By: Carmen Russo

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – After 24 weeks of rigorous training, the Rhode Island State Police Training Academy graduated 26 new recruits at a commencement ceremony on Friday. The recruits join a prestigious group, as the academy has only graduated 824 officers since 1925. At the Rhode Island Convention Center, the new state troopers were addressed by Governor Gina Raimondo and Colonel Steven O’Donnell, superintendent of the training academy.

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“The men and women who are here today from Westerly to Woonsocket have chosen a life of service and dedication and bravery. It’s not an easy job,” said Governor Raimondo. “But I’m happy you’ve chosen this, because we need you and we need dedicated folks to do this.”

Raimondo called for the new state police officers to join the community in coming together for a “more peaceful Rhode Island.” She also reminded the audience that the 26 graduates came from an applicant pool of more than 1,500 people.

“These are the best of the best, and Rhode Island is lucky to have them,” Raimondo said.

Almost all of the 2016 graduates had received college degrees, including two with master’s degrees. Some had been collegiate athletes and others were former police officers. Student Trooper Andrew Pilling, who was chosen by his fellow recruits to speak at the ceremony, served in the US Army. He detailed the boxing drills, morning runs and traffic stop exercises that seemed impossible at times, but ultimately brought the class together as a team. Colonel O’Donnell congratulated the graduates for their determination to succeed in both academic and physical training.

“This is a finely tuned, educated, motivated, physically fit, mentally strong group of 26 Rhode Island State Troopers,” O’Donnell said.

The training academy superintendent also addressed current issues facing law enforcement, including race relations between officers and community members and the recent shootings of police officers. Colonel O’Donnell urged the graduates to promote safety and fairness, advising them to get involved in their communities, build relationships with people outside of law enforcement, and maintain a balance between work and personal life.

“In an ever-evolving and unstable law enforcement environment, there is one thing that can never be taken away from you as you embark on your career as a recruit: your commitment and willingness to honor a code to serve and protect,” O’Donnell said.