VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – As of Friday afternoon, Michael Henry, 24, is no longer a recruit, but one of 27 newly sworn officers in Virginia Beach.
“It's just a new chapter for my life, new chapter for the whole class 70 today,” Henry said. “This very day is the best day of my life. I feel ecstatic. I could cry right now; I really could.”
After six months of training in the academy, the first generation law enforcement officer is ready to hit the streets.
“My training from day one, it's rough, but to the very end, you become an officer,” said Henry. “Your classmates become brothers and sisters, and you become one - one team. It's one mission, and we fought for today. Today was the goal.”
The job, however, will be no easy task.
Henry, one of two Black officers taking the oath of honor Friday, will face a challenging time in policing with officers under constant scrutiny surrounding police brutality and trying to rebuild trust in the communities they serve.
“Why do this?” Henry said. “This was a challenge for me; it really was. It starts with neutrality. Talk to folks in your community. Try to get an understanding of what's going on. How can I help? I think that's the first step.”
Recruitment and retention are also challenges facing police departments across the country.
Police Chief Paul Neudigate said before Friday, he was down 120 officers, about 14% of his force.
The department is making another step toward fully staffing the force. Neudigate said a new academy class will start within the next several days.
“It looks very promising that we will have another 60 qualified recruits to start January of 2022,” he said. “it’s still going to take us some time to overcome the significant staffing obstacles we face but there is hope on the horizon.”
Friday, the chief left the new officers with sound advice: Remain transparent, accountable and serve with integrity - vows Henry said he’ll live by every time he puts on the uniform.
“This department, it's not just a job - it's a career,” Henry said. “It's a family, and that's why I'm here. I'm here to serve and protect, and I can't wait to hit the street and get running.”
The training for the newly sworn officers is not over yet. They'll now be working the streets with a field training officer, and after three months, they'll be on their own.