WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Their badges new and shiny, 29 new members of the Winston-Salem Police Department took their oaths on Friday at Benton Convention Center, and have the weekend to get ready for their entry into the reality of police work on Monday, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
The new officers have finished 27 weeks of basic law-enforcement training, but one of the graduates said Friday that their lessons will really begin when they are out on the street handling real cases.
“The true test is not basic law-enforcement training: It will be that first call,” Darryl Thomas told his fellow graduates. Thomas is the president of what was the 67th training class for new police officers.
Dr. William Bozeman, in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine, said that police officers and emergency room doctors have similar challenges: making decisions based on incomplete information in what are often life-and-death situations.
“We have to manage the situation while trying to find out the things we need to find out,” Bozeman said. He went on to say that there’s a key difference, though: the police officer knows it is his own life that could be at stake.
“You place yourself physically there, and you may have to lay your life on the line,” Bozeman said.
As they mingled with family and friends after the ceremony, some of the officers said they’re ready to tackle the challenges they know they will face.
“It is something I always talked about doing,” said Christopher Graf, who was awarded a purple heart for an injury he received in one of his two tours of duty in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army. Graf indicated his older brother David, standing nearby, and told how “me and him would play cops and robbers and I would always try to be the cop.”
Graf picked up his sons one by one – Talon, 7, and Taydon, 5 – and held them close for some daddy time. With two overseas stints from 2007 to 2010, he said, he wanted to be in a place to spend more time watching his sons grow up. Graf’s wife, Beth, and his mother, Tammy Long, were among family members who came to watch the graduation ceremony.
“I’m proud of him,” Long said. “He will be in God’s hands.”
Another newly-minted officer, Joanna Newcomer, told how she once told an advisor that she wanted to save the world. The advisor told her that she probably couldn’t do that but that in her new line of work “you will save many worlds.”
“The biggest thing I want to do is make a difference,” she said, adding that officers have to learn to deal with the reality that “you put your life on the line every day, and you may not come home.”
Winston-Salem Police Chief Barry Rountree told the assembled graduates that officers shouldn’t expect a lot of attention and too many expressions of thanks. They have to know that people with no knowledge of law-enforcement procedures will be watching their every move. They will see things most people can’t imagine seeing, he said.”
“Take time to reflect back and remember why you wanted to be a police officer,” Rountree said. “Measure your best days on how many people you were able to help and how many lives you were able to influence.”
Police Sgt. John Morris, an 18-year veteran of the police force, led class members through their training. Standing in the lobby of Benton after the ceremony, he shook hands with new officers and posed for pictures with them. He can’t help but think about his own graduation each time he attends one of these ceremonies, he said.
And he knows that each officer is about to find out what policing is really like:
“We can do a good job of replicating most things,” he said. “When they see it for real on the street, they know it is not training. That is when it is reality.”