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story.lead_photo.caption Little Rock police officer Larry Mears Sr. pins a badge on his son, Larry Jr., after a graduation ceremony Friday for 22 new officers. - Photo by Mitchell PE Masilun

Under the high ceiling of a southwest Little Rock church Friday morning, the audience in the pews held quiet. Over to the side, a cohort of men and women in police uniforms each raised a hand, swore an oath and became the newest members of the Little Rock Police Department.

"Congratulations," said Little Rock District Judge Hugh Finkelstein after the end of the oath, prompting celebratory yells and a roar of applause from the crowd.

The Friday ceremony drew city and Police Department leaders to the the Geyer Springs First Baptist Church, along with family and supporters of the 22 new Little Rock police officers.

"This is a very special day. A day that you'll never forget," said Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, addressing the recruit class. "A day that you raise your hand and take an oath to pledge yourselves -- your life, your honor, your integrity, your professionalism -- to the department ... and to the laws that govern our society."

Stodola congratulated the group on the hard work they have put in and said an officer shortage at the Police Department has subsided.

The Little Rock Police Department has 68 vacancies for sworn positions, agency spokesman Lt. Michael Ford said Friday, and 35 police recruits in training. Recruits are not counted as sworn law enforcement officers.

Minutes after he had been sworn in, Little Rock officer Larry J. Mears Jr. stood in uniform in the foyer of the church with his new badge affixed to his chest. Next to him was his father, Larry J. Mears Sr., who also is a Little Rock officer.

"I want to make him proud, I want to make the city proud," the younger Mears said.

At the ceremony, Little Rock Police Chief Kenton Buckner told the new officers they have earned the opportunity to serve, and he called on them to acknowledge their families and the department's training staff.

"First thing I want to you to recognize [is] that you did not get here by yourselves," he said. "And you will get to no significant destination by yourselves."

Buckner said the law enforcement industry has taken some hits and advised the class that every encounter with the public is an opportunity to show professionalism.

Buckner, who began leading the department in 2014, has been named as a finalist to head a police department in South Carolina, according a news release sent Friday from the Little Rock Police Department.

The recruiting class sworn in Friday began with 27 recruits, police data show. In an interview last week, Lt. Rusty Rothwell said one recruit quit, another had to stop because of medical reasons and three others were fired from the department.

One of the fired recruits, Brandon Schiefelbein, was terminated after the department opened an internal investigation into a June 2013 Facebook post of his that included a slur offensive to black people. Schiefelbein is white.

The contentious post on Schiefelbein's account included the words "Go night night n***a. Go night night" and included a picture of a black man apparently sleeping on a bed.

Brandon Gurley, a recruit who had raised concerns about Schiefelbein's post, also was fired after the Police Department said he violated multiple policies, according to department records.

Metro on 02/03/2018

Print Headline: New officers in LR police swear oaths

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