After the academy, new officers meet real-world challenges
Five months after graduating from St. Petersburg College’s police academy, the new cops are on the streets, patrolling and responding to calls, riding with field training officers who rate them on appearance, communication skills and decisions.
At a bus stop in downtown Clearwater, a disheveled woman is slumped on a bench between two bulging tote bags, holding a cup of coffee. Four police officers surround her.
“I paid for this. Please, no!” cries the woman. “I paid … ”
“Can you stand up for me, please?” says Hannah Anhalt, unclipping handcuffs from her belt. “We need you to stand up.”
“Oh my God!” yells the woman. “Am I being arrested?”
Anhalt doesn’t answer. Isn’t it obvious? She cuffs the woman, then unfolds a piece of paper. She still hasn’t memorized the Miranda warning. “You have a right to remain silent,” she reads. “You have the right to consult a lawyer.”
A gas station clerk told police the woman stole the coffee. She had a long record of shoplifting. Anhalt eases the woman into the police car’s backseat and radios for someone to pick her up.
In the past, she might have sat in jail. Now, officers can refer her to a mental health unit that the Pinellas County sheriff set up. The homeless woman will “get services, counseling,” says Anhalt’s supervisor. “And, hopefully, some help.”
All 23 of the recent graduates from St. Petersburg College’s police academy got hired by local law enforcement agencies, including the youngest recruit. He is now a Pasco County deputy.
The three cadets the Tampa Bay Times featured in an eight-part series are stressed but enjoying their new jobs.
Anhalt, who used to investigate fraud at an insurance agency, is patrolling Clearwater. KeVonn Mabon, a former NFL player, and Brittany Moody, who has a young son, are both Pinellas County deputies.
But law enforcement wasn’t for everyone. After a few weeks in the field, three members of Class 219 decided they didn’t want to be cops — and quit the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. They had to pay back the $4,000 tuition the agency had sponsored.
At her new job, Anhalt had to do seven weeks of report writing and responding to simulated scenarios. Then she got tased. And pepper-sprayed. Again. “At least I knew what to expect,” she said.
She’s had to separate feuding couples, respond to a car crash, stabbing, burglary, a man strangling someone and a woman yelling at people who weren’t there. “One guy had automatic weapons, a shotgun in his couch, all kinds of ammo,” she said. “He was ready for war.”
The worst call was when a 50-something woman, in town for her daughter’s wedding, crashed on a jet ski. “The family came to the hospital in their bathing suits,” she said. “We had to tell them she died.”
She still gets nervous before every shift, overwhelmed by all the chaos, confused trying to navigate neighborhoods. “So far, I guess, I’m enjoying it,” she said. “I have more good days than bad days.”
She doesn’t want to quit, but she told her fiancé, “I’m not sure I’m cut out for this.”
They haven’t set a date to get married, too busy with work.
Plus, they recently had to move. The house they were renting, she said, was in a bad neighborhood. When she started wearing her uniform every day, she saw neighbors narrowing their eyes at her. “It became uncomfortable, just coming home.”
Mabon framed his Tennessee Titans jersey and hung it in his new apartment. He never went to a doctor to get his back checked, but he hasn’t been in pain since he fell during the sprint at the physical fitness exam.
Being a deputy is great, he said, though “it’s somewhat frustrating, because you realize that there is so much stuff that you still don’t know.”
Overall, he said, “It’s pretty fun not knowing what you’re going to get into every day.”
Moody has responded to calls about trespassing, burglaries, drunken driving “and more dead bodies than I can count.” Most of them, she said, died of natural causes. “But you still have to inspect them, make sure there was no foul play, call the medical examiner.”
Domestic violence calls are the hardest, worrying about someone firing off a weapon. But they also can be the most rewarding, when she can refer a battered woman to somewhere safe.
She was working overnights, having her now 8-year-old son stay with his dad. But she’s back on days now, so she can tuck Bryan into bed. He often asks, “Mommy, did you arrest all the bad people?”
Being a deputy is demanding, Moody said. She’s “always tired, always questioning myself and everyone around me.”
But, also, she said, “It’s everything I thought it would be.”
The job has changed her, she said. “I carry myself totally differently. And I don’t really trust a lot of people.”
She gets treated differently, too, depending on where she’s working. In Dunedin, she said, everyone thanks her for her service. “In Lealman, it’s all: F--- you! F--- the cops!”
Instead of aspiring to be on the SWAT team, work with K-9s or become a detective, like she thought she might want to do, Moody said she now wants to do community policing, youth outreach, keep kids out of jail — like the runaway she recently talked to.
“I hope some day some kid will remember me and say, ‘Officer Moody really helped me out.’ ”
Coach Joe Saponare turned 50 in March, played golf in Hawaii with three of his New Jersey friends, built a new gym at the academy, “complete with kettlebells.” He’s looking forward to making tougher work-outs for recruits. And he’s helping plan a simulated city, which the academy got a grant to build.
“I hope this class can help change things,” he said of 219. “I hope if they see someone using an inappropriate amount of force, they’ll intervene.”
Coach Sap was surprised that three of his cadets had already quit — two women and a former military man. None of them had struggled during the training or tests. The older woman, who was 33 when she signed up, surprised Coach Sap the most. “She was a badass.” A colleague said she’d struggled to strike a commanding presence and was getting derided by her supervisor.
The younger woman, who’s 23, said she couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t stop crying. “I dreaded getting up every day. I had a pit in my stomach all the time,” she said. “I kept thinking that at the end of the day, I could get killed. Or someone else could get killed because of me.”
Mikayla Fabricant wanted to be a cop to help people, to make a difference. She chose the profession when she was 18, majored in criminology at the University of Florida, signed up for the academy as soon as she graduated.
In the Times series, she’s the female cadet who worries about gassing protesters.
“Everyone told me, ‘You’re so nice and sweet, it’s not in your nature to be a cop,’ ” said Fabricant, whose classmates call her Fab. “I hated the shooting scenarios, where you have to be so aggressive. I could literally feel myself changing. I was becoming harder, desensitized, jaded.”
She thought about quitting but stuck it out, because she didn’t want to pay back the tuition — and her mom kept telling her things would get better. But after a month, she couldn’t take it. “I busted my ass trying to love it,” she said. “But I didn’t.”
She had done a good job in the field, she said. Passed all the tests, interacted well with the public. Supervisors spent two hours trying to talk her into staying on the force. But once she’d made up her mind, and felt the relief, she couldn’t look back.
“I was sacrificing my happiness for a job where everyone hates you, you work bad hours and it’s always dangerous — for not that much money.”
Her mom was upset she quit. Her dad and boyfriend were relieved. She spent all the salary she had saved during the academy to pay back the $4,000.
She’s a nanny now, for two little girls, and taking a yearlong class to become certified as a primary school teacher. “I can still help people, still make a difference,” she said. “But now, I have the weekends off, I’ll have summers off, for almost the same money. And I’ll be getting paid to color with kids.”