In a single-file line, 30 police recruits marched with strict precision, the sounds of their footsteps echoing throughout a filled gymnasium. Before they would leave, the men and women would officially be members of the Toledo Police Department.
The 28 men and two women of the 58th Toledo Police Academy class were awarded their badges last night in front of more than 100 family members and friends at Owens Community College.
"It's an extremely proud day for the recruits and our city," Mayor Mike Bell said. "You are the first line of defense in the city of Toledo. We're depending on you greatly to protect us."
The last time the police department added a class was in 2006. The first class was added nearly 73 years ago on Oct. 13, 1938. With the addition of 30 new officers, the department has 565 officers. Since the class started at the academy, 45-50 police officers have retired, said Police Chief Mike Navarre.
Although the department is combating low numbers, it is rebuilding after a historic low in May, 2009, when 72 police officers were laid off, dropping total officer numbers to 525.
"You are police officers now," said Lucas County Sheriff James Telb. "About 50 years ago I was sitting right where you are. ... There will be bad times and bad days, but it will make you stronger and you will get through it. ... Stay focused, stay strong."
When Eric Mierzwiak crossed the stage, a woman with blonde hair instantly sat up straight, rising only slightly from her chair to watch as the officer crossed the stage. Her face burst with a smile as he shook hands with Chief Navarre upon receiving his badge.
For Carl Schwirzinski, a young boy held a sign, almost as big as he was, that read "We love ya Carl" with a picture of the officer.
TOLEDO POLICE STAFFING
The Toledo Police Department has seen a steady decline in officers during the past five years even with 30 new officers who graduated Tuesday.
2007 - 686 officers as of Jan. 1
2008 - 667 officers as of Jan. 1
2009 - 639 officers as of Jan. 1
2010 - 599 officers as of Jan. 1
2011 - 597 officers as of Jan. 1
2011 - 565 officers as of April
"You have chosen a career that is challenging and very rewarding," Chief Navarre said.
The new officers will have their first day at work on Monday, joining other officers for street patrol.
"We're all excited and anticipating our first week," said Officer Brian Heath, 33, of Toledo.
Many of the officers have been waiting their entire lives to be sworn in -- for others it just might feel like forever. Last night's graduating class waited six years from the time they took the initial academy entrance test until they were officially sworn in.
"It felt really good," said Officer Melvin Stachura, 30, of Toledo, who has a long family history of law enforcement.
One officer has especially high expectations. Officer Greg Smith, 32, of Toledo was given badge No. 790, the same badge number Chief Navarre wore as a patrolman.
"I'm very honored to have his badge," said Officer Smith, noting that he didn't know the badge number belonged to the chief until he was handed it.
"[The chief] said 'You've got a lot to live up to,' " Officer Smith said, laughing. The officer has dreamed of becoming a policeman since he was young, although at one point, he was convinced he wouldn't make it.
"I told [my family] I thought I couldn't do it because I couldn't remember the Miranda Warnings at 4 years old," he said.
Officer Mierzwiak graduated third in the class, Officer Adam Knaggs graduated second, and Officer Ben Woody graduated first. Officer Woody is the first officer to receive the Keith Dressel Memorial Award of Excellence.
Detective Dressel was killed in the line of duty in 2007.
Contact Taylor Dungjen at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6054.