The new police academy at Niagara University graduated its first class Monday in front of friends, family and law enforcement brass from across the region.
Seventeen graduates made up the 52nd Basic Class of the Niagara County Law Enforcement Academy, which moved to the university from Niagara County Community College earlier this year in time for the most recent recruits to take their 22 weeks of classes.
As in past years, most of the members of the graduates already have been hired by area police departments, but Niagara County Sheriff James R. Voutour said that may change in the future.
"This is the only profession where you hire someone, then teach them how to do the job," Voutour said. In these tough economic times, he added, that has to change.
Voutour is working with Jay Stockslader, Niagara University's director of continuing education, to boost the number of pre-employment recruits. Three of those who graduated Monday are still seeking jobs.
"When police departments need to hire, we will know what these officers are like, because we've had them for 22 weeks," the sheriff said. "They will not have to spend their resources to train these officers, and they will be prepared to go out on the street."
Within five years, Voutour said, he sees all departments hiring pretrained officers.
Stockslader, also coordinator for the Law Enforcement Academy, said 17 people are signed up for the fall class, a full-year program that will be held on nights and weekends.
"They will get full upper-level college credit but pay their own expenses," Stockslader said.
Voutour and Niagara Falls Police Superintendent John R. Chella praised the commitment of Niagara University in getting the new academy up and running by February.
"It went better than expected," Chella said. "Whatever we needed, no questions asked, it was done immediately. Our fear of being able to open in February was put at ease."
The key speaker, Niagara County District Attorney Michael J. Violante, welcomed the graduates to law enforcement, telling them to "never stop learning."
Several members of law enforcement families were in the graduating class. Niagara County Sheriff's Investigator Scott Barnes presented a diploma to his son, Spencer, who will join the Lewiston Police Department, and Sheriff's Sgt. Kevin Locicero presented a diploma to his son, Nicholas, who will join the force in Barker
Lewiston Police Chief Christopher M. Salada, who also heads the Youngstown Police Department, presented a diploma to his nephew Joshua Salada, who will work with him in Youngstown, and Niagara Falls Police Officer Nicholas Ligammari, academy co-director welcomed his cousin, Kristina Ligammari, who will serve in Barker.