HARTFORD – Punishment for failing one of the countless uniform inspections at the state police training academy was for the recruit to run into the surf fully-clothed and then roll around on the beach until being completely covered with sand.
“The effect was known as a sugar cookie,” Trooper Trainee Cameron DeFeo told the crowd attending Thursday’s graduation at the State Armory of the most-recent class of 53, which selected him as their commencement speaker. “You stayed in that uniform the rest of the day – cold, wet and sandy.”
The lesson of the discipline from their instructors, he said, was that by design no recruit would ever pass the uniform inspection, and they would just have to learn how to deal with it.
“Sometimes, no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform, you still end up as a sugar cookie,” explained DeFeo, of Watertown. “It’s just the way life is sometimes. If you want to change the world, get over being a sugar cookie and move forward.”
In front of cheering family and friends, the 38 men and 15 women of the 131st Training Troop received their badges during a two-hour ceremony attended by an array of top state officials, including Gov. Ned Lamont, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz and State Police Commissioner James Rovella.
Many of the speakers referenced how the new troopers and the back-to-back training classes that will follow are sorely needed at a time when the force has declined from more than 1,200 five years ago to less than 900 today – in the face of a spike in violent crime.
Rovella, faced with a wave of upcoming retirements including nine of his top 10 command staff, credited Lamont with hiring more than 300 troopers since taking office in 2019.
His remarks, however, mainly focused on a spirited conversation he said he had recently in an Old Saybrook coffee shop with a man who was adamant that being a trooper was nothing more than an “average” career.
“It was time for him to leave – I think he was just trying to get away from me,” Rovella recalled. “But I just couldn’t resist. He just needed another…punch. I’m getting a little too old to be rolling around on the ground and fighting it out, but I said to him as he started to leave: “They’re heroes. Their families are heroes.”
Rovella never mentioned that he fired eight members of the original training class last week after a protracted investigation of a January incident that determined they had tried to cheat on a test that was posted by academy staff in error on a website reserved for study documents.
But he appeared to reference the climate surrounding the incident Thursday when he told the class that “I think you might have had enough with me last week. But we needed to say certain things. We needed to be very honest.”
Many of the graduating troopers, ranging in age from 21 to 47, have prior experience in the military, as firefighters, EMTs, correction officers and municipal police officers.
Numerous graduates had their badge pinned to their new uniform by relatives, including several mothers and fathers, who are also police officers.
After hearing stories from graduates about the rigors of academy training – which included being gassed with pepper spray, shocked with a Taser and being ordered to carry a 45-pound sandbag over their shoulder every waking hour for five days – Lamont said:
“Sorry about those 28 weeks of hell and 28 weeks of misery, but as James Rovella said you are the best of the best and we need you now more than ever.”
Bysiewicz was even more direct in her remarks about the need to fill the depleted ranks of the force, and noted the relatively high percentage of women and minorities represented in the class.
One of the female graduates, Sierra Thibault of Harwinton, received several best-of-class awards including ones recognizing her superiority in marksmanship, driving, physical fitness and overall excellence in training, as well as having the highest academic average.
“This is one of the most diverse classes that have graduated from the State Police Academy,” Bysiewicz said. “To any people out there, especially women and people of color, we need you. Please apply to join future classes of our state police. We need you.”
The 53 graduates are:
Edward Bly; Thomas Mickolyzck; Timothy Ryan; Michael Blanco; Kyle Capoccitti; Paul Cordova; Carmen Delgado; Jordan Dzurenda; Anthony Jacabacci; Monique Atkins; Robert Bentil; Cecile Cargill; Keith Dorsey; Lukas Gryniuk; James Ringrose; Jeremy Zarwanski; William Brennan; Sergio Campbell; Kelly Hunt; Daniel Mott; Drew Croteau; Thomas Flaherty; Imelio Griffin; Abdiel Martinez; Cullen McCormack; Cameron DeFeo; Nicholas Jones; Sierra Thibault; Eric Caban Jr.; Matthew Dogali; Jessica Keogh; Nicholas Rocha; Samantha Stella; Justin Strielkauskas; Danielle Coleman; Ryan Cooper; Brandon Godwin; Stephanie Gurski; Anthony Liberto; Cassidy Nuccio; Victoria Zimmitti; Hayden Beausoleil; Shane Bowes; Eric Grabowski; Meagan Yeung; Matthew Barnes; Nathalia Cordeiro; Mark DiLauro; Shelby Hernandez; Zachary Polomoff; Daniel Scottini; Carlos Vargas, and Gabriella Alberino.