Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Police veterans begin again in Montgomery County

Lateral grads boast combined 73 years of police and military experience

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Brian Lewis⁄The Gazette
Officer George Saoutis (left), Montgomery County Police Capt. Luther T. Reynolds and Niko Saoutis, 5, after graduation.

Not all police officer candidates passing through the county’s Public Safety Training Academy this session are getting their first taste of law enforcement.

The 10 men and one woman of Lateral Session No. 7 who graduated from the Rockville academy last month are entering the Montgomery County Police Department with a combined 73 years of police and military experience. The graduation ceremony was March 13.

Qualified applicants to the department who are already sworn officers in other jurisdictions are accepted into the county’s accelerated nine-week lateral class, which runs simultaneously with its 26-week training session for those new to policing. The recruits, who referred to themselves as the 7-11, are the academy’s largest lateral class.

‘‘Congratulations, and I welcome you to the Montgomery County Police Department,” said Police Chief J. Thomas Manger, himself a lateral transfer in 2004 when he left his job as chief of the Fairfax County Police Department to take the top job in Montgomery. ‘‘My biggest hope is that you all feel you have made the right decision to be here and wear this uniform. I hope you feel like this is your home.”

Lateral applicants go through the same screening process as applicants to the academy’s regular class, and both sessions begin at the same time, said Lt. Marcus Jones, deputy director at the academy. Recruits in the two sessions attend mutual classes, though lateral candidates get specialized instruction that builds on their previous experience.

The recruits sang the national anthem and stood at attention during the color guard procession, then came on stage one by one to sign the court record and officially become Montgomery County officers. Some graduates had their badges pinned on by sworn members of their former departments, which included Baltimore City Police, Gaithersburg Police, Maryland Transit Administration Police and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office.

‘‘We quickly came together as a team and as a family, and we know that Montgomery County has made an excellent lateral selection,” said Officer Howard Hersh, 52, a 21-year veteran of the Maryland State Police who was selected by his classmates to give the commencement speech. Hersh shared his memories of Montgomery County Police Cpl. John Frontczak Jr., who took Hersh on ride-alongs at the beginning of his career. Frontczak was fatally shot in 1976 near Montgomery mall in Bethesda while pursuing a man suspected of a commercial robbery.

‘‘He was the guy who worked hard, played hard and took care of everybody around him,” Hersh said. ‘‘...As I watched the events unfold on TV, I was crushed... My career goals were solidified. I wanted to go out and look for his killer.”