Southern Arizona received nine new police officers last week, after the first class of Cochise College’s new Southeast Arizona Law Enforcement Training Academy graduated to ringing, emotional applause on Thursday, May 9 at the institution’s Douglas campus.
The program, which kicked off its first semester in January, is the first police training academy that college has offered in well over a decade. It was begun as a way to “fill the need” for the county by training skilled, homegrown law enforcement for positions in different local agencies, said Eric Brooks, Cochise College Dean for Liberal Arts and an instructor at the academy.
“We feel it’s a great use of taxpayer dollars, since we are taxpayer funded,” Brooks said. “And if we can get recruits to stay locally, that’s really our goal.”
The inaugural class, which included three cadets “picked up,” or sponsored by the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office and one by the Douglas Police Department, as well as graduates heading to agencies in Graham, Gila, and Santa Cruz counties, and had a 100 percent graduation rate, Brooks said.
The new officers, who underwent extensive training in first aid, defensive tactics, vehicle operation, patrol procedures, criminal law and more during the 17-week course, got their badges and took their oath during the graduation ceremony.
For graduate Bryan Lomeli, who hails from Douglas and will begin the next phase of his training in the field with the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office in his hometown, being able to train at an academy in his own county was “really great.”
“I just want to get out there and make a difference in the community,” said Lomeli, who has a longstanding interest in law enforcement, having started working at the county jail when he was a teenager.
“I want to get out there and succeed, eventually go up higher, become a supervisor, and just extend my knowledge a lot.”
Many officers present at the event remembered what it was like to have such eagerness and passion to begin their careers, among them the event’s guest speaker, Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels.
Dannels graduated from the college’s former police academy in the mid-1980s, and admitted that it was “weird” to be speaking to the new academy’s graduating class as the county sheriff.
“Never forget that we work for the community,” said Dannels, who also implored the new graduates to remember their core values, the importance of spending time with their loved ones, and the essential roles they would hold in their communities.
“This job is not a paycheck, it’s a passion — never forget that passion of why you applied.”
While the college has some “minor changes” to work on for the next academy classes, which includes securing a driving course closer to the college (the first class of cadets traveled to Sierra Vista for vehicle training,) Brooks is overall “very happy” with the outcome of the academy, he said.
“I’m happy with the quality of the instruction that we’ve provided — we have qualified cadets that are graduating today,” he said, crediting the academy’s instructors, who represented a variety of agencies and include supervisor Sgt. Randal Wilson and class counselor Detective Justin Dannels, with the semester’s success.
The academy’s next class, which will start July 29, has 15 cadets signed up so far, Brooks continued. Moving forward, he hopes the academy will continue improving “the quality and quantity of officers in our county.”
“We welcome outside county, but our real focus is one what can we do to help Cochise County,” he said.
Vanessa Romero, was the lone cadet for the DPD attending the academy. She received her badge from Chief Kraig Fullen and had it pinned on her by her mother Margarita.
Romero who was a dispatcher with the DPD for three years, said to now be a police officer with the department “is a dream come true.”
She added she’s both happy and excited and can’t wait to report to work, which she did on Monday.
Officer Romero said having the academy so close to home was challenging because of the distractions it created of getting to go home every night.
She said the biggest challenge she faced however was getting herself over the eight-foot high wall which is something all cadets are required to do.
“I finally made it over about six-weeks ago,” she said.
She added being part of the first class of nine cadets allowed everyone to bond and became really close.
“They are all like family now,” she said adding, “I’m ready for the challenge. I’ve been ready for a while.”
To learn more about the Southeast Arizona Law Enforcement Training Academy, visit https://www.cochise.edu/policeacademy/.
Bruce Whetten, managing editor for the Douglas Dispatch, contributed to this article.