Clayton Smith stands a full head below several of the other officers in his police academy graduating class, but his reassuring, confident personality allow him to come off much taller.
The former soldier and class president of the year’s first police academy — the second in six months — was excited for the chance to start making Chattanooga’s streets safer, but mostly proud of his fellow classmates.
“Getting a group of guys to work together as a team can be a real challenge, but we hit it off very quickly,” he said. “I was honored for the opportunity.”
The night wasn’t just a big deal for the graduates, it was a big deal for the city, too. The Chattanooga police force is down about 54 officers because of retirement and career changes.
Dodd said he was proud of the graduates, and hopes more people will join the force — particularly women and minorities the department is lacking.
“It’s a tough job. It’s a good job. It’s a rewarding job,” he said to a packed auditorium at Chattanooga State Community College. “If you hang in there, it’s a good career, it’s a rewarding career.”
This academy, the first of what will likely be two this year, is graduating seven minority cadets — five black men and two of Asian decent — but no women.
“It’s a concern,” Dodd said. “Right now our department is a little less than 16 percent minority representation, and with Chattanooga being at 30 percent, I’d like to see at least that.”
A class of 22 graduated in January and are just finishing up field training, and Dodd hopes to start a new academy in September. But staff shortages mean plenty of eyes will still be watching the 20 graduates as they spend the next 16 weeks training in the field.
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