"You are here for all the right reasons — to help your communities. That is something that separates us from other countries — that you stand for Democracy."
Those were the words of Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin yesterday afternoon at the Rhode Island Municipal Police Academy field house on the Community College of Rhode Island's Flanagan Campus in Lincoln to more than 40 new police officers from 23 communities across the state, including seven from Cranston.
The new officers just graduated from the academy and are ready to begin serving on the streets.
The recruits, some baby-faced, others a little older, all stood tall and proud as their families watched them take one step out of training and into the brotherhood — and sisterhood — of law enforcement officials.
The ceremony is steeped in tradition, from the performance by Bagpiper Trooper Michael J. Capone of the Rhode Island State Police leading the recruits to their seats, the invocation by Rev. Francis O'Hara, academy chaplain, to a lengthy inspection process during which the recruits march back and forth and stand achingly still as they're scrutinized from head to toe, some ordered to shout their weapon make, model number and serial number.
One of the highlights of the day was the absolutely perfect recitation of the Police Officers' Code of Ethics by Johnston Police Officer Marissa Ciccone.
"It's hard to believe nearly six months has passed since our training started," said Evan E. Johnson, a new South Kingstown police officer and the class' valedictorian, during his speech.
"Day one is still fresh. I can still recall instructors shouting in our faces, the pain in my feet from standing for what felt like a lifetime," Johnson said.
Johnson said he and his fellow recruits developed tight bonds during the grueling training that encompassed more than 950 hours and included the study of criminal law and violations, exhausting obstacle courses, weapons, crime scene investigation and driving.
Over that time they developed nicknames: Big Bird. Snickers. Gump.
"We learned about our strengths, weaknesses and how to overcome our limits," Johnson said.
The class is the largest in the history of the academy and the second group to pass through this year. It was the 119th commencement ceremony for the academy and an especially poignant one, as keynote speaker and Basic Training Officer David C. DelBonis said he was leaving the academy to return to where his heart lies: on the street as a beat cop in East Greenwich.
"There's no better job than being on the street for me," DelBonis said. "It's true to my heart."
The decision was influenced by a need for stability. The father of a 3-and-a-half-month-old, DelBonis' voice cracked when he explained that his family needed the security a job as a police officer provides. And just at that moment, his child — balanced on his wife's lap in a special section set aside for police chiefs — let out a cry. DelBonis waved to his little boy before an appreciative audience.
"A lot of people call us warriors, but we're more than that," DelBonis said. "Our first job is to protect. That's why we push you to your limits. However, the second part of the job is to serve and that is just as important. You make the change every day in your community by doing the right thing. You have an impact on how things happen in your community. You can't change the world, but you can change small parts as you go."
The officers were told to be proactive, and to not get lazy and stop wearing their seat belts or putting on their vests every day; to be humble, compassionate, and to not view the job as "us versus them" but to see citizens as partners.
"This is a great profession," DelBonis said, recounting a story from an earlier time in his career when he was training with the New York City Police Department.
"An old seasoned veteran said, 'Dave, you know why this is the best profession? Because a young guy like you goes out there every day and makes more critical decisions than the bosses at the top of the chain.'
"You affect people's lives. You have a heavy weight."
That weight is shared with the family of police officers who must live through both the good times and bad. A cop who holds a dying person in his arms, who pursues murderers, who has to take parents away from their children, who watches good people make bad decisions and bad people ruin other people's lives, can't forget those moments the instant he or she walks through the door at home.
The training they received is just the foundation. The rest of the structure is built on family support.
"Coming home, it's hard to flip that switch," said Governor Lincoln Chafee.
Perhaps the most important piece of advice was when DelBonis told the recruits to learn how to balance work and personal life. It's a lesson he struggled to learn early in his career.
"Take time out for yourself, family and friends," he said. "A lot of times this job comes first. I didn't learn until later how to find balance. Find balance."
In East Greenwich, the following officers – all named Matthew! – are joining the force:
- Matthew J. Cordle
- Matthew S. Larsson
- Matthew C. White
"We started the process a year and a half ago," said EG Police Chief Tom Coyle about the new graduates. "They're going to fill the three officers who retired eight months ago."
The three officers who retired are Matt Haley, Pat Trainor, and Al Marcella.
What they do now, they don't go right on the road. They're assigned to a field training officer for 16 weeks," said Coyle. I'm thinking the end of February, maybe March, they'll be on the road.
For a new recruit, it costs about $24,000 to get them through the academy and ready to serve. EG has saved that money in some recent hires, including Delbonis, who came to the department last summer after a wealth of experience in other law enforcement jobs.
Several officers from the class were presented special awards. They are:
- Evan E. Johnson, South Kingstown Police Department — Valedictorian
- Charles E. Smith, North Kingstown Police Department — Firearms Award
- Matthew S. Larsson, East Greenwich Police Department — Physical Fitness Award
- William D. Vickers, North Providence Police Department — Highway Safety Award
- Scott T. Weitchmann, Central Falls Police Department — Commander Raymond J. Shannon Leadership Award.