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New Police Recruits Join Effort to Transform Department

Jan. 28, 2008 — Facing 19 weeks of intense academic and physical training, the V.I. Police Department's newest batch of recruits said Monday they look forward to completing the academy and making it onto the force — and helping turn around the public's negative perception of the department and its officers.
"It’s a great career," said Gregory Penn, 34. "My parents did this — my father was a trainer and my mother a former instructor . So I always wanted to be in uniform and help my community out. It's been a goal of mine ever since I was young. But it's a different department now than it was before, and I really hope that this class is going to a different breed and help restore the public's faith in us and what we do."
Penn joined 28 other men and women — representing the district's first class for 2008-2009 — on St. Thomas Monday morning for their first day at the Ivan A. Williams Police Academy. Dressed in white T-shirts and blue jeans, the recruits were attentive and quick to respond to their commanding officers, including Police Sgt. Elton Grant, who started the class promptly at 8 a.m.
"I know you guys are going to have fun for the next 19 weeks," Grant joked. "There will be tough days, though, so don't get discouraged. Just remember that in the end, you guys are going to be proud police officers."
Grant said later that all recruits who finish the academy will receive peace-officer status, meaning they have the power to make arrests. But some may go on to serve in other government departments and agencies, such as the Department of Health, V.I. Superior Court or the V.I. Lottery System.
Members of the VIPD's top brass were also on hand to greet the new recruits, share their own training experiences and discuss their vision for a new police force — one focused on customer service and restoring the public trust.
"We're going to expect a lot from you guys," said district Police Chief Rodney Querrard. "We want dedication, for you guys to rely on each other and, when you get on the streets, for you to take the good things you learn from the senior officers — not the bad things — with you."
He acknowledged the department's problems.
"We do have some bad apples among us, and we're trying to weed them out, and I hope that none of you fall within those ranks," Querrard said. "Because temptation is going to be there and it's going to be up to you to make the right decisions in each and every case, at each and every crime scene."
When dealing with situations on the street, officers also have to treat people "like they would a family member," said Melvin Venzen, the district's deputy chief of police. He added, "The motto is 'respect' for all of us."
Echoing Querrard's remarks, Police Commissioner James H. McCall said the police force is not for individuals who are just looking for a job or "trying to get rich."
"We need you to do what you have to do to bring respect back to this police department and the community," he added.
In hopes of making sure the class members remain on task and keep focused on their studies, McCall said the department would implement a curfew. He also reminded recruits that he and other officials would take notes and keep an eye on them as they move about the community.
Practice — particularly maintaining a daily physical routine and keeping up with their firearms training — will help make the next 19 weeks go smoothly, added Doug Jones, VIPD's training director.
"You are going to start today a career which is one is one of the finest out there," he said. "It was 39 years ago today that I sat where you were, nervous and anxious to do what I could do to be an FBI agent. I know you all are probably feeling the same way, but remember that we're proud of you, and expect you to study hard, keep working out and come up proficient in your firearms and other training."
Explaining some of the dangers they could encounter while they are on the job, Querrard also encouraged the class to work hard and aim high, excelling for top positions within the department.
"This job is hard — expect that," he said. "Expect challenges. But if you get through them and do your best, maybe one day one of you will be standing where I am and can look back and say that you did your part to make things a little better around here. And I do hope you all can do that — starting today, this is going to be a new academy, and a new day for the V.I. Police Department."
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