VASSALBORO — Tyler LaFreniere, 22, of Madison sat in the front row Friday among 58 men and women graduating from the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.

LaFreniere, who had just completed the 18 weeks of training that started in January, previously worked about a year for the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office, patrolling for its Madison division with field training officers. A Massachusetts native, LaFreniere moved to Madison with his family when he was in the sixth grade and graduated from Madison Area Memorial High School in 2013.

Coming from a family of law enforcement officials, he had thought about becoming a game warden, but when a position opened up at the sheriff’s office, he applied and was hired in January 2016. Then he headed for the justice academy.

“The training here is, by far I think, the best we could ever receive for law enforcement,” LaFreniere said before the ceremony started.

As his family members arrived from both Maine and out of state, they gathered around LaFreniere, hugging and congratulating him.

“I am so proud of him, you don’t even know,” said his mother, Julie LaFreniere of Madison, her eyes welling with tears. “He’s going to be awesome. He’s a very dedicated guy.”

Somerset County sheriff’s Chaplain Kevin Brooks described LaFreniere as a nice young man and a “great guy,” saying department staff members “look forward to seeing him when he gets back on duty. He’s been away for a while.”

About 900 family members, friends and law enforcement officers from around the state packed the Criminal Justice Academy gymnasium Friday morning for the graduation ceremonies, at which class members were urged to maintain a healthy lifestyle, both physically and mentally, watch out for one another, never lie or cover up a mistake, and lead by example.

Edward Tolan, Falmouth police chief and president of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, said it was an honor to be asked to address the graduating class.

“Welcome to the greatest profession in the world,” he said.

A CALL TO INTEGRITY

Tolan told members of the 32nd Basic Law Enforcement Training Program to be above reproach. The new sheriff’s deputies, state police troopers, Maine Marine Patrol officers, University of Maine police and town and city police will face many challenges, but accepting those challenges will make them better officers, Tolan said.

A 44-year veteran law enforcement officer who has served the last 26 as a police chief, Tolan advised the class to build their careers on honesty, integrity, professionalism, hard work, empathy, a positive attitude and most importantly, the willingness to serve.

“Congratulations on achieving your goal as a law enforcement officer, and I want to thank you once more for your commitment to your country and your state,” he said.

There will be times, he told class members, that they will have the opportunity to change someone’s life for the better, just by taking the extra minute to help. He praised them for their commitment.

“As administrators, we are proud of you and I’m sure that your families that are here today are very proud of you for what you have accomplished.”

Tolan also urged them to remember the rules and the oath they would take later in the ceremony. He said he had witnessed some young and old officers forgetting that oath – and the rules – and stepping outside the line.

“Never forget the people that you serve have given you an incredible power – the authority to enforce the law, to change people’s lives,” and use deadly force, he said.

He advised that they seek friends who nourish them with a perspective other than in law enforcement, have outside activities, watch out for each other and “watch where you fall back on.” Human beings, even those with high moral character, can falter, Tolan said.

“Alcohol and drug abuse will take away your career, your family and your friends, and it will tarnish the name you have all worked so hard to achieve today,” he said.

He also urged the class never to lie or cover up a mistake.

“No matter how small the lie, your integrity is the most important virtue you have,” he said.

HONOR THE BADGE

Class President John C. Lewis of the Norway Police Department, who received the Academic Proficiency Award, spoke to the crowd as did Academy Director John B. Rogers.

Lewis said that class members were graduating but they will continue to develop skills and add more skills during their careers. He urged them to honor the badge and never betray it. Stay true to yourselves, maintain the public’s trust and deal with mistakes by holding them up to the light, root out misguided actions and ensure those responsible are made accountable, Lewis said.

He also urged his peers to uphold the U.S. Constitution and remember the people they represent. Law enforcement officers, he said, are pillars of the community and will become household names.

“As much as your community takes ownership of you, take ownership of your community,” he said.

Rogers welcomed the crowd and said the class had worked very hard over the 18 weeks. He said 13 women were graduating – more women than in any other prior class. Also, the class had the first female valedictorian ever – Tonya L. Alexander of the Presque Isle Police Department, who also won the James L. Handley Award.

The valedictorian, he said, is determined 50 percent by academic achievement and 50 percent by skill. Alexander received a round of applause from the crowd.

Rogers said Maine is graduating more female officers.

“Currently, Maine has about half of the national average of female front officers, but we are getting better at it, as you can see,” he said.

Rogers asked for a moment of silence for the 34 fallen officers from around the country.

He also issued the following advice to the class: “Never forget that the foundation of law enforcement is based in ethical integrity.”

Amy Calder can be contacted at 861-9247 or at:

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