WEST WINDSOR, N.J. -The first class of corrections officers trained at the Mercer County Police Academy graduated today in a commencement ceremony before dozens of proud family members and many County officials.
The class of nine graduates, all of whom will join the Mercer County Department of Corrections, sat at attention inside Kelsey Theatre at Mercer County Community College Friday during commencement as they were addressed by several speakers.
"You have all elected to join the ranks of law enforcement and you have proved yourselves worthy these last 12 weeks," said Mercer County First Assistant Prosecutor Janetta Marbrey told the graduates in her welcome address.
The graduates (see complete list below) were trained at the Academy in all aspects of corrections enforcement for the last 12 weeks will begin working at the Mercer County Correction Center Monday, May 26. The cadets are the first class of corrections officers produced by the Academy, which has already graduated 50 police officers in its first two police classes.
"These fine young men and women will have a special place in the Academy's history as the first class of corrections officers," said Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes, who was traveling and unable to attend the ceremony. "They have performed admirably and now begin a career of public service and a pledge to protect the community. On behalf of all of Mercer County, I welcome these new officers."
The academy was created by Hughes and County law enforcement officials in October 2006 and provides, for the first time, a facility and resources to train law enforcement recruits within Mercer County. The academy is located on the grounds of Mercer County Community College.
Mercer County Correction Center Warden Charles Ellis, Mercer County Sheriff Kevin Larkin, Mercer County Community College President Dr. Patricia C. Donohue, and Hightstown Borough Police Chief James Eufemia, who represented the Mercer Chiefs of Police Association, also spoke to the cadets and an audience of dozens of cadets' family members and friends. County Freeholder Pasquale Colavita Jr. represented the freeholder board in the ceremony. Former warden Shirley Tyler also attended.
"I'm very pleased to welcome these recruits into the corrections family," said Mercer County Correction Center Warden Charles Ellis. "This field is very tough. We get people from every criminal element and we have to have the best trained people to handle them."
Over the 12-week course, the cadets trained in disciplines such as corrections protocol and guidelines, safety of officers and inmates, use of force, firearms, transporting prisoners, and self-defense, among others. The academic and physical training regimen transformed the nine cadets from normal citizens to first-class corrections officers, Paglione said.
"The intent of this academy is to ensure each and every recruit is equipped to deal with the variety of situations and the diversity of individuals they will be faced with every day on the job," said Academy Director Al Paglione.
Larkin commended the efforts of Hughes, the Academy staff and Board of Directors, and Dr. Donohue, saying the academy is "a true community effort."
Donohue, meanwhile, said the officers should be considered part of the Class of 2008, the more than 900 students who graduated with degrees from Mercer County Community College on May 22. She praised the educational standards of the academy as well and urged the officers to continue to take courses at Mercer County Community College to further their educations.
Darlene M. Obrzut, of East Windsor, N.J., was chosen by her fellow graduates as class speaker.
"With hard work and excellent instruction, we all prevailed and overcame this challenge. We appreciate the foundation we have been given here at the academy, but we know our training has just begun," she said.
Two cadets also received awards for their performance in training. Officer Stevie T. Clark of Hamilton was presented with the academic achievement award and the physical fitness award, while Officer Christopher P. Anodide of Hamilton earned the firing range accuracy award.
In addition to Paglione, the Mercer Police Academy staff consists of: Sergeant Stephen Demko, training supervisor; Investigator Robert Smith, chief instructor; Investigator Robert Gioscio, staff instructor; Detective Dennis Schuster (Ret.), range master/Sheriff's liaison; Stephen A. Notta, Prosecutor's liaison; and Renee Mastroianni, staff secretary. Adjunct staff for the corrections training included: Sergeant Shawn Palmer, correctional staff supervisor; Corrections Officer Russell Morgan, staff instructor; and Corrections Officer Juan DelCastillo, staff instructor.
The Mercer Police Academy consists of two classrooms specially designed for the needs of law enforcement training and recruits use MCCC grounds, its library, and its gymnasium for training purposes. The campus includes a padded training room that is used for "defensive tactics" classes. A shooting range in Hopewell Township operated by the prosecutor's office is part of the academy as well.
The creation of the academy saves taxpayer dollars by maintaining standardized training without relying on outside agencies. Training recruits within the County eliminates the cost of fees and transportation of recruits to other police academies. The sheriff's office alone saves $34,800 annually, which was the cost of training 12 new recruits a year at the Burlington County Police Academy.
In addition, training for homeland security and counter-terrorism is now standardized among Mercer law enforcement, and the academy can host regional training on gangs, Breathalyzer testing, school resource officer training, fugitive apprehension, and K9 units-all subjects that had to be taught outside the County in the past.
Along with the County's law enforcement agencies, the Mercer Office of Emergency Management, the N.J. State Police, the FBI, and the state Division of Criminal Justice are expected to utilize Mercer's academy for training purposes. Training for County park rangers is also offered at the academy.
The third police officer class of the Academy begins training Sept. 8, 2008 and can accept up to 40 recruits. Competition for slots is growing, especially with individuals who apply using "alternate route" status, in which a recruit pays his or her own way for training.
The following is a list of the Corrections graduates, their hometowns, and the law enforcement agency each will join:
Christopher P. Anodide (Hamilton, N.J.) Mercer County Dept. of Corrections
Carl K. Batie (Trenton, N.J.) Mercer County Dept. of Corrections
Crystal S. Batten (Trenton, N.J.) Mercer County Dept. of Corrections
Stevie T. Clark (Hamilton, N.J.) Mercer County Dept. of Corrections
Maisha L. Coon (Trenton, N.J.) Mercer County Dept. of Corrections
Angel L. Delgado (Trenton, N.J.) Mercer County Dept. of Corrections
Christina M. Morrell (Hamilton, N.J.) Mercer County Dept. of Corrections
Darlene M. Obrzut (East Windsor, N.J.) Mercer County Dept. of Corrections
Donald W. Reese Jr. (Hamilton, N.J.) Mercer County Dept. of Corrections