Nassau County officials swore in 185 cadets at the Police Academy in Massapequa Park Friday morning — one of the largest classes to enter the county’s tough, seven-month officer training program ever.
It was a socially distant affair, with 49 of the masked cadets seated on aluminum folding chairs in the auditorium of the former Hawthorn Elementary School, which Nassau leases from the Massapequa School District. The remaining recruits were separated in groups of 15 or 16 and spread out among surrounding classrooms to watch the ceremony via livestream.
The county police force now stands at 2,259, without the new recruits.
The cadets will study both in the classroom and through a series of intense simulations at various venues, which will imitate policing on the streets, including car chases, said one of the trainers, Chris Boccio, who grew up in Lynbrook. He stood by fellow trainer Joe Monez, of Mineola, in a hall as cadets sat in their classrooms nearby after the swearing-in.
The two noted that the NCPD requires a significantly more rigorous training program than New York state mandates — Nassau puts cadets through 1,050 to 1,200 hours of training, compared to the minimum 639 hours that the state requires for basic police training.
County Executive Laura Curran greeted the cadets during the ceremony. “Welcome to our Nassau County family,” she said. “We will have your back,” adding, “Your success is our success.”
The age of the Hawthorn building was apparent in the auditorium where Curran spoke, with its dim lighting, worn linoleum floor and exposed heating duct above, wrapped in silver insulation. A $54 million, 89,000-square-foot academy is now under construction on the campus of Nassau Community College in Garden City and is expected to be complete in May.
The current class will be the last to train at the Massapequa Park facility and the first to graduate at the new Garden City center, said Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder, who grew up in Lynbrook and now lives in Wantagh.
He also noted it is the first to enter the academy amid a pandemic, and will be the first to graduate under new state policing reforms enacted after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, which stress the need for community policing that requires officers to understand and engage with people at the local level.
At the same time, the reforms made the use of a chokehold a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison if an officer injures or kills a person, and opened police misconduct records to the public, among other measures.
It's also expected that the cadets will wear body cameras when they patrol the streets after graduation, Ryder said. The county and Police Benevolent Association recently came to terms on the requirement. Officers are to be paid a $3,000 annual cash stipend to wear the cameras. The union membership, county Legislature and county fiscal control board must still sign off on the agreement.
Ryder, now in his 38th year in policing, said he “embraced the culture here” during his time at the academy in 1986, after having spent four years in the New York Police Department. The NCPD’s culture, he said, is one “of community service.”
Cadet Chelsea Penn, 26, who was not permitted by academy rules to give her hometown, said, “I’m a little nervous but super-excited” about starting police training. She had been at the academy since early that morning and had gone for a run before the swearing-in.
She stood beside her brother, Derrick Penn, 28, an officer in the 8th Precinct in Bethpage, who has been with the department four years. “She’s a perfect asset to this department,” Derrick said, smiling.