Amid a time when the law enforcement profession is under scrutiny because of high-profile deaths nationwide, Raleigh held its 115th police academy graduation Friday.
The graduating class president, Raleigh’s police chief and a veteran commander in the department’s internal affairs unit all agreed that it’s a tough time to become a police officer. Since 2014, when an unarmed black man was shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., other deaths have led to protests and jump-started a national conversation about race, police and the use of deadly force. It has fueled the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement and prompted the White House to form a task force to study and offer recommendations to improve policing in the United States.
The camaraderie among the 27 Raleigh graduates and other members of law enforcement was evident during Friday’s ceremony. Several of the graduates are third-generation members of law enforcement in their families.
Nonetheless, rookie officer C.R. Dahmke III and Capt. Mike Bruce, a 27-year-veteran in the police department’s internal affairs unit, say they would not hesitate to cross the blue line and report any wrongdoings of a fellow officer.
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“I don’t play that,” said Bruce. “My family comes first. If someone does something improper, it tarnishes the reputation of everyone, even if it’s someone in another jurisdiction. Our policy says that we have a duty to report [officer misconduct]. We’re held accountable for that.”
This week has seen protests – some violent – in Charlotte after a black police detective shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott, a black man, near an apartment complex. Police said Scott was carrying a gun and posed an imminent threat. The slain man’s family members said he was carrying a book.
This is not your grandfather’s police department. There’s an evolution of policing occurring, and it’s happening right before our eyes.
Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown
In Raleigh this year, senior officer D.C. Twiddy shot and killed Akiel Denkins during a struggle after a short foot chase in Southeast Raleigh in February. Then in August, a brief shootout in another Southeast Raleigh neighborhood left Jaqwan Julius Terry dead and police officer B.F. Burleson wounded.
Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown told the academy graduates Friday that they are entering the profession during a time when “law enforcement and the community is being reshaped.” She noted that some of the graduates said they had entered law enforcement because it had been their grandfather’s career, too.
“Many things have changed,” she said. “This is not your grandfather’s police department. There’s an evolution of policing occurring, and it’s happening right before our eyes.”
What was striking about the graduation was the realization that the new police officers are part of the larger community where they also are sons, daughters, spouses, aunts, uncles, grandsons. Two of the graduates, D.A. and S.H. LaFemina, are brothers. Many of the new officers are college grads. Some were former athletes, several served in the military and some previously worked in their communities as mentors and youth coaches.
Dahmke, the rookie officer who was voted president of the class, is a native of Connecticut and a college graduate who moved to Raleigh in early February, about three weeks before the police academy began in March. He agreed with Deck-Brown that police work is a noble profession.
The tall, rangy officer did not hesitate when asked whether he would report the misconduct of a fellow officer. He said his training at the academy convinced him that “you just do the right thing” – it doesn’t matter whether the culprit is a police officer or a civilian.
“As much as you want to be loyal to each other you have to do your job,” he said. “You have to do what’s right. Integrity is very important.”