As 42 Oklahoma City police Academy recruits were pinned with freshly minted badges in a graduation ceremony on Thursday, church walls separated two distinct crowds who gathered downtown for entirely different reasons.
Inside First Church, 131 NW 4, more than 700 cheered for those who earned probationary officer status after more than seven months of rigorous police training. Outside, roughly 75 protestors sounded their displeasure over the graduation ceremony’s scheduled, then canceled, guest speaker, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
Plans were originally in place for Holder to speak at the event, but he opted out early Thursday, Oklahoma City police Capt. Dexter Nelson said. Holder was replaced by U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange.
Nelson said an estimated 200 to 300 protestors had planned to gather across from the church on the sidewalk of N Robinson. However, Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore, said a large number of those people did not show up when Holder announced his cancellation. Regardless of turnout, Wesselhoft counted the protest as a victory for those who oppose Holder’s political actions and beliefs.
“I think it was very understood that people could come together using their First Amendment right to assemble and speak, and that’s what we did,” Wesselhoft said. “We had a direct impact on the highest law official in America. That’s not small stuff.”
Extra security measures remained in place, as police officers surrounded the church and bomb-squad dogs secured the area. A Justice Department spokesman told the Associated Press that Holder’s last-second change of plans was due to a late departure from Washington, D.C. Holder reportedly still planned to arrive in Oklahoma City, but it was unclear for what purpose.
‘A life of service’
Miles-LaGrange, chief judge in the western district of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City since 2008, opened the ceremony with a speech that thanked the officers of recruit class 131 for their dedication to public service.
“There’s so much more ahead for each and every one of you we know personally, and especially in this context, professionally,” Miles-LaGrange said. “It’s an extraordinary pleasure for me to congratulate the 42 of you ... You should be commended for your tenacity and your toughness.”
The graduation was the final step in an initial training process that began in late September, when 52 recruits entered the program. Over the next 30 weeks, recruits received more than 1,100 hours of training in a number of disciplines, including physical fitness, traffic accident investigation, patrol techniques, legal issues, firearms, driver training, community relations and criminal investigations. They also went through 70 hours of Spanish language instruction.
Silvio Kimmel, the lieutenant recruit supervisor for the Oklahoma City Police Department, said in September that every applicant who made it into the academy beat out between 80 and 100 others who were not accepted.
The recruits come from diverse backgrounds, consisting of 35 men and seven women; the youngest at 21 years old and the oldest at 42 years old. Nineteen have bachelor degrees and six have associate degrees. Three previously served in law enforcement and four are second-generation Oklahoma City police officers.
Upon graduation, the recruits are considered probationary officers. For the next four to six weeks, each will be assigned to a field training officer for continued instruction doing police work, Nelson said.
“This is a huge hurdle for them getting through the office and classroom training portion,” Nelson said. “This just solidifies the fact that they are probably going to make it. Although they do have a little ways to go, they will be considered officers after today.”
The ceremony closed with the oldest member of the class, Mark List, 42, giving a speech on behalf of the recruits. List, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, said he gained a unique perspective during training.
“I truly admire each and every one of you,” List said. “All of you are young, intelligent people who could have done a million other things with your lives, but instead you chose to serve and protect the citizens of Oklahoma City. In a society that increasingly glorifies personal wealth and achievement over old-fashioned values and morals and what’s best for society, you stepped forward and committed yourself to a life of service for others.”