Though drawn to law enforcement, John Priest worked as a securities trader in Chicago.
"It was lavish, it was fun, it was money," said Priest, 26. "But that's not what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to help people."
He'd applied to the CIA, the FBI, and two police departments, but ultimately he took the slot at the Suffolk County Police Academy and will work in the Suffolk Police Department's Seventh Precinct. Wednesday, the Mount Sinai native graduated at the top of his class at a ceremony in Brentwood.
Priest and 76 others received certificates for completing the program, which trains officers for the Suffolk police and several other agencies. The course includes classroom instruction, hands-on drills, and tough lessons on decorum.
In his commencement address, Priest recalled being disciplined for a subpar spit-shine job on his shoes. He was also reprimanded for a creased shirt. "This job's a lot of details that you need to be on top of," he said.
All of Suffolk's new police officers must complete the Brentwood program after passing the civil service exam and a battery of physical, psychological and background checks.
"It's a very, very involved process," said Lt. Robert Van Zeyl, commanding officer of Suffolk's applicant investigation unit. "You have to really want to do this."Recruits who make it all the way through the academy are assured of jobs after graduation. During his remarks, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone ticked off some the challenges that the new officers would face. "Gangs, illegal firearms, prescription drug abuse," Bellone said. "You are now on the front lines."
Several current and retired police officers who double as parents, grandparents, or other relatives of graduates were asked onstage to help present certificates.
Among them was Paul Ruotolo, 29, who attended the academy's previous session while his wife, Brenda, stayed at their Islip Terrace home with the couple's two children, ages 10 and 4.
Yesterday, Brenda Ruotolo, 29, became the second police officer in the family. She credited her husband for helping her get through the seven months at the academy. "He shined my shoes for me every day," she said.
The Ruotolos will work in different precincts, and they will take different days off, Brenda Ruotolo said, so that they can care for their children.
"We're both honored to do what we can for this department," she said. "So we're going to do what we can to make it work."