Nine new officers have joined the force of the Santa Maria Police Department in one of the largest growth spurts for the agency in recent years.
With family, friends, fellow officers and city officials watching, the nine officers were sworn in Monday afternoon during a ceremony at Shepard Hall in the Santa Maria Public Library.
“This is a historic day for this department,” Chief Ralph Martin said.
In the past 20 years, the agency hired four to six new officers annually and hit a high of 12 in 2007. But the number of new officers stalled as the economy failed and public funding became tight.
Since January 2013, the agency has added 25 new police officers, including the nine sworn in Monday.
Officers Gabriel Alvarez, Rocio Flores, Brandan Gonzalez, Anthony Hernandez, Sofia Marques, John Veres, Cole Whitney and Ryan Zierman received their badges.
The seven men and two women hail from the Santa Maria Valley and beyond. Zierman returned home to the Central Coast after serving in the Marine Corps for five years and then four years providing security for diplomats.
“I wanted to serve back where I grew up,” said Zierman, who did two stints in Iraq.
The group also posed for pictures, where Martin joked that those who didn’t smile would get graveyard shifts.
“They’ve got a lot of look forward to,” Martin said after presenting the badges which family members or friends pinned on the new officers’ uniforms.
The new officers recently graduated from the Allan Hancock College Law Enforcement Academy.
To earn their badges, they finished an intensive 21 weeks and 827 hours at the academy, Martin said. Of the 33 recent graduates from the academy, the SMPD officers captured three of the five top awards for report writing, firearms and physical fitness.
“It’s a good group,” Martin said.
They now will participate in the department’s five-month training program and have been paired with training officers.
Seven more future officers will begin the police academy July 13.
With this many new hires, it’s no surprise Martin took time during the ceremony to praise the human resources staff handling the task of filling the vacancies.
As one mom left after the ceremony, she told Martin,“Watch out for my boy, OK?” as the chief agreed to do just that.