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First Public Safety Academy class graduates

POST academy graduation
Curtis Good pins a Helen Police Department badge on his son Tanner Good, who graduated April 6 from the University of North Georgia’s Public Safety Academy. Tanner Good was one of multiple students in the academy’s first class to already be hired by law enforcement agencies.

The University of North Georgia (UNG) has a program that's rare in the United States because it combines a four-year criminal justice degree with peace officer standards and training (POST) certification for law enforcement.

On April 6, UNG's first Public Safety Academy cohort of 17 students graduated in a celebration in the Health and National Sciences Building auditorium on the Dahlonega Campus.

The program makes graduates more marketable because police departments don't have to pay for the graduates to attend the police academy when they hire them. They are ready to go into the field. And UNG's program provides more specialized certifications than officers generally receive in their initial police academy.

"They stand out because they have so much training," said Dr. Butch Newkirk, an assistant professor of criminal justice at UNG.

Alexis Sutton, one of the graduates from Newnan, Georgia, wanted to attend either UNG or the University of West Georgia, which was closer to home. When she discovered the Public Safety Academy at UNG, her decision was made. From that point, she has learned from Newkirk, who had a long career in law enforcement like many of the criminal justice faculty members.

"It was easier to learn from him because he has a lot of experience," Sutton said.

Sallie Parker, coordinator for the academy, said the program recruits students early but is more selective as it now requires a letter of intent for those who apply to the academy. The students have impressed Parker.

"They want to stand out," she said. "They want to be different from typical police academy students."

Joseph E. DellaPiana, a fellow academy graduate from Kennesaw, Georgia, appreciates the time UNG takes to teach students skills. For instance, Newkirk said an average police academy firearms certification requires 40 hours, while UNG has 16 weeks, which is greatly aided by the school's high-tech firearms simulator.

Other labs for academy students include pepper spray, Taser, radar, and light detection and ranging (LIDAR).

"It's an environment where you can get into the depths of what you're learning," DellaPiana said.

Public Safety Academy 2

Gillian Baker, an Alpharetta Police Department candidate; Joseph E. DellaPiana, hired by the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office; and Eric Haviland, hired by Dunwoody Police Department, graduated as part of UNG's first Public Safety Academy class.

Dunwoody, Georgia, native Eric Haviland is proud to be part of the first graduating class. Topics like proper use of force are helpful, he said.

"We feel very confident going out into the world and being able to conduct ourselves correctly," Haviland said.

Haviland and the first two classes have helped the younger students in the academy prepare for what they will face in their careers.

"It helps set the bar for the academy and helps make it better for future classes," Sutton said.

And employers are already eager up to hire the UNG Public Safety Academy graduates. Alpharetta Police Department, Dunwoody Police Department, Fannin County Sheriff's Office, Forsyth County Sheriff's Office, Helen Police Department, and Juvenile Justice Probation are among the agencies that have already hired some of the academy's first graduates.

"They like our program," Newkirk said. "And they want our students."

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