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Madison Police Chief Mike Koval addresses graduates of the Madison police academy.

On the first day of the Madison Police Department’s 2016-17 training academy, Lt. Marianne Flynn Statz told the class of recruits that policing is a profession “under fire like it never has been at any other time.”

Nine months later, on the occasion of those recruits graduating from academy, she said police continue to be in a “fishbowl.” In Madison, the City Council recently passed a series of short-term MPD policy changes and the department awaits the results of what will be a year-long comprehensive review of the department’s policies, procedures and practices at the end of the year.

“I would still say that they are going out into a climate that’s vastly different from the climate of five years ago, three years ago,” Statz said in an interview Thursday, referring to the level of scrutiny officers face.

After mastering the state mandated 720-hour curriculum, plus an additional 144 hours of MPD-specific classes, and completing field training, the class of recruits are now working throughout Madison on their own. The 21 recruits, down two members from the beginning of academy classes, officially received their badges in front of friends and family at a graduation ceremony at Monona Terrace Friday.

Chief Mike Koval encouraged the recruits to align their rhetoric and actions and to use each police call to serve the residents of Madison.

“There is an awful lot of people who want to define a narrative for policing as a profession. I can’t control that. You can’t control that,” Koval said to the new officers. “But what we can do is empower these officers on calls one contact at a time to make that that seminal moment where people believe we got it right.”

Gracia Rodriguez, a new officer who wants to work with Madison’s Latino community, agreed with Statz that officers are being scrutinized closely.

“I feel like we are under a microscope, and we’re being watched closely as to what actions we take and what we do nationally affects us as a department,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said she’s learned to clearly communicate with individuals once a situation has been resolved and explain the reasoning behind her decisions. The educational component can build a rapport with residents she contacts, she said.

After completing field training and working for about a month on his own, new officer Ray Gillard sounded more confident about his decision to become an officer than he did at the beginning of classes. Back in October, he said he was still unsure about police work but knew he wanted to make a difference, particularly in the lives of people who come from poor neighborhoods like he did.

Gillard grew up in Chicago and can list his many negative experiences with the police that still stick with him.

“I can’t forget those years in a matter of months,” Gillard said. “I don’t want to be that cop ... like the officers in Chicago were.”

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He’s learned from field training officers to use the least amount of force necessary by communicating clearly with an individual to de-escalate a situation and on his radio if additional officers are not needed. More officers arriving on a scene can often put people in vulnerable situations on the defense, Gillard said.

“Sometimes we as officers are the problem and the reasons why things escalate quickly,” Gillard said.

The new police officers are also entering the field in the midst of increased violence in Madison. One of the recruits, Jessica Gillette, responded to one of the recent homicides on her second day patrolling the city by herself.

“In my law enforcement career there’s been times where I’ve seen upswings but this feels vastly different,” Statz said. “This is going to be the new environment.”

Prior to the graduation ceremony beginning Friday, Koval acknowledge the department was in the middle of handling an incident of shots fired on the city’s east side.

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