By Jessica Bruha
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Many of Norman’s finest gathered Thursday afternoon to welcome seven individuals to the police department for the 50th Police Academy graduation at Bethel Baptist Church.
“We want to take a few moments to welcome you all to the family,” Chief Keith Humphrey said. “You’re joining a department that’s on the cutting edge of being the best department in the state.”
The police department received around 135 applications for the academy this year, which began in February. While some applications were immediately discarded for various reasons, out of those 135, only 10 received final offers.
Chief Humphrey said the seven individuals graduating Thursday were truly the “best of the best” and he was very proud of them.
Graduating cadets included Aury Barrett, Ashley Curry, Marvin Deatherage, Cody Fassett, Thomas McGuire, Ryan Rylant and Nathaniel Worthley.
“We hope to keep them for 20, 25 years,” Humphrey said.
Guest speaker Andy Rieger, executive editor of The Transcript, talked about his years as a former police reporter and his experience with the Citizens’ Police Academy. Perhaps most importantly, he tipped the new officers off about Norman residents.
“Ninety-nine percent of people in this community are good people,” Rieger said, advising them to throw out their assumptions that most people are their suspects.
He quoted Humphrey as saying the department could never hire enough officers to watch the city at all times, but he could enlist citizens to be their eyes and ears. Rieger said the community wants to get to know their new officers and talk to them.
“The community supports you,” he said.
Humphrey has said before that community-oriented policing has become a vital part of making Norman a safer city.
After the speech ended, the cadets were presented with their badges and stood in front of the stage. They remained still while loved ones were invited to pin the new badges onto the cadets’ uniforms. Then they took their oaths of office, right hands raised, promising to fulfill their duties as police officers.
McGuire, who was selected by his fellow classmates as class leader, thanked the instructors and all of the other officers who helped them through the process.
“(They) helped transform us from cadets to the officers we are today,” McGuire said.
Over the past five months, he said they received some of the best training money could buy with some of the best instructors in the country. A strong bond also formed between them over those five months and they learned the value of team work, he said.
As with any graduation, the graduates were excited to begin their new journey.
“I’m excited and proud to be a Norman police officer. We put in hundreds of hours of work, and it feels great to reach a culmination of that work,” Worthley said. “And the real job hasn’t even started yet.”
Barrett reiterated those sentiments. With his 2-year-old son in arms, clearly happy to be with dad after the ceremony, Barrett said it was an honor to be part of the Norman Police Department and the Norman community as well.
Curry didn’t think graduation day would ever come, but was excited nonetheless. She will be Norman’s 10th female officer in the department. Having four brothers and numerous male family members, she said she’s used to being with a bunch of guys.
“I guess I’ll just have 150 brothers now,” Curry said.
Two of the new officers also received awards at the graduation ceremony. Rylant received the academic and firearm proficiency awards and Barrett received the physical fitness award.
However, even with graduation out of the way, the new officers will continue their education under field conditions with police training officers for an additional 15 weeks.
The police department currently has 19 vacancies, and another police academy is scheduled to begin Oct. 4. The authorized strength of the department is 173.
That number used to be lower before Norman voters passed the Public Safety Sales Tax in 2008. The temporary seven-year tax provided the police department with funding to hire 41 additional officers, plus obtain their equipment.
The PSST is scheduled to operate through Sept. 30, 2015.
It also provided the Norman Fire Department with funding for additional fire personnel and equipment. Before the PSST, the fire department’s authorized strength was 133. Now it is 163. Of that 163, there are 150 fire suppression and 24-hour shift emergency responders.
Fire Chief James Fullingim said they currently only have five vacancies and most commonly only consider having another training academy when there are six vacancies.
“It probably won’t be until this time next year that we have another academy,” Fullingim said.
The last fire academy had 19 graduates, who were all males. There are no female firefighters in Norman.