Utica, N.Y. - The Utica Police Department swore in 14 new officers on Friday during what may be the most tumultuous time to be a law enforcement officer in our nation's history.
Utica Police Chief Mark Williams says joining the ranks now, just shows what kind of character these recruits have, that they want to make a difference, "I hope it's the same reason why I wanted to be a police officer, is that you truly want to help people out there and I think that's what it's really all about."
One of the 14 recruits, Edgardo Colon, when asked if he was concerned about being an officer after seeing the protests around the country after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, says it is concerning, "It definitely makes getting into law enforcement a little more difficult and the whole process and trying to be an officer now, it’s going to be a little bit more difficult, but ultimately if you’re a good officer you'll be fine."
Colon's mother, Carmen Santiago, says she too has concerns, "It’s very scary, but at the same time we need the police, especially nowadays that everything is getting a little crazy."
Santiago says she believes the Utica Police Department is a great place for her son, "I think he's going to do great and I think the city of Utica is really nice and they have a strong, very good police department, so I'm actually concerned but it's at the same time there's a little ease about it."
Colon's father, Edgardo Colon Sr. was just about in tears before his son was sworn in, "I am so proud, I am so proud. I don't know, I want to cry now and he hasn't even gotten sworn in yet."
Colon Sr. says he will be worried about his son when he puts on that police uniform each day, but he says also believes in the Utica Police Department and their leadership and is hoping the people of the city of Utica will respect al officers, including his son, "It's changed, it's not the same. People don't have respect for the cops like they used to, but Utica is a nice place for him to be. I'm very proud he got in here."
Fellow recruit, Michael McGovern, says he is very happy to be joining a police force that has the reputation that Utica does, especially after not seeing any riots in the city during the recent protests, "That was very impressive. I had a little bit of fear after Syracuse, like thinking that something's going to happen in the city, but everybody peacefully protested on Oneida Square. They spoke their voice, they got their point across, and that's exactly what we should be doing and so should the rest of the country."
Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri had some words for the recruits right in front of them before Friday morning's ceremony and then again from the podium during the ceremony. He thanked them for their service and commitment to the city they call home, and says this is a great opportunity to truly make a difference, "You have the opportunity right now to be the foundation of change, to be the foundation of what we are looking for, that dialogue to de-escalate, to communicate, to build bridges. Each and every day you're going to have the opportunity to change someone's life and you may not know it. But your career at this point is probably the most important career that will ever see."
We asked Chief Williams about the fact that among the 14 new recruits, 13 men and one woman, there are no African Americans, "I would say this, we do have one that we will be appointing as a lateral transfer next week. We have attempted to hire more, unfortunately some haven't gotten through the medical testing of the qualifications to be a police officer but it's not from a lack of trying. Going forward, especially with the new police reforms that have come down, we'll be working, like we always have, with our community leaders to help us promote and appoint minority African American police officers."
The recruits will now begin 26 weeks at the police academy and then 12 weeks in the field training officer program within the Utica Police Department.
They will be on their own sometime next spring.