Broad shouldered and muscular with close-cropped hair, Joseph F. McCullon looked every inch like a police cadet as he strode to the podium.
What came out of his mouth sounded every bit like a dad.
The most important thing is to go home to our families after every shift, McCullon told his fellow graduates of the Lackawanna College Police Academy gathered in the Mellow Theater Friday night.
Before every shift, keep in the back of your minds, ‘I'm going home tonight.'
The academy graduated its 200th and 201st classes during the Oct. 26 ceremony, with McCullon speaking as president of the nine-member Class 201 from the Scranton campus. They were preceded by the three-member Class 200 from Hazleton.
Friday marked several milestones for the program: its 200th class, the first ceremony under new director Dan Duffy, and the inauguration of what Duffy hopes will be an enduring tradition, in which each class will stand for a fallen police officer. Classes 200 and 201 were dedicated to state Trooper Joseph Welsch, an Archbald native who was killed in the line of duty in 1977.
McCullon's words could not have been more appropriate.
Your story brought us to tears, said Jennifer Mercereau, one of Trooper Welsch's nieces who was just 5 when her uncle was shot while attempting to serve a warrant in Tioga County.
Mercereau and relatives attended to present a bullet-resistant vest to the author of a winning essay on becoming a police officer. That author was McCullon, a 32-year-old from Old Forge who was a stay-at-home father before deciding to pursue his dream of a law-enforcement career.
Like your speech said, this is so you come home every night, Mercereau said of the vest.
Members of the trooper's family have been raising money for several years to provide a memorial vest to one of the graduates. This year, a donation from the Tri-State Troopers Fund will help purchase vests for the next year or two, Mercereau said. Thanks to a donation from Star Uniform, they also were able to give $100 Star gift certificates for body armor to two other cadets, Jason M. Gilbert of Scranton and Robert L. Shupp of Inkerman.
They were three of the most powerful statements I have ever read, Mercereau said.
For Duffy, the former Scranton Police chief and an academy graduate who became director earlier this year, the symbolism of honoring a fallen officer is about respect as well as an important lesson for cadets.
I sat on the edge of my seat as police chief fearing the death of an officer said Duffy, who held the position for 22 months. We never did. We were very fortunate in that area.
Duffy already has brought several innovations, including a new flag and logo, and he had the squad car used for training lettered and decaled in the style of a municipal police car – both to feel more realistic for cadets and to act as a rolling billboard for the program. And the man who made headlines as chief for making arrests on his off-time emphasized that he will continue to uphold high standards for cadets, who he hopes will benefit from training and discipline in the style of a working municipal police department.
Indeed, Duffy noted how two prospective applicants failed the pre-entrance agility test by nine-tenths of a second.
Nine-tenths is nine-tenths, he said. We stick with the standard … not everybody makes it.
But it's the new memorial rites that seem closest to his heart. At each ceremony, the graduating class will hang on the school's flag an embroidered streamer bearing the name of the officer to which they dedicated their studies, a tradition that began with streamers honoring Trooper Welsch.
The unfortunate thing about it is that the streamers will continue to be tied on, and they won't stop, Duffy said.
Mercereau and her family know that all too well.
I have like three memories of him, she said of her uncle. And they were all in his uniform.
Graduates from Class 200 Hazleton were: Tina M. Sullivan of Pottsville; Devon L. St. Clair of Danville and Gerald M. Heck of Mountaintop.
Graduates from Class 201 Scranton were: Bobby Joe Bendersky of Carbondale; Christian J. Daletto of Lake Twp.; Jason M. Gilbert of Scranton; Matthew A. Granick of Union Dale; Joseph F. McCullon of Old Forge; Robert L. Shupp of Inkerman; Cody L. Smith of Wyoming; Matthew C. Thomas of Avoca; and Abriya L. Wollett of Blakeslee.
In special awards, Sullivan won both the Driver and High Scholastic awards for Class 200, and Devon St. Clair of Danville won the Firearms Award. Jason Gilbert of Scranton garnered the Driver, Firearms and High Scholastic awards for Class 201.