COLUMBUS (WCHM) — Standing with their right hands raised, 57 diverse men and women took an oath to support the Constitution of the United States, the constitution and laws of Ohio, and the laws and ordinances of the cities in which they will serve.
Those cities include Columbus, Grove City, New Albany, Newark, Delaware, Dublin, Westerville, and for the first time, Chillicothe and Reynoldsburg.
This is the second recruit class to graduate this year.
This class was comprised of some officers who are following in family footsteps, extending a legacy of pubic service through law enforcement, while others are forging a new path and following a new dream.
Officer Mary Hogue said police work is in her blood, literally, as her father, as well as several other family members, was an officer.
“I couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” said Hogue. “I feel like it is what I was born to do.”
Meanwhile, new Grove City officer Otis Merrill is tackling a line of work that he had not considered until recently.
“I grew up in a predominantly African-American community and law enforcement really wasn’t like put out there for us as a career option,” said Merrill.
Instead, Merrill went to college and played football. Afterward, he was offered a tryout with the Green Bay Packers and impressed them enough to be given a shot during the 2012-13 pre-season.
He didn’t make the 53-man roster, but was brought back as part of the team’s practice squad.
The following year, he moved on to the Canadian Football League, and during his career, he played for two teams.
Eventually, the dream of playing professional football came to an end for Merrill and he was faced with a decision.
“Thinking about life after football, I had to start thinking about building myself outside of football,” said Merrill.
Corrections was something he found he enjoyed and he found a home with the Grove City Police Department.
Having grown up in Cleveland, Grove City is foreign to him, but he looks forward to learning the city and getting to know its people.
While Merrill had those moments of achieving parts of his ultimate dream, Officer Gabriel Watt nearly lost his completely.
Watt was serving in Afghanistan in the early 2000’s when a rocket cache exploded, sending a bolder hurtling toward him.
The rock crushed his foot so badly, doctors told him he would never walk correctly again, or even run.
It took years for the pain of walking to be bearable for Watt. A few years ago, he saw a hit and run accident and was upset that all he could do was dial 911.
After prayer and discussions with his wife, he made the decision to try reaching for his dream – becoming a police officer.
Watt, like every other recruit, admits he had to lean on his classmates to get him through the most difficult of times at the academy.
While the foot injury does still give him some issues, Watt is good to go when it comes to exercising his duties as a police officer and looks forward to starting his new role.
“I do look back and I think of 21-year-old me laying in the hospital bed being told I’d never walk right again and I’d never run again and I think of that doctor’s lack of bedside manner and I wish I’d invited him today,” Watt said. “I wish I could tell him face to face, ‘Hey you were wrong.’”
Leaving the academy, the officers have bonded deeply with each other regardless of where they are going to end up.
They said they are fully aware they are entering a dangerous line of work where there will be times when they are both lauded and reviled.
Officers from nearly every department gathered after the graduation ceremony said they do not just seek to enforce the laws, but to serve the public, to be the help people need, and to be the adults that will not fail the young who have been disappointed by the failure of other adults around them.
“We’re people too, you know, we have families, we have children, we have moms and dads, we’re no different,” said officer Nicholas Brienza. “We’re just given an awesome responsibility that none of us take lightly.”
Hogue, the recruit class orator, added, “We got in this to help everyone and we’re just like you. Like I said, we have the same struggles and triumphs as everyone else and I feel like if that is more accepted within the community, it won’t be, ‘Oh no, the police are here;’ it will be like, ‘Oh thank goodness the police are here.'”
“We’re here to bring calm to chaos, and show up on the worst day of someone’s life and I think that was the thing that was most important for me is, I’ve worked hard and this training has given us a set of skills to be able to do that and I think that’s the most rewarding thing that I’ve gotten from this training, is being able to help people in those times of need,” Hogue added.
Many of the officers’ first day on the job in their communities will be Sunday.
The next recruit class began training three weeks ago and are slated to graduate the first week of January 2020.