OAKLAND, Calif. -- Two dozen recruits will soon hit the streets as Oakland Police Department officers -- one of the first classes to graduate from the police academy since the department instituted reforms in the face of a series of scandals.
When the recruits graduate from the academy Friday they will enter a force that has been plagued recently with troubles. More than a half dozen police officers have been fired or charged with crimes in recent years. Also, homicides are approaching a five-year high and many residents have a profound distrust of law enforcement.
The soon-to-be officers say they harbor no illusions about the responsibilities they'll have, but they all believe a few rookies can help restore the department's tarnished reputation.
"I want to be the best of the best," said recruit Keri-Beth Reeves. "I want to be in the worst area and know I can survive. I want to be the one who's saving the person that just got shot ... and when that's over, go get the person that shot them."
Police academy reforms nearly quadrupled the number of hours devoted to classes in history, professionalism and ethics. The hours allotted to community relations also were increased. Now recruits spend 1,090 hours in the academy, even though the state only requires 672.
Training for the recruits began six months ago with classroom and field training in everything from sex crimes to domestic violence and gang awareness to racial profiling. About one in four trainees flunks, quits or is asked to leave the class.
The most infamous of the police department scandals involves a recent recruit. Three officers who called themselves "the Riders" are currently on trial for charges of framing or beating West Oakland residents. The charges are based on allegations from rookie Officer Keith Batt, who later resigned and is now a Pleasanton police officer.
"(Batt) is more courageous than anybody I've ever known," Lt. Jeffrey Loman, the training section commander, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "But the fact that he didn't feel comfortable staying, means we failed."
Creating an environment where a whistle-blower could feel safe is one of the academy's long-term challenges, and possibly its most important one, according to police watchdog groups.