By Joe Beck -- email@example.com
Three recent police academy graduates are raising hopes in the Front Royal Police Department that the depleted ranks of patrol officers are on their way to being replenished.
The graduates from the Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Academy in Middletown are still 14 weeks away from gaining the full authority of other officers on the force. For now, any enforcement actions they take must be performed under the supervision of a field-training officer, said Capt. Mark Werner.
Still, Werner said their arrival Wednesday, only a day after their graduation from the 18-week academy program, is a hopeful sign.
"We're just very happy to get these guys out of the academy and get them started in field training so we can start the process of getting back to full strength," Werner said.
Werner said the academy graduates joining the department include Bryan House, the winner of the academy's Sgt. Ricky L. Timbrook performance achievement award.
The award is given by instructors, academic staff and students for outstanding performance, attitude and effort by a student. The award is named for Winchester police Sgt. Ricky L. Timbrook who was fatally shot while chasing a suspect on Oct. 29, 1999.
"It's a prestigious award, and we're proud and happy for Bryan for winning the award," Werner said.
Werner said the department now fields four officers a shift, plus a trainee assigned to each shift. The normal complement of patrol officers is six per shift, he said. Maintaining even the current diminished staffing levels has meant sometimes pulling officers from the narcotics or criminal investigation divisions, he said.
It has also meant paying higher than average amounts of overtime to regular patrol officers, he said.
"Because patrol is working so much overtime, they're getting to the point of burnout," Werner said, adding, "we're over budget right now for overtime."
Werner said it takes about a year for an untrained individual with no experience to become a full-fledged officer. The candidate screening process includes physical, psychological and polygraph tests, and background checks, he said. Those who pass the tests then go through interviews with the chief and others before a list of finalists is sent to the town's human resources department and an employment offer issued.
The training process is shorter for those who have already graduated from the academy or are already members of other police departments, he said.
Werner said the elaborate, painstaking hiring and training process is one reason why the department continues to press the town council and manager for a master police officer program that would offer more opportunities for promotion and higher pay to qualified officers.
Werner said he, Chief Richard H. Furr and Town Manager Steve Burke will be meeting within a few days to try to work out how to pay for the program and other details.
"I'm cautiously optimistic we're going to have a program in place that is going to be the program we proposed in December," Werner said.