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Search begins for new officers About 2,800 people take police exam as city seeks to hire several hundred recruits

The search for the next generation of Buffalo's finest began Saturday with 175 multiple-choice questions.

About 2,800 men and women took the Buffalo Police Officer Exam inside the Buffalo Convention Center, and within a few years, city officials anticipate 200 to 300 of them will be wearing uniforms and patrolling the beat.

Dave Thompson, 21, of Cheektowaga, hopes he is one of them.

"I think I did well. I hope I did well. I'll find out in a couple months," said Thompson, a senior at Canisius College, who also works full time in theft prevention at a local retailer. "It's a good opportunity for a new generation of people to get into the department."

The exam -- developed specifically for Buffalo -- was the first in the city since 1999. It drew test-takers from as far as Atlanta and New York City.

Potential officers were quizzed on everything from grammar and reading comprehension to their understanding of directions on a map. The test also attempts to measure personality traits.

Another 100 people unable to attend Saturday's exam because of military obligations will be tested separately.

The scored exams will be reviewed by a federal court before the city compiles a ranking of the candidates, as part of an order issued 30 years ago aimed at diversifying the department.

City officials believe a good number of minorities and women took the test, although they won't know the exact percentage until later, said Leonard A. Matarese, human resources commissioner.

Passing Saturday's exam is the first of several steps before a candidate gets selected for the Police Academy. Applicants also will be required to undergo physical and psychological exams, a drug screening, polygraph test, background check, physical fitness test and an oral interview, Matarese said.

Matarese expects a class of 35 to 40 students -- selected from the results of the latest exam -- will be ready to start Police Academy by this fall.

"This list will probably generate between 200 and 300 appointments within the next four years," he said.

By state law, all of the exam takers were 35 or younger. But aside from that, they came from varied walks of life.

Joel Ricigliano, 19, of Grand Island, is the son of a veteran of more than 20 years on the Buffalo force, Daryl Ricigliano.

The younger Ricigliano, a sophomore engineering student at the University at Buffalo, said his father encouraged him to take the test, with one caveat: "He told me to make sure I don't drop out of school."

Golf instructor Frank Garcia of the Town of Tonawanda was prodded by some friends who are police officers.

"I feel honored that they think I should be part of that," he said. "I always wanted to serve people somehow."

The exam originally was scheduled for January, but city officials delayed it until Saturday so that they could expand the search nationwide and find more applicants.

The number of test-takers this year was "a significant improvement over past years," said Matarese. "This will now give us a big enough candidate pool to allow us a good selection process."

The turnout was especially impressive given a nationwide downturn in interest in law enforcement, he said.

Applicants didn't seem bothered by disputes between the police union and the city's control board over pay or the recent shooting of two Buffalo police officers in the line of duty.

"Yeah, it enters my mind," said LaKisha Willis, 28, of Buffalo, regarding the Dec. 5 shooting of Officer Patricia Parete, who suffered severe spinal injuries and is undergoing rigorous rehabilitation, and her partner, Officer Carl E. Andolina.

Getting shot is always possible, said Willis, but "it's not common, not in Buffalo, that I'm aware of."

Willis took a similar exam about four years ago to become a police officer in Columbus, Ohio, and narrowly missed the cut, she said.

The McKinley High School and Erie Community College graduate, who is pursuing a bachelor's degree at D'Youville College, hopes she did better this time around.

"I always wanted to be an officer," she said.

e-mail: jtokasz@buffnews.com

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