Thursday, May 26, 2011

Prince George’s police department gets a ‘mature’ rookie in 54-year-old

If Rich Graves had to pick the precise moment he knew he would become a police officer, it was probably the evening that armed and masked burglars tried to push their way into his Silver Spring home.

They didn’t take anything — Rich held the door shut against them as his wife dialed 919 (hey, she was flustered) — but they left him convinced that there are few jobs more important than protecting the public.

That was in 1985. Last week, 26 years later, Rich answered that call. At age 54, he graduated from the Prince George’s County police academy. He entered the academy after retiring from a 31-year career with the Archdiocese of Washington.

He’s gone from saints to sinners.

“It is unusual,” Rich admitted. “You don’t see too many 54-year-olds. A lot of the guys in the class would ask, ‘Why are you doing this?’ ”

He wasn’t the only “mature” cadet. “The guy who was 49 loved it,” Rich said. “He stayed under the radar. I took all the ‘old’ jokes.”

There’s no age limit to becoming a police officer — as long as you can pass the academic testing and the physical challenges. That wasn’t hard for Rich, who has always worked out.

The academy’s regimen included push-ups, crunches, squats and carrying heavy jugs of water up and down a hill. And like all the cadets, Rich was Tasered and dosed with tear gas and pepper spray.

“It was good, but it was tough,” Rich said of the training. “I will say it was the toughest nine months I’ve been through.”

It all sounds pretty different from his old job doing financial accounting for the Catholic Church. He traded his calculator for a .40-caliber.

When those masked men tried to get into his house, it planted a seed in Rich. “Ever since then, it was like I was very observant,” he said. It seemed like being a police officer was a way to channel that tendency. But with a career underway and a passel of children in the house — he and wife Terry have five — it didn’t seem like a good time for a switch.

When their son Mike joined the Montgomery County Police Department three years ago, it stoked Rich’s commitment to join.

A paper cut is about the most dangerous thing that can happen to an accountant. Not so a police officer. Terry understands the risks.

“She knew it when our son got into it,” Rich said. “Our faith is strong. We pray every day. . . . Obviously, you have to be smart. There is danger with any call you go on.”

After a few months of field training, Rich will be assigned to District 6 in Beltsville. In a few years, he will be able to specialize in some aspect of police work. What about financial crime? I asked.

Maybe, said Rich. “But after 30 years, I wanted a change.”

A family affair

Rich and Mike weren’t the only parent-child pair at Thursday’s graduation. Cpl. Lorretta Williams, a-20-year veteran with the Prince George’s department, watched as her daughter, LaVonne Dickerson, became a newly minted police officer.

It caused some interesting sensations in Cpl. Williams, who remembered her mother’s dismay when she joined the force.

“I saw my mother in me,” said Cpl. Williams, who has a parent’s natural worry about her daughter’s safety. “My mother didn't want me to be a police officer, either. I had to back up and allow [LaVonne] to do what she wanted to do. I really believe she can handle herself.”

Getting the sixth degree

Rich is sort of the mirror image of Al Creveling, whom I wrote about last week. Al was a Prince George’s officer for 28 years before going back to college and earning his degree at age 59.

Milton Minneman also earned a degree earlier this month. Milton is 87. It’s his sixth degree. The first was a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Cooper Union. The latest is a master’s degree in information technology from University of Maryland University College. Among his four other degrees is a PhD in pattern recognition/artificial intelligence.

Milton’s daughter, Jill, told me about his accomplishments. I didn’t have a chance to talk to the graduate himself. He and his wife, Doris, just left on a two-week trip to Russia.

 Written by John Kelly from the Washington Post

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