicants must also live within 10 miles of the Hattiesburg city limits or be willing to relocate.