39 new Tulsa police officers bring department to full force
BY JERRY WOFFORD World Staff Writer
Saturday, December 22, 2012
12/22/12 at 7:30 AM
Tulsa's police force grew by nearly 40 on Friday, the second time this year a group of cadets has graduated from the Police Department Academy.
The new class brings the total force to 781, which is the Tulsa Police Department's "authorized strength," Officer Jillian Roberson said.
It's the department's highest staffing level since 2010, when budget constraints forced police layoffs that took 124 officers off the street.
The 39 cadets became officers at a graduation ceremony at the department's Training Division. Twenty-five cadets graduated from the academy in June and went into the field on their own in September.
It's the first time in about five years that the department has had two classes graduate in one year, Police Chief Chuck Jordan said.
"It's a sign the city and the Police Department are moving forward with enthusiasm and optimism," he said.
Although the police force is now at authorized strength, it could dip below again soon, as about one officer every 1 1/2 months either retires or quits, Roberson said.
No date has been set for the next academy class.
New Police Officer Jessi Hillard came to Tulsa from Wichita, drawn to the department because of its higher employment standards that require applicants to have completed four-year degrees.
Hillard, who said she aspires to join the department's gang unit, said the academy prepared her well for her new job.
"It was hard. It was a struggle," she said. "It was worth it."
Hillard was one of the seven women who graduated from the academy. In a male-dominated profession, she said, she was glad to "show we're just as capable."
Her parents drove down from Kansas to help pin on her shiny, new Tulsa Police Department badge, a moment of pride for her father, Gary Hillard.
"It's an honor to watch your child grow up into a strong woman," he said.
It was Officer Chris Westcott's second run through the academy. He resigned in 2009 before completing the academy after nepotism concerns arose.
Westcott is the son of former City Councilor Rick Westcott, who was in office when Chris Westcott initially was hired.
State laws prevent the city from hiring a relative of a current elected official.
Chris Westcott went to work as a deputy for the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office after he resigned from the Police Department and served in the Army Reserve with the Stillwater-based 366th Military Police Company.
He said he was deployed with the unit to Iraq when he learned that his father would not seek re-election, clearing the way for him to reapply.
Westcott went to college and worked in the business world, but it didn't feel like the best path for him, he said.
"When I turned 32, I realized what I wanted to be when I grew up," he said.
On Friday, he received his Tulsa Police Department badge.
"It's an indescribable feeling," Westcott said.
Jordan and Mayor Dewey Bartlett addressed the new officers and their families.
They thanked the families for the time they have given up so their loved ones could complete the academy.
Jordan told the new officers that they will have opportunities nearly daily to make an arrest or issue someone a ticket.
"You will also have opportunities to express passion and concern," he said. "Take these opportunities. They will make our community a better place."
Original Print Headline: 39 new officers join TPD ranks
Jerry Wofford 918-581-8310
Taylor Bitting (first row, from left), Lance Bond, Angela Criner, Terry Curbello (fourth from end) and Jessi Hilliard (second row left) take their oath of office Friday during a graduation ceremony at the Tulsa Police Academy. The 39 new officers bring the Tulsa Police Department to full strength for the first time since 2010. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World
Christopher Westcott (right) has his police badge pinned on by his son Noah McClain (center) as his grandmother Verna Westcott (left) watches Friday. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World