GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - They marched into the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College auditorium as cadets, taking the next step toward their new title -- officers.
"They've gotten sprayed with pepper spray. Some of them have been tased with Tasers. And I can say without hesitation, that I will be proud to work the streets with any of them," said Academy Director Bill Markopoulos.
Friday's graduation ceremony marked a milestone for the eleven cadets, who have completed nine-weeks of intense training and tests. It was also a day of celebration for the Harrison County Law Enforcement Training Academy.
"We wouldn't be here today if it was not for Sheriff Brisolara," said MGCCC President Dr. Willis Lott.
Sheriff Melvin Brisolara was praised for his vision and commitment to bringing the program back to the coast. For 20 years, the academy was held at USM Gulf Park, but had to move to Camp Shelby after Katrina battered the Long Beach campus. In June, the academy returned, this time classes were held at the Mississippi Air National Guard Base in Gulfport. Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College also provided some instructors and accounting assistance.
"It's a big day for law enforcement in Harrison County to get their training academy back where it belongs," said Sheriff Brisolara. "We got it up and running. It's doing great."
"It really helps whenever I want to come home on the weekends. I have that support right there at home. I don't have an hour drive," said graduate Gerald Peck.
"I can get home in 30 minutes, and that's more time I can spend with my family," said graduate Ashleigh Pack.
The sheriff called it a team effort. And the first graduating class pledged to stand as one to protect and to serve.
The next class at the academy starts on January third.