OAKLAND — Twenty-two Oakland police recruits — the first group in almost two years — will begin 26 weeks of training Monday at the Alameda County Sheriff's Office Regional Training Center Academy in Dublin.
Police officials are elated they will be getting an infusion of new officers, especially since eight of the recruits are Oakland police cadets, the largest number to start an academy in recent memory.
The Police Department has had 250 young men and women become cadets since 1986. The department recently started emphasizing a "Grow Your Own Cadet Program" for city residents in which they are "mentored and encouraged to have careers in law enforcement, especially with OPD," said spokesman Officer Jeff Thomason.
"We are really excited about having these cadets become Oakland police officers," Thomason said. "It is something we encourage. They've already shown their dedication and a desire to be here, and we think they will have a bright future in this organization and have an impact on the community."
The eight cadets, who were being paid $13.46 an hour, are excited about being able to fulfill their dreams of becoming Oakland police officers. That was their goal when they became cadets and got to experience different aspects of police work, including undercover assignments, defensive tactics training, report writing and driving procedures. They also did administrative duties in different units and would man traffic control posts.
Jared Blue-Lowry, who turns 21 in August, is a 2007 graduate of Oakland Technical High School and has been a cadet since 2008. He is two classes shy of an associate degree in criminal justice from Merritt College.
A baseball player at Tech, he said he had always been interested in the team aspect of police work. A family friend, retired Oakland officer Howard Johnson, piqued his interest even more when he told him the department would be like family.
His time as a cadet, including being part of sting operations to catch liquor store employees who sell to underage people, gives him a "leg up" on what he knows will be a grueling but rewarding academy. "I'm looking forward to the experience," he said. "I've been preparing for it."
He said that he had applied to other police agencies but that Oakland was always his No. 1 choice. He said that even if he had been hired by another agency, he eventually would have laterally transferred to Oakland, where he lives.
Growing up in Oakland and being a cadet has given him a front-row seat to the city's crime and other problems.
"If you want to make the problems you see go away, then Oakland is the best place for me," he said. "Even if I worked somewhere else, I would still see Oakland's problems when I come home, and I would not be making them any better."
Julie Lui, 23, of Oakland, has been a cadet almost four years and said the experience has "prepared me mentally and physically to be a police officer." She has a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Cal State East Bay and is one class away from a master's degree in public administration at the university.
She became interested in police work while attending Alameda High School, and she joined the U.S. Naval Reserve after graduation. When Navy boot camp ended, she began taking criminal justice classes at Merritt College, where instructor and retired Oakland officer Margaret Dixon "encouraged and motivated me to become an Oakland officer," Lui said.
She also applied for other police departments, "but I always ended up withdrawing from (their processes) to be an Oakland officer." One of her goals, she said, was to become the department's first woman SWAT officer.
Lui, who speaks Mandarin and Cantonese, believes it is important that the Police Department reflect Oakland's diversity.
While growing up, she observed "misunderstandings between police and residents," and she hopes to change residents' views of police. "In my culture, people are reluctant to contact police," she said. "By me being out there, it's like a bridge. Hopefully, more citizens will open up and trust us."
The 22 recruits are a diversity rainbow. Thirteen are minorities, six are women and nine are bilingual, with Spanish and Cantonese being the most predominant second languages. The majority live in the East Bay, with seven residing in Oakland.
The recruits are being trained at the sheriff's academy, considered one of the best in the state, so they can begin their careers sooner. Oakland Capt. Rick Orozco said the last Oakland academy graduated in October 2008, and it would take the department longer to put together a curriculum and arrange for instructors and training venues away from Oakland.
The 22 Oakland recruits will be part of a class of more than 50, which also will include nine potential sheriff's deputies, five BART police candidates and 17 others who are attending the academy in hopes of getting a police job somewhere.
They will have two Oakland recruit training officers working with them during the entire academy. After graduation, they will have an additional five weeks of training in Oakland about the city's specific policies and procedures before beginning actual street work by the end of the year.
The department is authorized 803 positions, and as of Friday 778 were filled, including five lateral transfers from other departments who are in an abbreviated academy run at the department.
Having the new recruits available for patrol work will mean a lot to the city's crime fighting efforts, Thomason said.
"Any time you have more officers on the street it not only allows us to respond to crimes more quickly; it is a deterrent to criminal activity," he said.