One by one they filed into Courtroom A. Their Class A uniforms immaculate. Pant creases sharp. Shoes shined. Everything was new — except the guns in their holsters. They've had those since their first day of training to become St. Petersburg police officers six months ago. "You will be exposed to the very best of the human spirit," Mayor Bill Foster told his new employees. "But most of the time you will be exposed to the worst of the human condition." Then a judge led them through the oath. Each swore to discharge their duties, to uphold their code of ethics, so help them God. Family, friends and mentors stood and applauded.
The 14 cadets of Class 176 range in age from 21 to 40. There are 12 men and two women. Four served in the military. They have spouses and fiances and children.
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Officer Amanda Preshur is the youngest of the class. She just turned 21. She's so young she was babysitting when she got the call: St. Petersburg had hired her and would sponsor her in the academy.
"You have so many people here with more life experience than I do, people with military backgrounds," she said. "It is worrying."
But she has overcome youth with drive. She was a police explorer at 15. She graduated from St. Petersburg Collegiate High School with her diploma and associate's degree in 2007. The next year she finished her bachelor's at the University of Central Florida.
"I've grown up in this city," she said. "I wanted to serve my own community. I've seen how things have gone in this town with the riots. I wanted to help."
Her father beamed next to her. Sgt. Michael Preshur, 52, has 28 years on the job and works in the traffic unit. His son Ryan, 17, is also a police explorer. The other, Geoffrey, 19, wants to be an engineer. Dad's already working on him.
"We might get him in, too," the father said.
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The cadets train at the Southeastern Public Safety Institute of St. Petersburg College. It's 40 hours a week for 21 weeks. St. Petersburg pays its cadets' tuition and a salary. Going through the academy is like a job.
Officer Seth J. Maranville, 24, actually paid his way through the academy by working two jobs. He was in class every day from 7:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. He'd study when he could. Then work, then be home by 10:30 p.m. to tuck his 2-year-old daughter Sarah into bed.
"It wasn't that bad," he said. "But it was exhausting." And, he added: "It was all worth it."
"I want to help people," he said. "I want to make a difference and I want to put the bad guys in jail."
Maranville was hired as he finished up at the academy. If he stays on for three years, the city will reimburse him for tuition.
He and his fiancee haven't set a date yet. Now that he's a rookie, his hours aren't going to get any better.
"When I get home," he said, "she'll be getting out of bed."
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Officer Luke Lapham, 25, chose St. Petersburg precisely because the city would pay for his training. It was a good deal.
He's from Michigan, a graduate of Ferris State University. He applied there, in South Carolina and Florida. But he liked Tampa Bay best. His grandparents are in New Port Richey.
Lapham also has law enforcement in his blood. His great-grandfather was a deputy sheriff in Michigan.
"One day we found a box with all his badges," Lapham said. "I kept them with me. They gave me more determination to get through the academy."
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They will all be on the streets after Christmas. Each will be assigned a field training officer, or FTO, with whom they will spend the next three to four months. That's when their real education begins.
It's Sgt. Tim Brockman's job to make sure they're ready.
"The biggest thing I get across to them is practicing superior officers safety," he said. "Yes, it's a dangerous job, but you can make it less dangerous by doing things the right way from day one."
But the danger will always be there. The cadets were reminded of that Friday. Each had a black mourning band wrapped around their silver badge. It was in honor of Polk County Sheriff's Sgt. Wesley Whitmore Jr., killed Sunday at the age of 60 by a runaway driver.
His funeral was Friday. He was the ninth officer killed in the line of duty in Florida this year.
Officer Maranville said he accepts the risks. But his family is worried. That includes his staff sergeant stepfather, his Army lieutenant brother and his combat medic sister.
"Out of all of them," he said, "they say they worry about me the most."
Jamal Thalji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.