CONYERS - "The Rookie" is a popular TV series on ABC that follows a man in his 40s who becomes the oldest rookie officer at the Los Angeles Police Department.
The TV show has nothing on the Conyers Police Department, which now has its own "rookie," 54-year-old David Long. After going through an unusual graduation ceremony last week, Long was immediately sworn in as a Conyers Police Officer by Chief Gene Wilson.
Long was an over-the-road truck driver for more than 20 years. The last 14 years, he and his wife Denise drove together, driving from Atlanta to California every week.
But law enforcement was always on his mind.
“Law enforcement is something that I always wanted to do,” said Long, “and finally, later in life, I was able to get out of the truck and come to the academy.”
Long actually joined the Conyers Police Department in April. Conyers has a program where recruits work around the department as a precursor to going to the academy.
“But really what they are doing during that time is they are getting their uniforms and all their equipment fitted,” said Chief Wilson. “They stay pretty busy until it’s time to go into the academy itself.”
Long attended the 17-week course at the Law Enforcement Academy at Georgia Piedmont Technical College in Covington. What made his graduation ceremony last week unusual was that of the nine recruits who started in his class, Long was the only one to complete the course and graduate.
Major Harry McCann, the academy director, said this is the first class at the academy to graduate just one recruit.
“The smallest class before this that we graduated was two,” said McCann. “We did start this class with nine people, and Mr. Long is the one that lasted. We lost people for various reasons along the way, as many as three at a time. But throughout the entire 17 weeks, he has been the most intent (on completing the course).”
Georgia Piedmont Tech’s Law Enforcement Academy is the first, and currently only, law enforcement academy in Georgia to be accredited by CALEA (the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies), the most widely recognized accrediting body in Public Safety. Graduates receive their Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training certification as peace officers and 42 college credits towards a criminal justice degree.
McCann said Long needs just 18 more credits to get his degree, and Long has already signed up for next semester.
The 17-week Basic Mandate program consists of 13 courses including ethics and liability, firearms training, emergency vehicle operations, defensive tactics, methods of criminal investigations, criminal law, traffic control, and criminal justice.
The program also exceeds the minimum 408 required basic mandate training hours, offering 336 additional POST training hours covering such areas as standardized field sobriety testing, TASER, and ASP Baton training for a total of 740 training hours.
McCann said that Long is the second 54-year-old recruit who has gone through the academy, and that no one older has ever completed the program.
Long said he had a rough road, but persevered and achieved his goal.
“It was tough for an old man, but I just gave it all I could,” he said. “I gave it 110 percent and tried to just come in and do the best that I could do, and it got me here.”
The graduation ceremony included presentation of awards, but McCann said being the sole survivor of the class wasn’t the reason Long was receiving them.
“We give a couple of awards for each class, so there shouldn’t be any surprise who these awards go to,” McCann said ironically as those gathered laughed. “I do want to tell you something. Long would walk in every single test day worried he wasn’t going to do well, and then he’d turn around and made an ‘A,’ pretty much across the board. He ended up with an ‘A' average for the entire academy. So just because he is the last one doesn’t mean that he didn’t earn it. This is the Academic Achievement Award. You did earn it.
“The second one is our Top Gun Award,” added McCann. “He was not out there by himself. He was on the firing range with other students. This goes to the highest overall average on the firearms range.”
Chief Wilson said he is proud to have Long as an officer with the Conyers Police Department, and swore him in during the graduation.
“He is very mature,” said Wilson. “Obviously he has shown a lot of self-confidence and discipline to get through the class itself, much less being the last person in the class - dealing with the instructors, dealing with the stress, no one to share that with you - I am real proud of him and very happy to have him on board.”
Wilson said the next step for Officer Long will be the department’s Field Training Officer program.
“He’ll ride with a senior officer and he’ll be tutored, then he’ll start handling all the calls,” said Wilson. “They’ll still ride together, but that senior officer will basically be there to critique what he is doing, making sure that he is doing it right and is safe. After that, he is put out on his own. We’ve got a very strong FTO program and it complements what he’s learned here. It puts it into the practicality of being on the street, dealing with the public, dealing with situations that come up that are unexpected. But again, with his maturity, I think he is going to be just fine.”
As for Long’s wife Denise, she is proud of her husband and fully supports his decision to become a police officer.
“When you get that age, you go and follow your dreams,” she said. “We’re only here for a little while, so make the best of it. If that’s what he wants to do, then I support him 100 percent.”