Wives, mothers, fathers, daughters and grandparents pinned badges Wednesday afternoon on eight graduates from Longview Police Academy’s first graduating class.

Police Chief Mike Bishop said he was encouraged by the number of officers commissioned.

“I think it’s been a while since we had this many of you,” Bishop said during his opening remarks at Wednesday’s ceremony. About 50 officers, family members and officials gathered in the police department’s training room to support the cadets.

It was the first group of graduates for the new Longview Police Department’s new police academy. The academy graduated 13 cadets — eight for Longview and five for the Jacksonville Police Department.

Longview Police Department graduates are class President Sharissa Bennett, Valedictorian Tristan Sloan, Fernando Esquivel, Noah Hood, Dylan Kennedy, Dan Lair III, Dylan Moore and Shaquille Warren.

Kenneth Baker, David Berryman, Joshlune Jackson, Justin Phillips and Tony Smith were graduating cadets for the Jacksonville department.

“We have a good group of recruits that were in the academy studying hard, and they did what was required of them,” Bishop said.

Bennett moved to Longview with her wife and daughter about six years ago from Arkansas and fell in love with the area, she said.

“My wife actually brought me to the area,” Bennett said. “I’m glad to get through the first phase of training, and I’m very, very excited.”

She said she decided to become a police officer after she completed her Master in Homeland Security.

“I got to love the department, and I’m ready to get out there and make a difference,” she said.

Bennett’s daughter pinned on her badge.

Rachael Kennedy, graduate Dylan Kennedy’s wife, said it’s exciting to “start this new chapter.”

“We’re very proud of him,” she said.

Dylan Kennedy, a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, was all smiles as he stood Wednesday with his wife and their 2-month-old daughter. Rachael held the baby while pinning the badge on her husband.

Dylan Kennedy said it was amazing to have their baby with them at the ceremony.

“My son really wanted to come, but you can’t miss school,” he said. “He’s proud, and he told me he wants to be a police officer when he grows up. He’s 6.”

Lair grew up around law enforcement. Bishop said during the ceremony that Lair’s uncle works in the department, and his father graduated from the police academy with Bishop.

“Many years ago,” Bishop said amid laughter. “When you start hiring the children of people you graduated with, something’s gotta give.”

The academy provided a 19-week basic peace officer training course and the now commissioned officers will begin a 17-week field training program.

“We’re excited to get them in and get them into the next phase of their training where we can get them fully trained and out on the streets,” Bishop said.

Earlier this year, East Texas Police Academy at Kilgore College postponed it spring program due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The Longview Police Department already had a training academy certificate through the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement to provide ongoing training to officers but had never provided academy training for cadets.

The department started its own basic peace officer course along its already established training academy for certification with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.

In April, the Longview City Council approved an agreement in which the East Texas Council of Governments will reimburse the city $1,000 for each recruit in the academy up to $15,000.

The funding covers cadets’ books and other items needed for the course.

Cadets began their training April 27. After training, cadets must pass a state licensing exam.

The 13 cadets officially graduated Sept. 4 at Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center. Longview Police Academy will begin its second class in October, officials said.

Courtney Stern is a public safety reporter covering a wide range of topics. She grew up in Baltimore and later earned a journalism degree from the University of Miami. Stern moved to East Texas from Iowa with her husband and two dogs, Pebbles and Bam Bam.