WILKES-BARRE — Numbers for their new badges will come later, but the responsibility of wearing them was immediate Thursday for the 10 new officers added to the Wilkes-Barre Police Department.
Knowing the weight they would carry doing their jobs, the Rev. J. Duane Gavitt offered some support in his invocation to the crowd of families and friends gathered for the ceremony in the council chambers at City Hall.
“May what they wear give evidence to what they believe, in peace and good will through Christ our Lord,” said Gavitt, the department chaplain.
The all-man group, a mix of experienced and novice cadets, placed their hands on a Bible and took an oath to defend the state constitution, perform duties as police officers with fidelity and not accept any other form of compensation to carry out their job other than what’s allowed by law.
Wearing badges attached to their left lapels or pockets of the suit coats, they returned to their seats in the front of the room in the order they were called: Mark Hilpp, Ronald Knorr, Daniel Duffy, Joseph Homza, Daniel Roper, Matthew Smith, Kevin Andres, Kevin Novackowski, Kyle Rogers and Maivaun Houssein.
During his 2014 budget proposal last October, Mayor Tom Leighton promised to add at least 10 officers to the force at a cost of approximately $100,000 each. The money, part of the overall $42.7 million annual budget, would come from the city’s general fund.
“I saw excitement and anxiousness when I interviewed each and every one of them; how they really want to make the city of Wilkes-Barre a better and safer place for all of us whether you live here in the city of Wilkes-Barre, you visit here or you work here in the city of Wilkes-Barre,” Leighton said.
He added that he looked forward to working with them.
Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis told the crowd she was honored to take part in the ceremony.
She said the officers are a welcome addition, adding “from my understanding we have 10 experienced officers … that can get right back right on the street and start working, start helping fighting the crime that’s occurring.”
With his fiancee, Amanda Henry, at his side, Maivaun Houssein held his 21-month-old son, Elliot Houssein, and beamed about his hiring.
“I’m from Wilkes-Barre. I’m a hometown boy,” he said
The 26-year-0ld Houssein had worked at the Pittston City Police Department and wanted to return to Wilkes-Barre to give back to the community that’s given him so much.
Al Novackowski was in the audience to watch his 28-year-old son, Kevin, be sworn in. The proud father acknowledged he had concerns about his son working in Wilkes-Barre because of the danger level.
“He worked for Harveys Lake and Jenkins Township and he applied for this job ‘cause he wants to make a difference,” Novackowski said.
The new hires are scheduled to undergo a 16-week, in-house training program and some might graduate sooner than others because of their experience, said Wilkes-Barre Police Chief Gerry Dessoye. They bring the force to a complement of between 83 and 85.
The hirings were not in response to rising crime in the city, Dessoye said. “I think the mayor’s intention is to hire as many police officers whenever he can afford it,” he said.
He looked upon the additions of Hilpp and Duffy as valuable assets.
Hilpp had been a city officer and was the director of the Public Safety Training Institute at Luzerne County Community College. Duffy had been police chief in Scranton and director of the Police Academy at Lackawanna College.