Police graduates receive badges, applause, advice

It's a small piece of metal, barely big enough to fill the palm of your hand.

But to 17 cadets Friday, the shiny badge represented 11 weeks of hard work and a future filled with adventure and danger.

"Safeguard the public interest and remember that perception is everything," Maj. Richard Dixon told Class No. 195 of the Regional Police Academy.

It's that type of advice that the cadets have been soaking up for the past two months as they learned the basics of law enforcement.

For five days a week, eight hours a day, the class has been slogging through textbooks of Georgia law, grappling with other cadets and firing weapons.

Each cadet had a special reason for enrolling in the academy.

Jeffrey Brown, 25, is continuing the public service tradition started by his father, Lt. Neal Brown, almost 40 years ago. Neal Brown is a longtime firefighter and the arson investigator for the Richmond County Fire Department. He also went through the academy to be a sworn officer.

"They don't give away anything over there," Brown said. "You have to earn it."

Friday's reception at Enterprise Mill was the official ceremony for the cadets to receive their badges.

More than half were already wearing the uniform of the Hephzibah Police Department or Richmond County marshal or sheriff's offices. Those waiting for employment wore crisp, white dress shirts and black slacks.

Each cadet went up in alphabetical order to have the badge pinned onto his blouse by his father, wife, daughter or fiancée. He wrapped an arm around the shoulder of his loved one for a photo, then received a firm handshake and hearty slap on the back from the academy staff. No one returned to his seat without a big grin on his face.

Some received extra awards for outstanding service.

Todd Lamb picked up a commendation for the top academics. He earned the nickname "Lambulance" during basic training. It's partly because of his EMT background and partly because of a training exercise at which he yelled "police" with every step. The good-natured ribbing is part of the camaraderie forged through the 11 weeks of tough training.

For Jeffrey Taylor, 25, the police academy is an extension of his service in the U.S. Army as a military police officer. There were similarities to the Army's basic training, he said, but there was a stronger focus on academics at the academy.

His fiancée, Tamela Carter, is nervous about the new venture in their lives, but she understands Taylor wouldn't be content with a desk job.

"I'm happy for him," she said.