It all began six months ago on February 5th: a cold Monday morning. The newest members of the 57th recruit officer class, 49 men and women ranging throughout Massachusetts from North Adams to Nantucket, sat in their cars and counted down the minutes until they were given the opportunity to spearhead one of the biggest challenges they would have to face to date. This was their first day of the Western Massachusetts Police Academy.
Flash forward to August 3rd, where friends, families and police officers from around the state and country filled the West Springfield High School Auditorium to the brim as this same group of men and women would be pinned by their employed departments and officially become police officers. Promptly at 11:00am, bagpipes led the procession as the remaining 43 men and women briskly swept through the crowd and into their seats onstage. Their discipline and poise were apparent from their very first steps into the room, and they traveled in a strict unison that was developed through a long 26 weeks of training. Today was the day that these aspiring officers had been waiting for: they were about to be pinned as official law enforcement officers.
Michelle Brunson commenced the ceremony as the Star Spangled Banner filled the speakers of the room. Officers onstage and around the auditorium stood up straight with their white gloves hoisted to the brim of their hat, saluting the flag and the very country that they serve daily. Following the salute, Father Bill Hamilton of the Springfield Diocese gave a blessing and a few words to the crowd. The ceremony had officially begun.
Academy director Joseph Witkowski began by thanking the staff and everyone who put time into the training and education of the 57th ROC, who were often addressed as 57 by their leaders. Witkowski mentions the modern scrutiny and challenges that officers face today, and reminds them to always serve with honor, courage and commitment throughout their careers as law enforcement officers. He advises them to keep their promises and values to their community, and to always perform ethically and with integrity. “You get to be the driving force to what we become,” he states.
After the director spoke to the class, Steven Wojnar, the President of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, gave a few words. He recited similar advice as Witkowski did, emphasizing that they will be “under the microscope on and off duty” in all of their daily endeavors.
The last speaker was Sergeant Mark Baran of the South Hadley Police Department, who has been an educator and instructor for every academy since the 45th ROC. Chosen by 57 to be the keynote speaker, he shared with the crowd that he was honored and humbled to give a few words at the ceremony. He gave more information about the last 26 weeks, explaining the three parts of the training in depth: phase one was disciplinary, phase two was classroom, and phase three was learning to be role models, coaches and teammates. He shared their class motto, “stronger than yesterday,” and mentioned the five students who has been appointed leadership roles: Secretary Matthew Pinkerman, Treasurer Kenneth Line, Vice President Nicholas Leveque, President Joseph Kennedy and Class Leader Ryan Murphy.
Sergeant Baran explained that 91 police officers around the country have been killed in the line of duty in 2018 alone, and the class had attended the funeral ceremony for K-9 Officer Sean Gannon of Yarmouth, MA on April 12th. They also raised money for various fundraisers throughout the months leading up to their graduation, and a handful of recruits attended the services for Weymouth Officer Michael Chesnea. He was killed in the line of duty in mid-July.
Following his speech, Sergeant Baran announced the awards that were given by the staff to specific members of 57. Those chosen for the awards excelled in the given areas and made it clear that they wanted to succeed in their training. The Physical Fitness Award was given to Jhon Wielblad of the Ludlow Police Department; the Defensive Tactics Award was given to Alexsandr Golenev of the Westfield Police Department; the Firearms Award was given to Nathan Schreffler of the University of Massachusetts Police Department; the Academic Achievement Award was given to Justin Moody of the Montague Police Department; the Staff Award was given to Adam Metzger of the Amherst Police Department; and the Director’s Award was given to Ryan Murphy of the Easthampton Police Department.
The class president and class leader also gave remarks before the pinning. They thanked their educators and classmates, recalling certain memories from the 26 weeks and sharing laughs with their brothers, sisters and the crowd. President Joseph Kennedy especially thanked the staff on behalf of his fellow officers: “You all helped us find a place within ourselves we did not know was there,” Kennedy recalls. The class leader then presented the plaque to the academy.
It was then the moment everyone had been waiting for: the distribution of diplomas and the pinning of the badges for the new officers. Some were pinned by the Chiefs of their employed departments, but others had requested to be pinned by someone special to them.
Amanda Ayer, Andressa Rosa, Jose Cabrera, Conor Desmond, Nicholas Iacozzi, Michael Milici, Bryce Molnar and Nathan Schreffler were pinned by law enforcement mentors of their choice. Mentors ranged from retired sergeants, captains, officers and even a member of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Many officers chose to be pinned by someone in their family. Jose Cabrera, Peter Gallagher, Nicholas Di Saia, Timothy Malo, Robert Shield, Mitchell Cichy, Matthew Meranti, Nicholas Thomann, Alensandr Golenev, Kristopher Hannah and Patrick O’Toole were pinned by their mother or father. Kristopher Hannah was able to be pinned by both his mother and father, who are officers for the town of West Springfield. Andrew Smith was pinned by his brother of the Westfield Police Department; Kevin Stant was pinned by his grandfather, who is a retired navy corpsman; Jeffrey Beleski was pinned by his cousin of the MA State Police; and Kenneth Line by his Uncle, a retired sergeant.
After diplomas were distributed and badges were pinned onto their uniforms, the new officers stood before the audience with their hand raised by their side as they took the International Association of Chiefs of Police (I.A.C.P.) oath. Father Bill Hamilton gave a few words once again, and then the 57th ROC was dismissed from their seats for the last time. With their heads held high, they descended off into the crowd alongside their fellow brothers and sisters for one last time as a group.
Thanks to Joseph Witkowski, Officer Todd Mongeon, Sergeant Mark Baran, Sergeant Brian Pomeroy, Sergeant Ted Hitchcock, Sergeant Doug Costa, Officer Jeff Couture and Officer Michael Hoar, the newest Massachusetts officers would serve their given communities with honor, courage and commitment for the rest of their lives. They arrived on February 5th as recruits, and departed on August 3rd as police officers. Each and every one of them left stronger than they had been yesterday, and they will carry the lessons they learned with them every day throughout their time as police officers.
As for West Springfield: our Police Department will be taking eight of the new officers in as full time patrolmen. On Tuesday, August 7th, the new officers were sworn in and will now officially be serving our community from this point forward. As we await the opening of the MGM Springfield Casino, our town is anticipating an increased amount of traffic and congestion within downtown West Springfield. The Big E is also right around the corner, and the new officers are in just in time to assist with the fair and the commotion that it brings to the town during those weeks. Adding new and younger faces will increase variety within the department, opening up new opportunities and also giving a new sense of experience to the squad.
Nowadays, as Academy director Joseph Witkowski mentioned, a lot of scrutiny and judgement comes with being a police officer. Serving the community takes courage and a passion that not everyone has, and constantly putting others before yourself is a challenge that these men and women face every day. To West Springfield’s newest officers: thank you. The community is thankful for the choice you have made.