SJPD holds socially distanced graduation ceremony for cadets

At a socially distanced ceremony on Friday, 42 recruits became full-fledged San Jose police officers.

But a lot has changed since the academy began. First the COVID-19 pandemic and then protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police.

"Underneath the uniform, we're all people. So it's hit us all quite a bit," said academy graduate Fihussein Eli.

"Is law enforcement changing? I would be lying to you if I told you no. Yes, it is," said San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia. 

Garcia said he wanted it to. He made sure recruits watched the video of what happened to Floyd in its entirety. 

"My rank and file know that when they're right, that I stand by them. But when things happen across this country, we have to be equally as loud when things appall us. And that's what we spoke to the recruits about, so they could do better. They need to do better," the police chief said. 

The newly minted officers said they understand there will be increased scrutiny on them now. And that everyone they meet may not be happy to see them. 

"Even for those who might be supportive of law enforcement, when they see those actions of a few, no matter what they're going to relay that to everyone that wears a badge. And while that does put more weight on our shoulders, that's weight that we welcome," says academy graduate Stone Sander.

"A lot of the conversation is how do we become better? How do we show the world, the community, that we aren't what they say we are," says academy graduate Joey Nguyen.

Eli said that's why he joined the department in the first place, to build relationships with the community and to change perceptions about police.

"I don't want to be that officer that's constantly like pushing people down, or giving tickets left and right. I just want to give kids high fives, help grandmas cross the street," said Eli.

With calls for reform and to defund police, the officers recognize it's a tough time to be starting out. But these graduates say they'll meet the challenge with optimism.

"We want the communities to be on our side and we want to protect them and that's what we're going to do, whether they like us or not. That's our responsibility," says academy graduate Denise Zeron.

Thanks to COVID-19, this was the longest academy in the history of San Jose Police at 8 months long. The next one, with 54 recruits, starts on Monday.