WEST WINDSOR, N.J. - Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes joined county, state, and local officials today to celebrate the formation of the first class of recruits of the Mercer Police Academy.
Hughes, Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph Bocchini Jr., County Sheriff Kevin Larkin, County Freeholders Pasquale Colavita and Anthony Carabelli, Mercer County Community College Acting President Dr. Thomas Wilfrid, and Dan Posluszny, Lawrence Township Police Chief and president of the Mercer County Police Chiefs Association, were among the dignitaries who addressed the class of 13 recruits.
"We welcome you to the Mercer Police Academy," Hughes told the recruits at the inauguration ceremony at the main campus of Mercer County Community College. "You are here taking the first step in your mission to protect and to serve, and we are going to provide you with the best standardized training here at one location in Mercer County."
With family members and law enforcement representatives from around the Mercer County area looking on, the uniformed class sat at attention as it was told what to expect over the course of the 22-week Academy training.
"This is a learning experience that will last you the rest of your lives," Sheriff Larkin said. "It's not always going to be easy, but you will find a career in law enforcement is rewarding."
Prosecutor Bocchini, meanwhile, thanked the Academy's Board of Trustees, the County freeholders, and the municipal police chiefs for supporting the creation of the police academy. He also thanked the New Jersey Police Training Commission, which unanimously approved the County's plan for the Academy last October.
"Everyone involved with this Academy had the vision to see that it could work," Bocchini said. "This is a historic day for Mercer County and for our law enforcement. We will now be able to provide our recruits with the same training by seasoned officers from both inside the County and outside, which is a great benefit."
After the official remarks, recruits James Hunt, Matthew Smith, and Ryan Hoy, all of Hamilton, were formally sworn-in as trainees. They will join the Sheriff's Office upon completion of the academy.
The Mercer Police Academy will be located at MCCC and will provide, for the first time, a facility and resources to train law enforcement recruits in the County in one location.
The academy consists of two classrooms specially designed for the needs of law enforcement training and recruits will also use MCCC grounds, its library, and its gymnasium for training purposes. The campus includes a padded training room that will be used for "defensive tactics" classes. A shooting range in Hopewell Township operated by the prosecutor's office is now 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 will save $34,800 annually, the cost of training 12 new recruits a year at the Burlington County Police Academy.
Hughes reiterated today that the Mercer Police Academy's most important feature, however, is the fact that all new law enforcement officers in the County will receive the same training. For example, training for homeland security and counter-terrorism can now be standardized among Mercer law enforcement, and the academy will host regional training on gangs, Breathalyzer testing, school resource officer training, fugitive apprehension, and K9 units - all of which are currently held out-of-county.
Two basic recruit classes will be held each year, each lasting around 22 weeks. The number of recruits and courses offered will be adjusted as the academy progresses, according to Bocchini.
Recruits for the sheriff's office and municipal police departments will participate in courses such as use of force, vehicle pursuit, hostage negotiation, advanced crime scene processing, and domestic violence prevention, among others. Currently, training regimens and course hours vary among the different academies used by law enforcement recruits from Mercer, namely at Trenton's police academy and those of Burlington, Somerset and Ocean counties.
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 all expected to utilize Mercer's academy for training purposes. In the future, basic courses for corrections officers and park rangers will be offered at the academy, also a first for Mercer.
The state Law Enforcement Officers Training Fund will contribute some assets toward the academy.
A board of directors, which oversees the academy, includes the Mercer County Executive, the Prosecutor, the Sheriff, the Mercer County Community College President, and the president of the Mercer County Chiefs of Police Association.
The search for an academy director, which must be approved by the board of directors, is ongoing. Steven Notta, an agent with the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office, currently serves as acting director.
The academy staff consists of several current officers from the offices of the sheriff and prosecutor, and adjunct instructors will include federal, state, county, and municipal law enforcement officers. The officers who will serve as the academy's first instructors have approximately 100 years of law enforcement experience between them, and the County will not incur any additional costs through their participation in the program.