New law enforcement graduates in Sebastian County promise a personnel boost to their respective forces, officials say.
Twenty-two law enforcement officers and deputies from five agencies in Sebastian County graduated from their academy training and into active duty Friday morning. Their graduation followed 560 hours of hours of training that included defensive tactics, academics, emergency vehicle operations, physical training and firearms training, according to a Fort Smith Police Department news release.
The graduates are 13 Fort Smith police officers, four Sebastian County sheriff's deputies, two Barling police officers, two University of Arkansas at Fort Smith police officers and one Fort Chaffee public safety officer.
“Any time you hire additional personnel, it’s going to improve the force," Fort Smith Police Chief Nathaniel Clark said.
The 13 Fort Smith police officers who graduated Friday were "unfrozen" by officials with the city of Fort Smith in 2017. The department has increased its force by almost 10 percent.
Officials with the Police Department had previously said they were in search of the most qualified applicants to join the force. Cpl. Brian Beavers also said officials "want a diverse police force" to mirror the community they are policing.
The Fort Smith Police Department's graduating class was a racially diverse group comprised of five women and eight men. Cpl. Anthony Rice with the Police Department called the group "the most diverse graduating class" the Police Department has ever had.
"There’s no doubt in my mind we recruited the best and most qualified applicants," Clark said. "The best and most qualified just happened to mirror our city.”
The certified deputy force at the Sebastian County Sheriff's Office received an 11 percent personnel boost with its graduating class of four. Chief Deputy Hobe Runion said the four new deputies will give the Sheriff's Office "... the ability to resource people to where they need to be."
Runion also spoke highly of the graduates' previous experience in law enforcement-related fields.
"Some of those folks are from the adult detention center. One is from the Juvenile Detention Center," Runion said of his graduates. "They have a higher level of training.”
While the speakers at the ceremony said the occupation the graduates have chosen is a difficult one. Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken said the 22 graduates have taken on "one of the most difficult jobs we have."
"As we trade in our training guns for service weapons, hypothetical scenarios become real, and simulated stress is no longer simulated," graduating class spokeswoman Giselle Elmore, now an active Fort Smith police officer, said.
Lt. Col. G. Heath Allen, commander of the 188th security forces squadron and featured speaker at the ceremony, said the graduates will need integrity, drive and humility to succeed as officers.
"There will be plot twists and unforeseen circumstances and obstacles, but you each get to choose how you respond to those challenges," Allen said.
Allen challenged the graduates to be "servant leaders" in their new professions. He said such an approach to leadership manifests itself through giving the credit of successes to others and never turning down a job.
Allen also challenged the new officers, who he said "had to meet a standard for admission" prior to graduation, to set an example to those they will police.
"Some of the people in your life undoubtedly helped mentor you because of their actions, maybe even without realizing it," Allen said. "My hope is that your actions have the same positive impact on the lives of others."
Though he attested to the difficulties of their line of work, Geffken also expressed confidence in the graduates. He said he knows they will succeed "because of the quality of the training" they have received in the academy.
"As officers, you’re building a foundation for success within your own communities, and your successes will multiply through others," Allen said.