Bakersfield Police Department chiefs pinned badges Thursday on 34 new police officers, who graduated from a local training academy.
The Bakersfield Law Enforcement Training Academy ceremony came one day after the department laid to rest fallen Officer David Nelson, who died June 26 of injuries suffered during a vehicle pursuit.
The nearly two-hour event at Centennial High School in northwest Bakersfield alternated between boisterous and serious — but was overwhelmingly joyous for more than 100 friends and relatives of the new officers, 32 of whom will join BPD.
The Bakersfield City Council has given the green light to BPD to field 404 sworn officers, its largest complement in history. With the 32 new officers from a class that began with 43, BPD will now have 398 sworn officers.
One of the other two new officers will join Shafter Police Department, and the other will join the Cal State Bakersfield force, according to BPD Sgt. Joe Grubbs, the department spokesman.
The ceremony marked the end of five months of intense training.
Unable to contain their enthusiasm, children and adults alike shouted out “That’s my brother,” or “That’s my sister,” as cadets became police officers.
Officially, that happened when Assistant Chief Lyle Martin and Chief Greg Williamson pinned on their badges.
Those with a family member in law enforcement — like graduating Officer Teri Harless, whose husband is with BPD — were allowed to have that person pin on their badge as a courtesy.
“She’s my baby girl and it’s wonderful to see her dedication to this,” proud mother Wendy St. John said afterward, referring to new BPD officer Brittney Morrison, her daughter, who’d contemplated joining the United States Air Force after high school.
Like all graduates, Morrison will go through a two-week “mini-academy” starting Monday, and then a 17-week training period paired with a training officer, before being on her own.
During his remarks, BPD Lt. Jason Townsend, the academy director, reminded the new police officers to remember why they chose this path.
“I’m sure you’ve already been asked why you chose this profession,” Townsend said, pointing out fewer than 3 percent of those who apply to an academy actually graduate. “Whatever your reason is, keep it close to you, because you will have days when you ask yourself the same question.”
In interviews, four cadets profiled earlier this year by The Californian said they’re shouldering a huge responsibility but are excited about serving metropolitan Bakersfield.
Officer Bradley Vaughn, 28, who recently became a father and purchased a house, also won the academy’s Academic Award for overall high test scores.
“It’s been a big year,” said Vaughn, who welcomed a baby boy this spring. “I’m really excited over the next couple of years just to get to know how to do the job and really focus on becoming a good police officer.”
His brother-in-law Todd Black said he’s positive the new officer will do well.
“I know it’s something he’s passionate about. I think he’ll do a great job,” Black said.
Officer Macarena Garner, 29, emigrated from Chile at 17 and most recently managed a chiropractic and wellness clinic in San Diego.
Garner, whose brother Clay Castillo, 9, attended the ceremony, said being sprayed in the face with pepper spray as part of training probably taught her the most about her own possibilities.
“That was a terrible pain. Horrible. For about 45 minutes you just feel like your eyes and your face are being poked with tiny little needles,” Garner said. “But guess what? If something knocks you down, the next day will be a new day.”
“I’m really happy for her. She’s just an amazing sister and all that stuff,” Castillo said, confiding he’s thought about a law enforcement career too.
Officer Charles Pratt, Jr., 38, is a former general manager of an In-Shape Health Club franchise — and the academy’s oldest member.
“They all look up to him. They call him ’Old Man Pratt,’” said his wife, Allyson Pratt. “He has his degree in theater, so I think he’ll be able to become a different character at work. He’ll be able to sympathize and empathize, but take the emotion out of it.”
Her husband agreed.
“It’s helped me as far as being able to properly talk to people, interview people and put on a different hat,” said Pratt, who has a Bachelor’s degree in performing arts from CSUB.
Like Vaughn, Officer Joshua Cavazos, 23, said his first goal as a new member of BPD is “just to be able to handle things on my own.”
Cavazos’ father, a retired police officer, pinned on his son’s badge, which the new officer described as a “passing of the torch” and a “proud moment.”
Martin remembered Nelson, a patrolman of two years, when he explained BPD chiefs would remove black mourning bands from their badges during the pinning.
“This is a celebration,” Martin said.
But before he dismissed members of training Class 14-01, Recruit Training Officer Lukious Sims ordered the group to affix black mourning bands across their heavy gold badges in memory of Nelson, who was 26.