WOONSOCKET — When the Rhode Island Municipal Police Training Academy graduates its 115th class of recruits today, a few of the stars will be heading for jobs on the Woonsocket Police Department.
Timothy Greene is the valedictorian of the 19-member class. Matthew Derham won the Highway Safety Award. Patrick Greeno was the choice of his peers to read the Policeman's Code of Ethics, a graduation rite considered a high honor, says Capt. David A. Ricciarelli, the academy's assistant director of operations.
Woonsocket's recruits also include Joshua Rucho, who has previous experience as a policeman in Blackstone, Mass., and with the University of Massachusetts campus police.
“Woonsocket has been doing a great job,” says Ricciarelli. “Police Chief Thomas Carey has done a great job of selecting good people.”
The training course lasts 17 weeks and covers myriad facets of law enforcement. Except for state police and Providence police department, all municipal departments send recruits to the academy, based on the Flanagan campus of the Community College of Rhode Island. In addition to the city's grads, North Smithfield will gain two new officers from the 115th class – Erik Rondeau and Joshua Nelson, according to Ricciarelli.
All will graduate during ceremonies in the Field House at CCRI this morning. Woonsocket's recruits will be sworn in as probationary patrolmen at 3 p.m. in the roll call room of the Clinton Street police station, according to Chief Carey.
The chief said he's particularly proud of the latest crop of police officers.
“It just shows we really did get a good class for Woonsocket,” he says.
Greene was named valedictorian by attaining the highest grade-point average in his class. Greene happens to be the son of Thomas Greene of Blackstone, a Massachusetts state trooper who was one of several finalists for the job that Carey now holds. Derham won the highway safety award by earning the highest combined score on all qualifying tests tied to motor vehicle law, accident investigations, road safety and related subjects.
Carey said the new recruits will bring the manpower strength of the force to 94 police officers. Because of budget constraints, an arbitration agreement currently limits the force to 91 members, but four current employees are exempt because their salaries are covered by a federal COPS grant – at least for three years.
There is still room under the arbitration pact to put one more policeman on the payroll, said Carey.
“We're in the process of hiring one more person to send to the academy in January,” said Carey. “That will bring us up to 95 police officers.”
Even at that strength, the police department will be operating with six fewer police officers than its traditional ceiling of 101 officers. Carey said the arbitration order expires on June 30, 2011, gradually allowing the police department to return to full strength.
Carey said the department could always use more manpower, but on-the-job injuries, sudden retirements and other forms of attrition are always eating into troop strength. At its current level, the former police major from St. Petersburg, Fla., says the department is operating with the same level of manpower it had when he succeeded Chief Eric Croce in 2008, before the arbitration order took effect.
Carey said the new recruits will be on probation for several months before becoming full-fledged members of the department. During that period, they will be field-trained and can be terminated at any time without a hearing.
An exodus of veterans has made recruiting young talent more important than ever, says Carey. Since 2007, over 30 police officers have retired, many of them fearful of losing pension benefits in a new age of government austerity.