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State’s first weekend law enforcement class graduates from SFCC

Submitted by on September 29, 2009 – 12:26 pmNo Comment
Jerry DeJonge (left), director, South Florida Community College Public Service Academy, presents a Basic Law Enforcement (BLE) occupational certificate to Mark Steighner, executive officer of BLE Class 227. In the center is Richard Morey, coordinator, Criminal Justice.

Jerry DeJonge (left), director, South Florida Community College Public Service Academy, presents a Basic Law Enforcement (BLE) occupational certificate to Mark Steighner, executive officer of BLE Class 227. In the center is Richard Morey, coordinator, Criminal Justice.

Monday evening’s graduation ceremony had special significance for the 13 cadets in South Florida Community College’s Basic Law Enforcement Class 227. After training every weekend for the past year, they can finally reacquaint themselves with simple pleasures like sleeping late, attending a son’s football game, or even mowing the lawn.

The cadets rearranged work schedules, put aside family obligations, and sacrificed leisure time to accomplish something unique. They are the first graduates of a weekend Basic Law Enforcement class to be offered by any police academy in Florida.

 “No other law enforcement academy in the state has offered this course on the weekends as far as we can tell,” said Richard Morey, coordinator, Criminal Justice. “And these students got through it with a 100 percent passing rate.”

Robert Weronik, the class leader, was instrumental in getting the weekend class off the ground. Before he became the corporate crisis manager for General Electric, Weronik spent 15 years as a police officer in Connecticut. He wanted to become certified in Florida, but his full-time work schedule left weekends as the only time he could devote to education. Various law enforcement organizations told him he was not likely to find a weekend academy, and his research proved that to be true.

“Everyone said no until I talked to Richard Morey,” Weronik said. “He was very accommodating and understanding. He said, ‘If you can find the students for it, we’ll do it.’”

Not one to be daunted by a challenge, Weronik began helping Morey recruit students, and came across Steighner, who had similar desires. As a young man, he had been a deputy for the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office. Now in his 40s with a family and three businesses, he wanted to become recertified so that he could volunteer as a reserve officer.

“It was a huge commitment for the students and the college,” said Steighner, who gathered support for the endeavor from political leaders and law enforcement organizations. “Part of the challenge was convincing people it would work. Bob and I knew it would, if we could get the bodies to fill the seats.”

They did. On Sept. 27, 2008, 13 cadets arrived at the SFCC Public Service Academy for its first weekend Basic Law Enforcement class. Among them were young people looking to enter the profession as well as former officers, business people, and attorneys seeking volunteer and part-time opportunities. The majority came from Miami, Tampa, Sarasota, and other cities more than 100 miles away.

To reflect the distances they traveled in pursuit of a common purpose, the class adopted the motto: “Statewide – Unified.”

The routine was grueling. The cadets met on Saturdays and Sundays for one year, missing holidays like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Easter. In addition to tuition, they bore the costs of lodging in hotels and eating in local restaurants. In the spring, many used vacation time to attend a weeklong unit on first aid at the Public Service Academy.

Steighner calculates that he traveled more than 14,000 miles between Pasco and Highlands counties just to complete the class.

“I got a lot of support from my family and my employees,” said Steighner. “My wife basically said, ‘I don’t want to be sitting in my rocking chair someday listening to you complain that you didn’t do this.’ I missed my sons’ football and baseball games. My 12-year-old read Florida Statutes to me. He now knows more about constitutional law than most seventh graders.”

“By accommodating us, SFCC filled a statewide need,” Weronick said. “This class has created other energy throughout Florida.” At the SFCC Public Service Academy, a second weekend class is tentatively scheduled to begin in January. Anyone interested should call Morey as soon as possible at 784-7285.

Weronik isn’t quitting his day job, but he will put his training to good use. “This enables me to volunteer in my community, which is a missing piece of my life right now. I have the career. I did this so I could fulfill a part of my life that is being unmet.”

Steighner is becoming a part-time reserve deputy with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office. Part of his mission will be to build up its reserve program, something he feels passionately about. “I hope when it’s my time to stop volunteering, I will have a lot of gray hairs on my head, and I can turn over my badge to my grandson.”

As an outgrowth of the class, members formed the Volunteer Florida Officers Alliance, which is planning to hold its first conference at SFCC in February 2010. Steighner is starting a scholarship for training reserve officers.

“From the bottom of my heart, I can say that all this happened because of Mr. Morey,” Steighner said. “He made sure it stayed on track. Every weekend, he was there for us. His compensation is that he got to see 13 people, smiling and happy because we got through this process.”

“This class was exceptional because of the commitment they had to make,” Morey said. “They held up their end of the bargain.”

The graduation service proved to be a family affair as well as an affectionate parting. The invocation was delivered by retired Major James Murray, from the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, whose grandson, John Murray, was among the graduates. New graduate Ted Silva beamed with pride when a fellow cadet received the firearms award for achieving a perfect shooting score. The cadet was his son, Kenny Silva.

For more information about the SFCC Public Service Academy, call ext. 7280, 453-6661, 494-7500, 773-2252, or 465-5300, or visit the Web site www.southflorida.edu.

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