ALBANY, Ga. -- Roughly 50 members of the community were present to welcome more officers to the Albany Police Department Monday.
A total of 17 were included in the most recent police academy graduating class recognized at the Law Enforcement Center in downtown Albany. John Proctor, the department's chief, presented their badges and guided them through the oath of office.
After that, he gave some closing remarks.
"Thank you for taking this step in joining us," he said to the new graduates. "This is just the beginning. You are joining a family that will support you.
"Tomorrow begins today. This is not a walk you will take alone."
He also had a message for the families of the new officers.
"They (the new graduates) are a part of us," Proctor said. "When they are not with you, they will be with someone that cares about them."
Capt. Russ Barnes graduated from the academy Monday after moving to the area from Tampa, Fla.
"I'm relieved; it's been a long 10 weeks," he said. "It was mentally and physically challenging. I'm very honored to have gone through this class."
Barnes moved to the area late last year and has so far enjoyed his time in Albany.
"It's been wonderful; I love getting from one side of town to the other in less than an hour," he said. "The people here are very polite. I love the city and I love the department."
Proctor himself has been doing the job for 30 years, most recently in Tallahassee, Fla. He took his position in Albany in May 2009.
"I still view this job the same way I did when I first put on my uniform," he said.
The class that graduated this week brings the department one step closer to near-full capacity, but the police chief said there is still more work to be done.
"This is absolutely good for the city," Proctor said. "We are trying to get quality people so they will stay. We're not there yet, but we are still working on it."
Proctor also stressed that a few bad officers should not necessarily reflect on the whole department.
"There are still a lot of good people here," he said. "One person does something bad and people think the whole department is like that; that's not the case. I think we have good people here.
"We are moving forward."
The department was short 45 officers at the start of this year. Proctor tendered 11 offers earlier this month, and the APD-hopefuls from that group will start academy training in July. They will have to spend 12 weeks in the academy and another 12 weeks in field officer training.
While this group is in the academy, Proctor said he expects to tender 10 offers. Between the group that just graduated and the group expected to start training next month, the department is set be close to capacity by the end of the year.
"We will be as close to full as possible," Proctor said.
The APD has an authorized strength of 212 officers.