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Police graduate first class in 3 years

Many of them have dreamed of aiding community

Boston Police Department recruits stretched yesterday before their last workout — a 9-mile run to police headquarters — at the Police Academy in Hyde Park before their graduation today. Boston Police Department recruits stretched yesterday before their last workout — a 9-mile run to police headquarters — at the Police Academy in Hyde Park before their graduation today. (Kayana Szymczak for The Globe)
By Akilah Johnson
Globe Staff / June 16, 2011

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This is graduation day for 64 Boston police recruits, and it is the first time in six months that their day has not started with two hours of running and jumping. But next week, the hard work truly begins.

These men and women will scatter across the city, joining Boston’s 2,072 sworn police officers. For recruits, wearing police blue fulfills their dream of being able to positively affect the community.

Boston Police Academy Recruit Class 49-10 is the first to graduate in three years and is a diverse group of men and women who range from about 23 to 39 years old. Among them is a biologist who wants to give back to the city she grew up in; a small-town officer who applied every two years for nearly a decade and earned a master’s degree while waiting; and a Cape Verdean native who grew up skeptical of the intimidating officers in his homeland.

“I didn’t want to be a Monday morning quarterback,’’ said Ryan Cunningham, 27, who will also graduate next month from Suffolk University Law School. Being a police officer instead of a lawyer, he said, gives him the opportunity to be one of the first people to “intervene in a moment of crisis in a person’s life.’’

Cunningham said his family was “initially a little shell-shocked’’ by his decision to become a police officer, a job that is hazardous at times.

On Tuesday morning, Officer Shawn Marando was shot in the calf while responding to a domestic violence call in Dorchester. It was the fifth time since November that a Massachusetts police officer was shot in the line of duty, a number that includes two Springfield officers who were shot but not injured in a gun battle with an escaped prisoner in May.

But, Cunningham said, his family has come around and will be screaming wildly at today’s 3 p.m. ceremony at the Strand Theater in Dorchester.

“The incident that happened — it makes you aware of the danger, but it isn’t going to make us quit,’’ Cunningham said yesterday.

Two of the recruits are from the Brookline Police Department.

This is the largest class to graduate from the academy since 2008, and it will help offset staffing losses felt by the department because of attrition, police officials said.

“Mayor [Thomas M. Menino] wants to ensure that we have the deployment numbers necessary to maintain our commitment to community policing,’’ said police spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll.

As Class 49-10 warmed up at 7:30 a.m. yesterday for their final run — a nine-mile trek through the streets of Boston from the academy in Hyde Park to police headquarters — another class who just started their law enforcement journey two weeks ago did calisthenics. The difference between the two groups was evident in the neophytes’ inside-out, dirt-stained T-shirts and the precision with which today’s graduates dropped to push-up position in unison.

Graduating recruit Sarah Briggs, 29, said the first few days of the academy are confusing. “It’s kind of like walking into a hornet’s nest,’’ said Briggs, who worked as a police officer on Martha’s Vineyard but dreamed of being a member of the Boston Police Department. “For me, it was a long road, but worth the wait.’’

Briggs took the civil service exam every two years since she was 18. But to be a Boston police officer, recruits must be 21 and live in Boston for at least a year before taking the exam.

She started working on the Vineyard at 20 but lived in Boston to establish residency. To pass the time, Briggs earned a master’s degree in business administration from Simmons College.

Briggs called the city’s community policing efforts progressive and said they focus on building a rapport with residents. “You can effect positive change just by having a conversation,’’ she said.

For Jamila Gales, who previously worked as a researcher with the Framingham Heart Study at Boston University, the idea of being a change-agent in the community she grew up in is what excites her about being a police officer.

Gales, 29, grew up playing basketball in the Police Athletic League’s youth sports programs in Roxbury and Dorchester, neighborhoods that, at times, can be distrustful of law enforcement.

That is why, she said, it is important for young African-Americans to see themselves reflected positively in the city’s police force.

“If you want to effect change,’’ she said, “you have to be part of it.’’

Akilah Johnson can be reached at ajohnson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson2.