Hard work pays off for law enforcement grads

When the news of Sedgwick County Sheriff's Deputy Brian Etheridge's 2009 shooting death reached Joel Sutherland, he told himself "to get out and serve my community."

Ten years ago, he had set aside his childhood dream of becoming a sheriff's deputy and accepted a job at Sedgwick County Jail. But soon he will be out on the streets, where he says he belongs.

Sutherland is among five sheriff's deputies and 21 Wichita police officers sworn into service Friday by Sedgwick County District Judge James Fleetwood, marking their graduation from six months of Wichita-Sedgwick County Law Enforcement training.

Sheriff Robert Hinshaw and Police Chief Norman Williams were on hand with hundreds of citizens to welcome the graduates to the force.

"There was a time when being a law enforcement officer meant you were the toughest son of a gun on the street, and you didn't have a natural inclination to break the law," Fleetwood told recruits as they waited to speak their oath of office.

"Now it's a man and a woman who's... professional, well-trained, analytical (with) an ability to synthesize new knowledge from the facts that are given to them — in every way a professional. And today, I am impressed."

The graduation ceremony — held at Central Community Church, 6100 W. Maple in Wichita — was the culmination of 23 weeks of hard work, said Sutherland, 32.

Newlywed Jill Sutherland smiled as her husband shook hands with fellow graduates Friday.

"I'm so proud of him," she said. "He's wanted this for so long."

Acceptance into the police academy can take more than a year for some applicants, said Lt. Dennis Wilson, who oversees the pre-employment sector for the Wichita Police Department. For others, rejection is immediate.

Each department started with nearly 600 applications, said Wilson and sheriff's Lt. Mark Pierce, department training commander.

Extensive background checks ensued, followed by oral examinations, interviews, and physical and psychological evaluations.

Academy training started in January for the remaining recruits.

Wichita police officer recruits Rachel Gaines, Randy Gorges and Marla Lane used words like "paramilitary," "structured" and "rigid" when they spoke of "long lectures" in the classroom and direct hits with Tasers and pepper spray.

Sutherland agreed.

"It consumes you," he said. "It's stressful making sure that you get A's on your tests and your boots are shined and you have everything squared away every day.

"If it's not, someone else could get hurt."

But the training doesn't stop at graduation, Sutherland said.

Each Wichita police graduate will be paired with a senior officer for 12 weeks of on-the-job field training.

Sheriff's deputies are required to complete eight weeks of field training, Sutherland said.

New Wichita police officer Dominic Artis, 25, is ready for the transition.

"After being in the classroom for six months, oh man, you are just so ready to go out there and get on-the-job experience," Artis said.

He starts today at 9 p.m.