Heath Brownell was the first cadet to walk across the stage on Friday to receive his Tulsa Police badge after successfully completing 29 weeks of training at the Tulsa Police Academy.
But what Brownell did first following his final dismissal from the academy wasn’t related to his new job: He surprised his girlfriend, Kelsy Riley, with an engagement ring when she thought he was simply going to have her pin on his new badge.
Even better, Riley said, was the fact that she got to participate in the ceremony.
“I was really nervous at first, but I got really excited right before,” said Riley, who sang the national anthem before Brownell led the audience in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. “It was really an honor to do it. I think it made the day a little bit more special. He did a really good job at hiding (the proposal) from me, but I’m so happy.”
Brownell, a native of Kansas, Oklahoma, said he “couldn’t be happier” with his new career path and is looking forward to serving the citizens of Tulsa.
“Once I started doing all my interviews here, it just fit,” he said. “Everyone here is great, and they want nothing but the best for us.”
Last October, the University of Cincinnati’s Institute of Crime Science released a study indicating the Tulsa Police Department needs to hire more than 200 additional officers, which prompted the TPD to work with the City Council on the ultimately successful Vision public safety tax renewal, which passed April 5 and will fund 160 police officers.
Although the tax won’t go into effect until Jan. 1, 2017, the department has already added 38 officers to its force since November, including 19 from the 20 cadets who graduated from the academy on Friday. A new academy class with 15 officers will begin Monday.
One of the cadets graduating Friday, Francisco Perez, became a Sand Springs police officer after completing the academy, which Maj. Ryan Perkins said was the first instance of an outside police agency taking part in TPD’s training.
Perkins described the new training model as a “huge success” and said he hopes it will continue to benefit law enforcement agencies in the region.
Perez is an Army veteran.
“Whenever I left the military, I came to Oklahoma for my wife’s medical schooling,” he said. “I missed the military and wanted to get back into a brotherhood, so I got into law enforcement.”
The Tulsa Police Academy “is a really good academy,” Perez added, “and I’m glad my chief decided to send me here.”
Officer Brian Wilson, the recruit class coordinator, talked to the graduation audience about the challenges their loved ones will face as members of law enforcement.
“You need to know it takes a special breed of man or woman to put on a badge and gun and protective vest, and then go out the door to serve people they don’t know,” Wilson said. “They’ll spend their days and nights being cursed and ridiculed, slandered and worse. And yet tomorrow, when that same person calls for their help, these officers will come to their aid and defense.”
Sand Springs Police Chief Mike Carter and Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan each gave remarks during the graduation, touting the importance of regional cooperation between police forces and the conduct standards expected from officers.
Jordan noted the 19th century story of Bass Reeves, who became one of the first black deputy U.S. Marshals west of the Mississippi River and worked for three decades as a peace officer in what is now Oklahoma.
“Here we have a man who was born a slave and still chose to live a life of service to protect the very society that had enslaved him,” Jordan said. “We would be hard-pressed to find a more sterling example of a life devoted to duty.”
The new TPD officers will now begin a 16-week training program that includes working in each of the department’s patrol divisions before receiving a permanent assignment. But on Friday, Brownell said he was going to celebrate his accomplishments.
“It feels great. We worked very hard in training,” he said. “I’m going to go spend some time with my now-fiancee and family, and then go to the (Fraternal Order of Police) lodge.”