With pride, 28 new officers join shorthanded city police department

MIDTOWN – The 28 graduates of Class 2019-01 of the St. Louis Police Academy are more than new police officers. From now on, they’re family.

The observation came at their graduation ceremony Thursday night, in a speech by class president Jessica Ottengheime.

“We have learned a lot about our fellow recruits during this time together,” Ottengheime told fellow graduates, friends and family at the event at Harris-Stowe State University. The training program at the academy lasted 31 weeks.

She reminded her fellow graduates of something that police Chief John Hayden told them: “He told us to work hard and to work well with others.”

Ottengheime said there were times when she thought she couldn’t run another lap.

She thanked those who trained class members. “Since our first day on Feb. 4, you have prepared us (with) everything we need.”

Before the graduates were sworn in and received their badges, they got encouraging send-offs from Mayor Lyda Krewson, Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards and Hayden.

The new officers should ease a shortfall in the number of officers the department has because of a lack of applicants. As of Sept. 2, the department had 1,188 officers, 152 below the authorized level of 1,340.

This addition of the graduates increased the number of officers to 1,216 and reduced the shortfall to 124. However, more retirements, resignations and other factors should increase the number.

Krewson said it was exciting that those in the class had pushed themselves to the limits. She thanked them for joining in keeping the city safe. 

“We know that all of you have joined an elite team. The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department is a world-class police agency, and I know you are proud to join the ranks of so many officers who have served St. Louis with honor and distinction,” the mayor said. 

“Police officers face bigger challenges and tougher decisions every day than most of us can even imagine,” Krewson said. “Many of society’s challenges and failures end up in the 911 calls to officers. Your job requires patience, courage and an unrelenting dedication to the protection and service of others.”

All of the graduates are worthy of the badges they received, Krewson said. “You make me, you make your family and you make your city proud.”

Edwards echoed Krewson’s words.

“This is a great day of celebration for you, your family and your friends and equally for citizens that reside in the St. Louis region, as well as those who visit our city,” Edwards said.

Hayden told the graduates that theirs would be the most rewarding career in the world. 

That won’t be because they’ll make a lot of money or will be popular, Hayden said. It won’t be because people in a neighborhood they come into or “Even the person being arrested thanks us and gives us a high-five.”

The career is rewarding because, Hayden said, “You will have the opportunity to improve the quality of life of citizens oftentimes in a matter of a few minutes.”

He recalled an incident in 1989 when he was doing an undercover drug deal. When somebody recognized him, he pulled his gun, identified himself as a police officer and started running after the person he had been dealing with.

“There was one old man on the porch who clapped as I chased this man down the street,” Hayden said. In that moment, he improved the quality of life of citizens, Hayden said. 

It’s an exhilarating and rewarding career, Hayden said. 

The police chief encouraged the new officers to practice personal safety and training. 

“I don’t want you to take any unnecessary risks while working for the St. Louis Police Department,” Hayden said. 

Hayden also told friends and family members that their support was important. 

When the officers come home, they may need a hug and a back rub, he said. Sometimes, they’ll come home discouraged, Hayden said.

“Give them a little space. Give them a little time,” he said. 

Hayden recalled an earlier police academy graduation when a woman came up to him and said, “Captain, please take care of my son.” After he assured her that he would, the woman said to him again, “No, captain, really, take care of my son.”

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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